NAS vendors switching to Windows

Posted on May 01, 2001

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BY LISA COLEMAN

Open-source operating systems are taking a back seat to Microsoft's Windows 2000 in the network-attached storage (NAS) arena. For example, Compaq, Dell, and Maxtor opted for Windows in their latest NAS devices, which hit the streets recently. Citing user familiarity, more features, and better reliability than Linux and FreeBSD, all three companies believe Windows will help increase their NAS market share.

"Microsoft brought to the table more features, better stability, and more features that our customers were already comfortable with," says Dan Blizinski, Dell's product manager for NAS.

The overall NAS market in 2000 was $1.8 billion and about 25% of that figure, or $450 million, can be attributed to midrange NAS, according to market researcher International Data Corp. IDC defines the midrange as devices that cost $25,000 to $100,000.

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Microsoft's Server Appliance Kit (SAK) enables NAS vendors to develop appliances based on Windows. The next version of the kit will be available this quarter. The SAK optimizes the Windows operating system for the specific types of appliances. It differs from standard Windows 2000, offering Web and local user interfaces, build documentation, device drivers, software development, and hardware reference specs.

Before choosing Windows for its PowerVault 735N NAS appliance, Dell explored FreeBSD, Linux, and other operating systems. Dell is using FreeBSD on its low-end NAS devices, but Windows offered active directory integration and Windows 2000 client support for the midrange products.

"For NAS, Linux just wasn't ready," says Blizinski. "We were seeing frequent updates to the Linux kernel, so they are still going through a process of stabilizing the feature sets."

Windows also offered snapshot technology, a feature lacking in Linux. "It was about six or more months ago that we looked at Linux. It may have evolved [since then], but we already made our decision," says Blizinski.

Compaq, which recently added clustering to its TaskSmart NAS family, wanted to position its NAS appliances around industry standards such as Windows, says Mark Nagaitis, senior product manager for TaskSmart servers. "We believe our customers, who are already using Microsoft products, see a benefit in a NAS appliance that's based on a familiar operating system," he explains.

When Compaq decided to add clustering support to TaskSmart, the turnaround time from concept to product was quick, according to Nagaitis. Because Compaq was using Windows, it leveraged Microsoft Cluster Server to add fail-over to TaskSmart.

Like Dell, Compaq did consider alternative operating systems, but Windows offered seamless integration in existing environments, cost savings in engineering development and customer training, and support of major utilities.

On its MaxAttach 4100 NAS products, Maxtor also chose Windows. Previously, it had been using FreeBSD for its MaxAttach 4000 line. "Our previous design was less than optimum because it became kind of a standalone pool of storage that had to be managed separately. Most of our target customers use a gang of Windows NT or 2000 servers. They already had the infrastructure set up to manage those systems," says Jon Toor, Maxtor's senior director of marketing.

Maxtor also banked on passing on cost savings to its customers since its device would fit into existing infrastructures and not have to be managed separately. "System administrators save money upfront and down the road. That's really what we got out of the Microsoft relationship," says Toor.


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