Microsoft Munches String Bean

Takes another step toward IP SAN by buying iSCSI target technology

March 4, 2006

4 Min Read
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Microsoft made a bigger push into iSCSI, with the help of technology it acquired today from String Bean Software.

Microsoft bought the intellectual property of String Bean, giving it the startup's WinTarget software that turns a Windows file server into an iSCSI target. Microsoft's decision to make an iSCSI initiator available for free in 2003 is considered one of the drivers of IP SAN adoption because it saved users from having to buy expensive TCP/IP offload cards (TOEs). (See Microsoft Sparks iSCSI Liftoff.)

Now it has a target, too -- but that won't be free. Microsoft will sell WinTarget as a feature pack for Windows Storage Server 2003 R2. The feature pack will allow companies to use a storage server as a NAS device and iSCSI target.

The deal was one of two moves today that underscore Microsoft's growing importance in storage. The vendor also expanded an agreement by which EMC will widen its support of the latest versions of Exchange and SQL Server -- a result of EMC's acquisition of IT managed services firm Internosis last month. (See Microsoft, EMC Strengthen Ties and EMC Buys IT Services Firm.)

Microsoft's main storage focus these days is around Windows Storage Server 2003 R2, which is expected to be available in early April. (See Microsoft Sets Sights on SANs.) The iSCSI feature pack will be available in June or July. Claude Lorenson, Microsoft storage product manager, says no price has been set, but String Bean priced its standard edition at $300 per server and the advanced edition at $550 per server."Customers have said to us, since we have an iSCSI initiator, 'Why can't you provide us with a target?' " Lorenson says. "Instead of two storage devices, you can deploy one and allocate part for block storage and part for file."

The major difference in the WinTarget products is the advanced version supports snapshots. Lorenson says Microsoft will eventually make the advanced version more of an enterprise product, but he doesnt consider it competition to dedicated IP SANs sold by most of the Fibre Channel vendors and iSCSI startups such as EqualLogic, LeftHand Networks, and Intransa. For now, the product is geared for pushing sales of Windows Storage Server 2003 to SMBs.

"A pure iSCSI target typically has higher scaleability [than WinTarget] but only handles block workloads," Lorenson says. "But in smaller businesses, you can now run storage workloads on a hybrid device."

Joanne Kossuth, CIO of Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Mass., says Microsoft's iSCSI strategy makes sense. Olin College runs EqualLogic IP SANs, but Kossuth says smaller organizations would probably find Windows Server 2003 R2 good enough for iSCSI needs. And those customers aren't likely to pick Fibre Channel to begin with.

"If you don't have to go out and create a separate infrastructure, that makes it appealing," she says. "The more integrated things are, the more appealing their case is. And it's a safe bet for Microsoft to get into what is still a developing technology like iSCSI instead of Fibre Channel."String Bean was a lean startup, selling its software as a download off its Website. It had no venture funding and only four employees. Still, it enjoyed a close relationship with Microsoft, mainly because of its decision to develop its software specifically for Windows.

String Bean was among the first six vendors to receive Microsoft's Simple SAN certification last October -- joining Brocade, Emulex, EqualLogic, Hitachi Data Systems, and QLogic. (See Microsoft Sets Sights on SANs.) Microsoft also certified WinTarget for use with its Data Protection Manager disk-based backup application released last year.

Microsoft is not assuming any of String Bean's customer or channel agreements. Three of its employees, including founder Thieu Le, will join Microsoft. Le made it clear from the start his strategy was to become part of a larger software company. They don't come much larger. (See String Bean Weighs In on iSCSI.)

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD)

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • Emulex Corp. (NYSE: ELX)

  • EqualLogic Inc.

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • Hitachi Data Systems (HDS)

  • Intransa Inc.

  • LeftHand Networks Inc.

  • Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)

  • QLogic Corp.0

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