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Microsoft Research Project Could Displace Storage Nets

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Microsoft Corp. has started a research project that, if successful, could open the door to wider use of large clusters of inexpensive servers, potentially narrowing the market for storage area networks.

"At that time, we created an interface that turned out to be too low level because it forced developers to create their own storage allocation maps," said Michael Schroeder, assistant director of Microsoft's Mountain View research center that is focused on distributed computing.Schroeder worked on the same issue for ten years, including time in the 1990's while at the former Compaq Computer research center in Palo Alto.

Boxwood takes a higher-level approach to the interface, using data abstractions rather than the kinds of logical or virtual disk abstractions used in previous projects. The new approach lets developers define the amount of storage they need at a level above block sizes and provide their own identifier for that space independent of actual storage address space. The method also helps the system do better load-balancing, data pre-fetching, and informed caching, according to a Web site on the project.

Boxwood uses variations of B-Tree data structures called B-Link trees. According to Microsoft, no researchers have published on distributed computing implementations of B-Link trees. The software also provides global storage- and state-locking mechanisms.

Microsoft has an early version of the Boxwood code running on a four-node PC cluster using SCSI disks and Gigabit Ethernet interconnects. The code has not been optimized for load balancing, reconfiguration or fault tolerance.

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