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Windows Storage Server R2 replaces iSCSI SAN

Wireless equipment provider Comarco is replacing an iSCSI SAN from Intransa with HP's Windows Storage Server 2003 R2, cutting its costs in half.

Microsoft's latest NAS operating system, Windows Storage Server (WSS) 2003 R2, is now in the hands of OEM partners and is already starting to replace iSCSI SANs in small shops.

Sean Anderson, systems engineer at wireless equipment maker, Comarco Inc., bought a 4 terabyte (TB) iSCSI SAN from Intransa Inc. in November 2004 and is in the process of replacing it with Hewlett-Packard's (HP) Proliant Storage Server running WSS 2003 R2 after recently testing a beta of the product.

"We had no trouble with Intransa …the product is really slick. There's not a lot to learn, but you pay for it," Anderson said. "If you have a staff trained in Windows and in networking you can use HP Storage Server [R2] and get the same results."

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Comarco forked out $15,000 for two front-end Storage Controller Modules (SCMs) from Intransa, but in order to grow bandwidth, the company found its maintenance charges also growing $1,000 per SCM. The cost reduction with HP was a real eye opener. Comarco paid approximately half the price for an HP Proliant Storage Server running WSS R2, with an iSCSI TCP.IP offload engine card from Alacritech to ensure bandwidth and MSA (Modular Smart Array] 30 storage on the back end from HP.

"Performance actually improved using Storage Server, not dramatically, but under a heavy load it was noticeable," Anderson added. Comarco also expects its maintenance charges to drop 25% with HP Storage Server R2.

"We're looking for consistency," Anderson noted. "Intransa would make us one time offers. We needed something we could budget on year after year."

On the downside, he said the load balancing isn't quite as good in WSS R2 and there's more manual configuration than with Intransa, but he said the cost savings were worth it.

A spokeswoman for Intransa said the company couldn't comment on specific customer installments. "Generally speaking, Intransa sees Microsoft Storage Server R2 as being complimentary to its architecture. Many customers are looking for NAS file support on the front end of their Storage Area Networks, in addition to support of VSS [Volume Shadow Copy Service] and VDS [Virtual Disk Service]. We expect to see customers installing Storage Server R2 in front of an Intransa SAN, enabling excellent file support combined with Intransa's robust virtualization tools that can virtualize a myriad of targets and represent them as pooled storage to Storage Server," the company said in an e-mail.

Microsoft wasn't surprised by the performance Comarco was able to get out of WSS R2. "We really embraced NFS in this release," said Claude Lorenson, group product manager for Microsoft's storage division. The first version of WSS handled a fairly measly 12,000 to 13,000 I/O per second (IOPS) vs. R2, which offers 23,000 IOPS, according to Lorenson.

Other improvements in R2 include a bundling of Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration suite. iSCSI target support will be available as a feature pack for WSS R2 this summer, along with iSCSI software enabled SAN boot.

Another new feature in R2 called full-text indexing allows users to find files saved on R2 by keywords, dates and other parameters. However, file serving will take a performance hit with this feature turned on, Lorenson warned.

The feature drawing the most attention in R2 right now is single-instance storage, which provides file-level deduplification. Microsoft's internal IT group deployed this on 65 file servers running R2 and saved 14.5 TB of storage, Lorenson claimed.

Analysts note that Microsoft's improvements in WSS R2 are a significant leap over the first version of the product that OEMs had difficulty distinguishing over Windows Server. "They are doing things now in R2 that it would be a mistake for the storage industry to ignore," said Robert Gray, analyst at IDC. "Lets not forget, Microsoft can tie storage to the application, they own the stack, meanwhile the rest of the world is still manipulating blocks and files."

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