Microsoft Sets Sights on SANs

Plots its move into Fibre Channel SAN and enterprise NAS

October 26, 2005

3 Min Read
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Storage Networking World -- Microsoft has placed bets on two storage spots it hadnt covered before: Fibre Channel SANs and high-end NAS.

Microsoft gave its blessing to a handful of products for its new Simple SANs program after testing for interoperability with storage capabilities of Windows Server 2003. Receiving the Simple SAN certification were arrays from EqualLogic and Hitachi Data Systems, Fibre Channel switches from Brocade and QLogic, HBAs from QLogic and Emulex, and iSCSI software from String Bean Software.

Microsoft is also throwing its marketing muscle behind startup PolyServe, which sells Windows-based clustered storage that enables organizations to tie together Windows servers into enterprise NAS systems that compete with EMC and Network Appliance. (See PolyServe Lands $20M, Talks IPO and PolyServe Unveils Unappliance Strategy.)

Today, Windows Server is used in low-end NAS systems from Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and others; and Microsoft plays a role in iSCSI SANs with a free software initiator but has little presence in Fibre Channel SANs or enterprise NAS.

It will take time before Microsoft’s strategy makes it a player in the SAN and high-end NAS space, but it is clearly looking to make Windows a key piece of networked storage.“Microsoft is slowly starting to fill its storage product line,” says analyst Arun Taneja of Taneja Group. “Basically, they want to take stuff that has been available to a lucky few and make it available to the masses.”

The goal of Microsoft’s Simple SAN program is to make sure networked storage plays well with Windows. The key piece of its move into SANs is its Virtual Disk Service (VDS) that provides a Windows interface for setting up and managing disk volumes attached to servers. Storage vendors must pass the Windows Hardware Qualification Lab (WHQL) testing to earn Simple SAN certification. Claude Lorenson, head of Microsoft’s Windows server division, says the other top storage vendors such as EMC, Dell, HP, and IBM are in the certification process.

VDS-compatible storage can be managed by an application due to ship as part of the coming Windows Server 2003 R2, called Storage Manager For SANs (SMFS). The application handles SAN setup and basic Storage Resource Management (SRM) capabilities such as LUN creation and deletion and zone masking for the storage uninitiated. “We found a lot of administrators didn’t know what masking and unmasking meant,” Lorenson says. “So we used other terms.”

What will Microsoft call masking and unmasking? “Exposed and unexposed,” he says.

Maybe he’ll reconsider that terminology before Windows Server 2003 R2 ships next year.Microsoft’s PolyServe relationship is similar to its relationship with wide-area file services (WAFS) vendor Tacit Networks. (See Microsoft Gives Tacit Approval.) Because Tacit’s software is based on Windows, Microsoft recommends it over other WAFS products. The same goes for PolyServe. Microsoft will lend its influence with server vendors to cluster servers running PolyServe to build high-end NAS. HP already ships an enterprise NAS system using PolyServe. (See HP Selects PolyServe .)

“Today, the perception is that Windows NAS is only available for SMBs,” Lorenson says. “With a clustered file system, it’s more suitable for the enterprise client.”

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

Organizations mentioned in this article:Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD)

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