Dell, Microsoft Team on NAS-Plus-iSCSI

Dell adds block storage to its NAS files with Microsoft's unified storage server

December 7, 2006

4 Min Read
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LAS VEGAS -- Storage Decisions -- Dell is adding iSCSI support to its Windows-based NAS platform, with the help of a new storage server from Microsoft.

The Dell PowerVault NX1950 handles file- and block-based storage in the same system -- a first for Dell, although others already offer this. Network Appliance makes NAS, iSCSI, and Fibre Channel connectivity available on all of its storage systems, and earlier this year NetApp came out with an iSCSI-NAS system for SMBs. Hewlett-Packard's new All-in-One SMB system also lets customers handle blocks as well as files. (See HP Fills In SMB Storage.)

But Dell is the first to build a storage system around Microsoft's Windows Unified Data Storage Server 2003, a beefed-up version of the MS Storage Server 2003 that was released earlier this year. (See Microsoft Opens iSCSI Window.)

Unified Data Storage Server combines the NAS server Microsoft has had for years with the iSCSI target capability it acquired from StringBean Software in March and some of the clustering capabilities from the Windows Computer Cluster Server it added in June. (See Microsoft Targets iSCSI, Microsoft Munches String Bean, and Microsoft Pitches Linux Cluster Buster.)

NetApp uses its own operating system for its block and file systems, while HP's is based on Microsoft's Storage Server 2003 and iSCSI target."HP took an earlier version of Storage Server 2003 R2 that incorporated an iSCSI target from Microsoft as an add-on and developed management capabilities around that," Microsoft storage general manager Gabriel Broner says. "This new version incorporates new unified storage capabilities, iSCSI, and high availability from our MSCS that we've now incorporated into our file and block capabilities."

Of course, Microsoft will offer the new server to other OEM partners, although Broner says no others are ready to announce products.

At least one storage analyst says the combination of file and block storage through iSCSI and NAS is becoming popular and fits well with Microsoft's customer base.

"The flexibility to offer file and block is in vogue now," says Brad Nisbet of IDC. "Now that Microsoft has embedded native iSCSI capability, it's pushing the NAS-plus-iSCSI combo much harder."

The new server lets customers manage files and application data from one console. Microsoft also added support for clustering volumes of greater than 2 Tbytes to provide more capacity for Exchange, SQL Server, and other databases. The unified storage servers can also be managed from UNIX or Macintosh servers for shops running several operating systems.With the new features, Dell and Microsoft are moving beyond SMBs -- in price as well as capacity. Pricing for the PowerVault NX1950 begins at $17,000 and costs around $24,000 for 4.5 Tbytes. The system scales to 13.5 Tbytes by connecting to the PowerVault MDS3000 SAS system Dell also announced today.

The PowerVault NX1950 will also be available as a gateway without backend storage in the first half of 2007, according to Dell's storage director Praveen Asthana.

Asthana says he considers the PowerVault more of a competitor to entry-level enterprise systems, such as NetApp's FAS250 and FAS270 than SMB boxes such as StoreVault and All-in-One. Like NetApp's FAS200 platform, the NX1950 is available in one- or two-node clusters.

Asthana is careful not to position his new system as a competitor to the AX150 entry-level enterprise system that Dell co-markets with storage partner EMC. Dell sells EMC's midrange Clariion SAN systems while maintaining separate NAS product platforms. But the PowerVault's iSCSI capability blurs the lines a bit with the AX150, which is available in Fibre Channel or iSCSI but does not include NAS.

Praveen says the AX150 is for a different type of customer. "The AX is a SAN product, this isn't SAN," he says of the NX1950. "For customers who want more than four servers, AX150 is a very good product."IDC's Nisbet says the real differentiator is the iSCSI and NAS capabilities.

"You could argue that EMC's lowest-end Clariion would fall into the same category, but I don't think the Fibre Channel and/or iSCSI combo is as powerful as the NAS-plus-iSCSI combo," Nisbet says. "For mid-sized organizations looking to deploy iSCSI, say for Exchange, the capability to throw in file-level storage under the same management umbrella will be huge. NAS and iSCSI are both based on IP and will resonate with users' comfort level."

Dave Raffo, News Editor, Byte and Switch

  • Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL)

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • IDC

  • Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)

  • Network Appliance Inc.

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