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Microsoft and several leading storage hardware vendors are planning advancements for the company’s Windows Storage Server, all in the name of helping small and midsize businesses (SMBs) buttress their infrastructures.

Microsoft Corp. is planning to release next week at the Microsoft Tech Ed conference in San Diego the first feature pack for Windows Storage Server, which includes support for Microsoft’s Exchange Server 2003.

The pack will dramatically reduce interoperability and training headaches for SMBs—those that run Windows-centric operations most often, observers said.

For example, the feature pack will enable customers to unify file, print and e-mail servers by storing Exchange data on NAS (network-attached storage) devices, said officials in Redmond, Wash. It is designed for deployments of fewer than 1,500 e-mail boxes.

Microsoft will get support for the feature pack from hardware partners EMC Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc., each of which plans to announce support of the feature pack for their respective NAS devices.

Click here to read more about Microsoft’s play for the NAS market.

EMC, of Hopkinton, Mass., announced a new NAS device, the NetWin 110, last week. The 110, a scaled-back version of EMC’s NetWin 200 product, is designed for the cost-conscious SMB customer.

Also at Tech Ed, HP, of Palo Alto, Calif., will announce plans to bundle CommVault Systems Inc.’s storage management software with its NAS devices to provide SMB customers with an integrated e-mail archiving suite for servers, desktops and laptops.

The hardware moves indicate a trend among SMBs, many of which rely upon Microsoft technology.

“We looked into Network Appliance [Inc.] filers,” said Steve Spieler, systems engineer at Wells’ Dairy Inc., in Le Mars, Iowa. “They do work in a Windows network or domain, but not as seamlessly as a Microsoft product does.

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