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With Windows Storage Server, Microsoft Corp. aims to boost reliability and slash costs as it gears up efforts to make NAS attractive to SMB segment.

The company’s Enterprise Storage Division,launched in January 2002, has three powerful tools on its side in that endeavor. One is Windows Storage Server (WSS) 2003, a third-generation operating system optimized for file and print serving. Second is a series of high-profile vendors, including Computer Associates, EMC Corp., Fujitsu Siemens Computers, Hewlett-Packard Corp., and IBM Corp., supporting WSS. Third is a growing legion of solution providers selling into the small and medium business (SMB) marketplace.

“What we set out to do is dramatically slash the cost of network attached storage (NAS) to make the technology attractive to the tens of thousands of businesses that need it but couldn’t afford it in the past,” says Zane Adam, Director of Product Management and Marketing in Microsoft’s Enterprise Storage Division (ESD).

“There were a lot of storage vendors charging what Microsoft believed was too much for NAS and we saw an opportunity to offer a solution at a much lower cost,” he added.

Whereas multi-terabyte NAS solutions historically were priced at 15 cents to 18 cents per megabyte, Microsoft and its hardware partners have brought that cost down to 1 cent to 3 cents per megabyte, according to data provided by Microsoft.

The market is growing

Research firm IDC reported in June 2003 that the current domestic NAS market encompasses 85,000 to 100,000 units a year, with Microsoft software managing roughly 41 percent of those installations. A 2003 Merrill Lynch survey of chief information officers in the United States and European Union revealed that up to 22 percent of IT budgets are allocated to storage.That precipitous price drop opens entire new markets and opportunities, says Adam.

“For an entry-level system, we’re talking about a half-terabyte, 1U-high product gets powered up, sniffs the network, and is running in 20 minutes — for about $4,000.” Economies of scale, up to 70 terabytes, come into play as capacities increase.

Among the applications targeted by Microsoft is the consolidation of multiple older servers into a single unit that offers far more capacity, better performance, and much easier management,” Adam says.

NAS solutions incorporating WSS are seamlessly managed in the overall Windows Server environment, eliminating the need to learn a storage vendor’s proprietary management interface.

Also, through the use of WSS’s Volume Shadow Copy Service and Virtual Disk Service, it’s possible to recover failed Microsoft Active Directory serversin minutes rather than the hours required with previous recovery methods, Adam says.

Vendors sign on

EMC recognized that a market for entry-level NAS built atop genuine Windows software optimized for file serving would open new markets. Following the April 2003 announcement of their expanded Microsoft-EMC alliance, EMC launched the NetWin 200 entry-level NAS system,designed specifically with Windows Storage Server 2003 in mind, according to Tom Joyce, Senior Director of NAS Product Marketing at EMC, Hopkinton, Mass. Using WSS allows both the server and the storage resources to be managed through a single console.According to Bill North, IDC’s research director for storage software, the alliance represents a breakthrough in the management of network attached storage. “Now EMC and Microsoft customers will be able to use a single, integrated console to manage all their storage, rather than having to launch separate tools to manage the NAS and disk array functions,” he said.

He added that the use of Microsoft’s storage APIs to manage functions such as replication and multipath I/O gives EMC customers tighter integration between familiar Windows features and storage based functionality. “The entire storage solution should be easier to deploy and manage.”

Not surprisingly, EMC’s Joyce agrees, noting that the company sees “tremendous growth in the Windows Storage Server 2003 segment of the NAS market.”

EMC is not alone in recognizing this burgeoning new market. Fujitsu Siemens Computers, based in Munich, Germany, recently launched the FibreCAT N40, a rack-mount file servers scalable up to 2.6 Tbytes for the small and medium enterprise (SME) sector. And IBM is getting into the act with a WSS-based version of its 300G TotalStorage Network.

Other vendors planning to offer WSS-based storage solutions include Dell Inc., with the PowerVault 775N and 770N storage systems; Hewlett-Packard, with the HP StorageWorks NAS 2000s; Inline Corp., with Inline FileStorm; Iomega Corp., with the Iomega NAS P400m series; MaXXan Systems Inc., with the MaXXan Systems’ SG110m NAS gateway; and NEC Corp.

Channel opportunities

Because EMC’s NetWin 200 targets the entry-level NAS market, a segment where the company has little presence, EMC is turning to systems integrators that already have customer relationships in place.”NetWin 200 is an ideal fit for the channel because it gives VARs and System Integrators the simplicity of Microsoft Windows and the power of EMC,” says Joyce. Furthermore, EMC is backing channel partners with a robust service and support organization.

Though not intended for transaction-oriented environments, NAS is an excellent choice for data that must be maintained for long periods of time, says Microsoft’s Adam. That presents an “extraordinary opportunity” for integrators.

Several newly enacted laws, require the availability of archival data to prove compliance. Among these are the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which mandates corporate responsibility reforms and HIPPA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.

The United States Army Reserve has already implemented WSS. The Reserve’s 108th Division, which teaches basic training to soldiers, turned to Greenwood Village, Colo. e-business integrator Ciber consolidate servers from 23 separate locations into eight data centers, and increase storage capacity to 2.9 terabytes.

According to Ciber network manager William Baley, server consolidation offers centralized administration and file recovery and is reducing administrators’ need for travel. And because the operations team did not need to learn a new administrative user interface, training costs were minimized.

Third time around

WSS is Microsoft’s third go at storage-management software. Previously known as Windows-Powered NAS, this new version is a stripped down version of the Windows Server 2003 operating system devoid of features having nothing to do with file and print services.Added to WSS are volume shadow copy service (VSS) for faster restore operations, enhanced performance for faster SMB and NFS file serving, support for multipath IO for improved availability and load balancing, better integration with SANs including the capability of acting as a gateway to multivendor SANs, iSCSI support to for connectivity to IP targets and IP SANs, and a redesigned browser-based user management interface.