Microsoft Boss Eyes Innovation

Redmond extends roadmap further into clusters, iSCSI, NAS, and remote offices

November 8, 2006

5 Min Read
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During the past year, Microsoft moved deeper into storage though Windows Storage Server, increased iSCSI support, clustered file systems, and placed more concentration on branch offices. You can expect more of the same over the next year, with a potential push into compliance and archiving.

That's the word from Gabriel Broner, after six months on the job as general manager of Microsoft's Windows Storage division.

Broner says Windows Storage Server will continue as the focal point for Microsoft's storage strategy. (See Microsoft Opens iSCSI Window and Microsoft Widens Storage Window.) Storage Server, made available to OEMs last June, was Microsoft's first dedicated storage system and Broner says breaking it out of from Windows Server enables Microsoft to deliver more rapid upgrades. He expects a version of Windows Storage Server about every year or so.

"We'll continue to use Storage Server as the product line where we'll be doing storage innovation," he says. "It gives us an agile product line somewhat separated from releases of Windows Server, which has a longer cycle."

Broner says he hopes to see high-end storage features such as single-instance storage, clustered file systems, and replication that start out on Storage Server eventually available on a general version of Windows. He points to the inclusion of snapshots in the upcoming Vista Windows OS as an example of the trickle-down theory of enterprise features."You can see over time those features trickling down from high end of the industry to storage server to general purpose Windows," he says.

For now, Windows Storage Server 2003 will remain a product only for OEMs. End users will have to get it as part of commercial systems.

"The advantage [is] that we can work very closely with our OEMs that deliver an appliance-type product," Broner explains. "It can be tested for a level of stability and reliability that you can achieve working closely with the OEMs. We do look at other alternatives, and we want to grow but at the same time we want to provide reliability and stability. "

In a recent interview, Broner updated us on Microsoft's other storage initiatives:

  • Clustered file systems. Last June, Microsoft launched Windows Computer Cluster Server in hopes of bringing clustering out of Linux high performance computing (HPC) environments and into more mainstream data centers. (See Microsoft Pitches Linux Cluster Buster and Cluster Clamor.) Broner sees it eventually playing in traditional Windows shops as well."Right now file serving and high availability are somewhat separate domains within Microsoft," he says. "In the future we will be able integrate these capabilities so you can have a single node file server or multi-node file server. You don't have to become a cluster administration or a specialist to deploy this once high-end capability into standard servers. So a small business can choose to have either a standard server for file and block or a highly-available one. Ideally, it's just a check box."

  • iSCSI. NAS and iSCSI have been Microsoft's storage sweet spots, and that won't change, although Microsoft collaborates with Fibre Channel vendors on its Simple SAN initiative. Microsoft acquired StringBean Software to beef up iSCSI support, and forged closer relationships with IP SAN vendors since the release of Windows Storage Server 2003 R2. (See Microsoft Laces IP SAN Boots and Microsoft Munches String Bean.)

    Broner says iSCSI remains the hot spot for SAN growth. "We agree with the analysts projecting growth of iSCSI" over the next three years, he says. "iSCSI is simpler to deploy than Fibre Channel, so we expect small businesses will select iSCSI over Fibre Channel."

    Availability of 10-Gbit/s Ethernet in the next few years will also accelerate that growth, he adds. "When 10-Gig Ethernet becomes cost effective, suddenly you have an alternative [to Fibre Channel] that is block-level sharing at a very high speed," Broner says. "That's exactly the role Microsoft plays in storage -- in places where as hardware standardizes, we can provide software that enables more users to take advantage."

  • Remote/Branch offices. Broner says 30 percent of Windows servers run in branch offices, so it's no wonder Microsoft added a second WAFS/WAN acceleration partner in September when it signed a deal with Citrix to build WAFS/WAN devices. (See Citrix Widens WAN Strategy.) That goes with a previous deal with Packeteer, which acquired Microsoft WAFS partner Tacit Networks.

    "Citrix has some amazing capabilities and knowledge about application delivery because of their existing businesses," Broner says. "And we have solid platform knowledge. Citrix is going to develop an appliance on which will be providing all services to the branch. In the same box you'll get an optimization solution, the wide area file services, all the basic services you need. We expect a product from Citrix sometime in late 2007.

    "If you look at our partners Packeteer and Citrix, they have their own strengths that they bring to the table," he says. Citrix is great at application delivery and application optimization; Packeteer's a specialist in quality of service.

  • Compliance. Broner sees compliance -- and to a lesser degree archiving -- as big opportunities for Microsoft."We look at compliance and see there's probably a $10 billion market today and doubling in the next three years," he says. "Right now we're thinking about what are the things that will enable compliance -- is it multiple tiers of storage, is it retention capabilities, is it expirations, is it policies? We are looking at things we need to do to enable compliance, but have not engaged in building a compliance application yet."

    For archiving, you can expect more deals such as the one IBM and Microsoft unveiled last month packaging email archive software with Windows Server 2003. (See IBM Unveils Solution.) "There's a need for read-only fixed content type of storage, and we've been working with a number of partners," Broner says.

  • Data Protection. A year after it released near-CDP backup product Data Protection Manager (DPM) to great fanfare, Microsoft quietly announced the beta of DPM 2 in September. (See Microsoft Intros DPM and Microsoft and Symantec Cut SMB Tape.) The big additions were support for applications such as Exchange, SQL Server, and Sharepoint to the backup and restore capabilities for files in the first release. Broner says DPM remains a key piece of Microsoft's storage platform.

    "You now have the capability of doing application level backup," he says. "And it provides fast recovery for disk to disk backup and disk to disk to tape."

    Dave Raffo, News Editor, Byte and Switch

  • Citrix Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CTXS)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)

  • Packeteer Inc.

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