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Microsoft: Windows no longer misbehaved in storage environments

Some experts still believe the Windows operating system is too slow and virus-prone to be considered as a data center mainstay when it comes to storage management, but Microsoft begs to differ. Fresh on the heels of the debut of Windows Storage Server 2003, Microsoft's Bob Muglia, senior vice president of the company's enterprise storage division, tells how the operating system has been born again, with an eye toward being the platform of choice for managing storage.

You've said that Windows didn't behave well in the past and that you've corrected those problems. What were the problems, and how did you go about correcting them?
The most serious, the most egregious problem we had was our 'see a LUN, grab a LUN' problem. That we've fixed. [Windows] doesn't try and own everything now. I think zoning came out of the fact that we were so misbehaved in the past, and it forced a whole bunch of stuff in the fabric industry. We didn't do anything in the operating system to help the vendors. That's the way I would simply put it. We had a very wide variety of different quality levels of implementation for multi-pathing. Now we have a consistent way of hooking up into the [operating system]. We also have standardized the HBA drivers. That's a big step forward. I wouldn't say we were misbehaved, but there were great opportunities for us. With things we've done like VDS, the virtual disk service where we actually give application visibility to what exists in the storage systems and the disk subsystems. That was a major innovation, because it's the first time applications have a consistent way on any platform to know what's running underneath them. For applications, that is a huge thing, because now they have visibility into storage, so they can treat it as something other than just a file. What role do you see Windows playing in a SAN?
Windows, of course, is a host to the SAN. We're absolutely a general-purpose host. You can run database or messaging on Windows and then access your data through a SAN but, in the file space, it's the NAS head. There are other roles. Underneath some SANs, including Clariion, Windows sits underneath there, but EMC [has] done all the real work on that sort of thing. It's the embedded OS. I'm glad they use it rather than something else, but it's not like Microsoft provided anything beyond OS core memory management technology. It appears that you're positioning Windows Storage Server 2003 with your partners for the small and medium-sized business space. Is that your opinion?
That's part of it. I think it's also appropriate for the enterprise -- certainly, within branches of the enterprise itself, but also in the enterprise data center. HP is probably the most aggressive in some senses there, where they take the NAS head in and connect it to their SANs. Even EMC is heading down that path, with the NetWin product line, although they are segmenting the market. In terms of NFS performance, are you up to par with other vendors and operating systems?
We're pretty much up to par with Linux. Network Appliance operates in the higher end. Network Appliance [uses] very special-purpose hardware to try and get some performance. We're very cost competitive compared to Network Appliance, but you can't do an apples-to-apples comparison. You can do it with Linux. If you do an apples-to-apple comparison with Linux, we look pretty good, and we didn't before. Who do you think is the ideal user for Windows Storage Server 2003?
There's so many different ways people can use Windows Storage Server 2003. We know a large number of companies in the retail or financial industries who are deploying a large number of these things in their branch offices. We see people putting them in their data centers with NAS head ends to large SAN environments. In the small and medium business space, people are taking these lower-end systems and deploying them as core storage for their environment. I get very excited when I start thinking about the sub-$1,000 market and seeing that penetrate much higher volumes than we're seeing. I don't think there is a single ideal user. One of the things about file storage is everybody needs file storage. Eventually, we'll see home NAS boxes out there. That's probably a couple of years away, but it's going to happen. You have to put your photos some place, right?

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Kevin Komiega, News Editor.

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Comment on our storage discussion forums on the IT Knowledge Exchange

How would you rate Windows Storage Server 2003 at the moment, compared with one of the major Unix platforms like Solaris, in terms of built-in facilities for storage operational management?
I think we are on par or better right now. If you take a look at Solaris systems, an extremely large number of them ship with Veritas file systems on them. You don't need to have a third-party file system to get high-performance solutions built in Windows. There seems to be a perception in the storage community that Linux and Unix are still the operating systems of choice for serious enterprise storage performance for high-end transaction-processing applications.
The way to look at this is Unix has owned the transaction-processing space at least since it was owned by mainframes. They've owned that space for all time. Linux is a version of Unix, and it is now moving off to take on some of those roles. Windows has grown quite a bit as well, and I would say that probably overall we're ahead of Linux right now in terms of database usage and transaction usage. We're certainly not ahead of Unix in terms of higher-end enterprise applications. I really think we've made enormous strides. Windows is not just the mid-tier computing environment but also the back-end database. There were always special-purpose hardware solutions that Windows ran on, and then there were special-purpose systems that Unix ran on. What's happening in the world is there are now general-purpose systems that everything runs on. The fastest machines in the world that are being created for business computing are moving to standard technology. Everything is moving toward standard hardware platforms that we run on. Now we're actually able to benchmark ourselves against everyone else, and we feel very comfortable.

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