Microsoft Laces IP SAN Boots

Redmond throws support behind diskless server boot over iSCSI SANs

April 5, 2006

4 Min Read
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SAN DIEGO -- Storage Networking World -- Microsoft has added another piece to its iSCSI strategy by supporting the ability to boot servers from an IP SAN with a free software initiator.

Until now, booting server configurations from an IP SAN has been possible by using third-party software without Microsoft support or HBAs that serve as TCP/IP offload engines (TOEs).

The feature should be welcome news to data center managers. Booting from SAN is a feature that makes it easy to create multiple servers by copying the boot volume. It also allows blade servers without disks to be reconfigured from a SAN, rather than from other servers, cutting down the number of disk-based servers required for disaster recovery and provisioning. (See IP SANs Get the 'Boot'.)

Until now, though, ITers who wanted to boot from their IP SAN haven't received much help from Microsoft. Their choices were to risk using software that their operating system did not support, or to buy HBAs for hundreds of dollars apiece.

Now, Microsoft will make code available for server and software vendors to build into their products so its initiator can support booting from servers. Microsoft storage product manager Claude Lorenson says he expects emBoot to be the first software vendor to take advantage of Microsoft support by building it into its WinBoot/i application. (See IP SANs Get the 'Boot'.) IBM, which helped Microsoft develop and test the firmware, plans to offer the capability in its BladeCenter blade servers by June.At least one blade server user is looking forward to the capability.Alan Hunt, manager of operations for Detroit-based law firm Dickinson-Wright PLLC, has been booting BladeCenter servers from his EqualLogic SAN with QLogic HBAs for close to a year. He says booting from the SAN increases performance over locally mirrored hard drives and provides disaster recovery capabilities. A beta customer of BladeCenter with the new Microsoft firmware, Hunt estimates using the initiator instead of hardware would save around 30 percent of his BladeCenter cost.

"Anyone who has ever had to do a bare metal restore or had an update go awry on a server will understand the need for booting from the SAN," Hunt says. "We have had to roll back servers a few times due to application or human error, and that's where you start to understand the value."

Hunt says his firm has 15 boot-from-SAN servers spread across six sites and will configure all new servers to boot from the SAN.He says it took him about an hour to deploy the first five blade servers "from box to boot" with the new Microsoft firmware. With the servers already set up and the BIOS and firmware updates completed, he estimates it takes about five to 10 minutes to configure and boot a server.

"Native boot from SAN saves us around 30 percent of the overall blade server cost, not including labor," he says. "Being able to deploy a server in under 10 minutes has its obvious cost benefits."

This is the second iSCSI-related enhancement Microsoft has made in a month. In early March, it bought the intellectual property of String Bean Software, whose WinTarget software turns a Windows file server into an iSCSI target. (See Microsoft Munches String Bean.) That product will be sold as a feature pack for Windows Storage Server 2003 R2.Not surprisingly, chip and IP SAN vendors pledged their support for Microsoft's new initiative en masse. Besides IBM and emBoot, Microsoft says Alacritech, ATTO Technology, Azaleos, Broadcom, Brocade, Cisco, Compellent, Crossroads, Dell, EqualLogic, FalconStor, Fujitsu Ltd, Fujitsu-Siemens, Hitachi, Hewlett-Packard, Intransa, Lefthand Networks, Neterion, QLogic, NEC, Network Appliance, Nimbus Data Systems, SanRAD, and Sun Microsystems will incorporate its SAN boot in products -- for a fee, of course.

"You can imagine all the blade servers, iSCSI vendors, and NIC vendors will market it," Lorenson says. "It's free to partners, but that doesn't stop them from selling it at a price."

Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • Alacritech Inc.

  • ATTO Technology Inc.

  • Azaleos Corp.

  • Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM)

  • Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD)

  • Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)

  • Compellent Technologies Inc.

  • Crossroads Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CRDS)

  • Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL)

  • emBoot Inc.

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • Emulex Corp. (NYSE: ELX)

  • EqualLogic Inc.

  • FalconStor Software Inc. (Nasdaq: FALC)

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • Intransa Inc.

  • LeftHand Networks Inc.

  • Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)

  • NEC Corp. (Nasdaq: NIPNY; Tokyo: 6701)

  • Neterion Inc.

  • Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP)

  • Nimbus Data Systems Inc.

  • QLogic Corp. (Nasdaq: QLGC)

  • Sanrad Inc.

  • Sun Microsystems Inc.

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