By Lisa Coleman
In the first year that OEMs shipped network-attached storage (NAS) devices based on the Microsoft Windows platform, they grabbed a 25% market share based on units shipped (through the third quarter of 2001), according to International Data Corp.
Windows-based NAS devices have made inroads into the entry-level and lower midrange NAS market, which characteristically has high volume but lower revenue than the enterprise-level NAS market, which is dominated by Network Appliance and EMC.
Last year, Microsoft launched the Windows-based server appliance kit (SAK) for OEMs, which enabled rapid product development. OEMs using the SAK include Compaq, Dell, Fujitsu, IBM, Maxtor, MTI, NEC, and Winchester Systems. A number of other vendors are evaluating the SAK for building NAS devices.
While IDC cites relatively low cost and easy management as the primary reasons for fast growth in the overall NAS market, Microsoft believes its NAS users are attracted to the reliability, availability, and price/performance of Windows-based NAS.
"NAS shouldn't be just a plug-and-play appliance," says Zane Adam, lead product manager for Microsoft's embedded and appliance platforms group. "It should also have value-added features like easy ongoing management and a multiple device manager, which should all be reasonably priced."
The high-reliability features that differentiate Windows-based NAS devices from some other entry-level and midrange NAS systems include snapshot capabilities, clustering, and load balancing.
Microsoft's latest addition to the SAK was released last December, and the road map calls for updates about every six months. The SAK Add-on Pack offered improved reliability with a role-based interface that allows administrators to delegate features and customize user interfaces. Also, a multiple device manager (MDM) was included for managing multiple appliances from a central console. As such, users do not need to purchase separate management tools. Additional new management features included device tracking, auto-discovery of appliances, auditing, and an extensible script execution framework.
Other potential advantages of Windows-based NAS include extensive ISV support and lower costs that can result from a reduction in the number of operating system platforms that users have to manage.
Microsoft officials do concede that the performance of high-end, proprietary NAS files may be better than Windows-based NAS (at least on NFS performance), but that price may tip the equation. "When a customer makes a choice, it is usually not based on performance alone, but also on price performance," says Adam.
Steve Duplessie, senior analyst at the Enterprise Storage Group consulting firm, in Milford, MA, says that Windows SAK-based NAS servers provide significantly lower NFS performance than NAS servers from Network Appliance and EMC, but they provide better CIFS performance. "Therefore, Unix-oriented shops will continue to run EMC and NetApp, and predominantly Windows-based environments will keep pushing for more Windows-based NAS systems."
Duplessie says that because the Windows market is growing much faster than the Unix one, it is likely that Windows-based NAS systems will continue to gain market share. He predicts that within a year, more than 60% of all NAS servers shipped will run the Windows SAK.