Microsoft Powers Up NAS Play

Rolls out Windows Storage Server 2003 for NAS devices. How nervous should NetApp be?

June 3, 2003

4 Min Read
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The enhanced version of Microsoft Corp.'s (Nasdaq: MSFT) dedicated NAS software may have switched names in midstream -- again -- but the companys attack on Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP) remains right on course and seems to be gaining speed (see Microsoft Intros Win Storage Server 2003 and Microsoft Gets NASty).

Just over a month after launching its storage-rich Windows Server 2003 platform, Microsoft today announced the Windows Storage Server 2003 operating system for NAS (see Windows Soaks Up Storage). The product, which was first named Server Appliance Kit (SAK), then Windows Powered NAS, has received an overhaul using the Windows Server 2003 operating system, and is ready to take on any NAS environment, the company asserts.

Claude Lorenson, product manager in Microsoft’s enterprise storage division, says the name change is meant to emphasize the product's alignment with the Window's server system.

That’s a good thing to emphasize, says Dennis Martin, an analyst at the Evaluator Group. "Certainly having it come into the Windows server family makes it a lot more organized," he says. "This is based on an operating system people are already familiar with, [and] it plugs into existing Microsoft management."

Microsoft’s announcement could be another installment of bad news for NAS king NetApp, which has long enjoyed an iron grip on the high end of the $5.2 billion NAS market. Microsoft is "still not targeting the high, high end," says Enterprise Storage Group Inc. analyst Nancy Marrone. "But the key thing is that they are creeping up... They’re moving closer and closer into the larger workgroups... NetApp should be watching them closely."NetApp spokesman Eric Brown, however, insists the company has no reason to worry. "Storage specialists have distinct advantages in enterprise storage systems," he writes in an email to Byte and Switch. "General-purpose operating systems are great for many things -- enterprise storage is not one of them." (See NetApp Squares Off With Redmond.)

Microsoft, for its part, insists that its new Storage Server, running the Windows Server 2003 operating system and natively integrated with its Active Directory, is perfect for storage management. With a number of new and enhanced features, and the flexibility to scale from 160 Gbytes to multiple Tbytes, the product can be integrated with a long line of different storage products, the company says.

"This is a space that’s very dynamic," says Lorenson, when asked how the new storage platform will fare against the competition. With a hint of smug confidence, he adds, "The market will decide."

Microsoft isn’t planning on selling its storage platform directly to end users, but the company’s many large OEM partners, including such bigwigs as Dell Computer Corp. (Nasdaq: DELL), EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), are currently working the software into their different versions of NAS, as well as integrated NAS and SAN products. The new products are expected to be available in September.

Among the new features in the Storage Server 2003:

  • Based on the Windows Server 2003 operating system.

  • Enhanced performance: The boost depends on the hardware, but for a simple white box, the NFS performance is between 35 and 50 percent better running on the same hardware, according to Lorenson.

  • Integration and improvement of Volume Shadow Copy Services (VSS) feature from the Server 2003 platform. While the old version of the software could make only 64 total point-in-time copies, the new one can handle 512.

  • Allows end-user file restore; provides faster file replication; and supports Multi-Path I/O (MPIO).

  • Includes iSCSI support, which an OEM may or may not decide to enable, says Lorenson. "We’re pretty transport-agnostic," he adds.

  • Integrates the Virtual Disk Service (VDS) feature from the Server 2003 platform. This makes it a better gateway to SANs, according to Lorenson.

  • Includes an improved version of Microsoft’s Distributed File System (DFS).

  • Provides a fuller-featured Web user interface, which allows for easier remote manageability.

  • Improved clustering availability, now enabling up to eight nodes, depending on the application.

Says Charles Vallhonrat, manager of products for HP’s infrastructure and NAS division: "A lot of these capabilities have been in NAS products for some time. But they have been piecemeal... This brings the whole picture together."

— Eugénie Larson, Reporter, Byte and Switch

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