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Microsoft Storage Puzzles

Storage functions from Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) may help IT managers save time and money -- if they can understand what's being offered.

Lots of Windows users, particularly ones in small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), use SAN, NAS, and DAS. These customers want the convenience and efficiency of managing their storage gear and software in a common Windows interface.

Trouble is, most of the information about Microsoft's storage functionality comes from third-party vendors -- the main implementers of the technology. The message of "support" is often unclear. "Microsoft has not done a lot of promotion about this," concedes Claude Lorenson, senior product manager at Microsoft's Windows Server Division. "There's been more organic learning about it. IT managers are often surprised... But people who discover it and use it love it."

Let's take a closer look. Microsoft's main storage networking functions are offered as development toolkits for Windows Server 2003. They include:

  • Microsoft Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS): Allows Windows servers to provide snapshots to backup applications and storage equipment.
  • Microsoft Multi-Path I/O (MPIO): Lets Windows servers balance traffic across multiple data paths attached to storage gear and to offer failover for those paths.
  • Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Virtual Disk Service (VDS): Provides a Windows interface for setting up and managing disk volumes attached to servers.

Some confusion about Microsoft's storage functionality surrounds VSS. A slew of vendors have announced VSS support, but without clarification the news is meaningless. That's because in order to automatically create snapshots and store them, VSS requires the use of a requestor in the form of a backup application that calls for a snapshot to be made and stored; a writer, usually part of a Windows application, that keeps track of the information needed to create the snapshot; and a provider that creates and stores the snapshot on disk.

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