• 08/26/2013
    12:15 PM
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Is Microsoft Ready To Be A Storage Player?

Microsoft's Storage Spaces may not have every enterprise feature yet, but don't dismiss it as a marginal product.

Storage Spaces has its weaknesses. For one, Parity Spaces performance is lacking for write-focused operations. In a typical SAN, parity calculations are done in the storage array, where the number crunching doesn't impact server CPU. That's not the case here, and as a result application write performance can stall, making Parity Spaces a poor option for write-intensive applications with sensitive performance requirements.

In addition, a significant part of the Storage Spaces cost equation involves using cheap JBOD, but companies selling cheap JBOD have no brand recognition and customer support. It may be hard for IT administrators to trust their data to that setup: "I don't know you, and you offer no support -- can you really take care of my critical corporate data?"

Microsoft isn't stupid. Its answer is to certify JBOD configurations, with storage-focused companies such as DataON and RAID Inc. Server vendors including SuperMicro, Fujitsu and Quanta have also been certified, and others will follow. The Microsoft stamp of approval will help, as will Microsoft's addition of corporate support when you buy from those vendors.

But will organizations try it? If you think about it, there's minimal risk as long as you're protecting your data somewhere. If you're upgrading to Server 2012 and have some storage lying around, what's the worst that could happen? If you try Storage Spaces and don't like it, you haven't lost any data, and you haven't made any huge investment in SAN arrays, switches, adapters or staff training.

Another sticky wicket will be trying to sell "storage by Windows" to storage administrators whose jobs will be impacted. Expect some pushback. This decision highlights yet again how virtualization helps blur the lines between administrative functions. Innovations shine a spotlight on the inefficiency of the conventional management structure that demands strict separation between the application, server, network and storage domains.

Storage Spaces Is the Real Deal

While much of what you're hearing from Redmond these days is focused on other products -- such as Hyper-V and Azure -- Storage Spaces is pretty darned cool. It creates virtualized storage pools out of commodity hardware and layers on software to deliver enterprise-class features. Physical and virtual storage can be combined into pools that are easy to scale and provision. IT can create a service catalog to deliver a variety of performance and availability characteristics by workload.

And it really works. It's easy to configure and manage, as our ESG Lab proved with hands-on testing of performance, scalability and cost-effectiveness. While Storage Spaces doesn't have every enterprise storage feature (for instance, no in-box replication), Microsoft is investing in the product and adding to its feature set.

I can hear the skepticism now: "You're telling me I can get high performance, resiliency and easy management at a fraction of the cost of an expensive SAN? And I won't need a highly skilled (and expensive) SAN administrator to run it? Why isn't everyone doing this?" That's a good question.

Answering Today's Demands

Storage Spaces fits nicely into the changing landscape of IT. The other day I needed to share a document with a recent college grad, so naturally I asked for an email address. She replied, "No need -- you can just upload the doc to Facebook with an inbox message!" For the younger generation, everything works magically in the cloud from a single interface. It doesn't occur to them (and why should it?) to use different methods to do the same thing: communicate.

Microsoft seems to be working from that same premise. Why should customers manage different parts of the infrastructure separately when they can manage applications, servers, storage, networking and a cloud gateway, all simply (and cheaply), from a single location? Storage Spaces is an example of Microsoft fulfilling two requirements: the corporate need for modern, self-service, consumerization features, and the need for enterprise-class functionality, virtualization, convergence and interoperability.

ESG recently surveyed storage and other IT professionals about their long-term view of storage technology. Almost a third (32%) said they expect storage to become a less-specialized discipline, built on cheap hardware, with software features operating at the virtualization/data center operating system level. While 32% isn't a majority, it's an awfully large portion who expect storage to shift from being an esoteric domain of nerds in white lab coats.

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