Microsoft debuts next-generation NAS software

Claims NFS performance improvements up to 50%

By Lisa Coleman

In its latest network-attached storage (NAS) server appliance kit, Microsoft is increasing NFS file sharing performance by 50%, adding storage resource management (SRM) functionality and a new Web user interface, supporting an iSCSI initiator, and including the same storage features as Windows Server 2003.

The new server appliance kit was released to OEMs last month at Microsoft's Tech-Ed 2003 event. Formerly known as Windows-Powered NAS, Windows Storage Server 2003 software fits under the umbrella of the new Windows Server System that was also announced at the show.

Last year, analysts said Windows-based NAS devices provided significantly lower NFS performance than NAS servers from vendors such as Network Appliance and EMC.

Microsoft is shipping a new NFS server in Windows Storage Server 2003 to improve performance by up to 50%, claims Claude Lorenson, product manager for Microsoft's Enterprise Storage Division.

Although it is shipping with Windows Storage Server 2003, the new NFS server will not be released as part of Microsoft's Services for Unix (SFU) until later this year or early 2004. The NFS server allows Unix-based NFS clients to access files on Windows-based computers the same way files on other Unix NFS servers are accessed. The actual performance increase will depend on the OEMs' NAS configurations (e.g., the number of processors in the NAS box).

Also included in Windows Storage Server 2003 are the same storage-related features that are in Windows Server 2003: Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS), Virtual Disk Service (VDS), SAN support, and a Multipath I/O (MPIO) driver development kit that lets storage vendors create multiple paths from the host to an external storage device. (For more information, see "Windows Server 2003 means better storage management," InfoStor, April 2003, p. 1.) Also, iSCSI drivers are now available.

Microsoft added a storage manager for quota management and file filtering. A Web-based user interface was also designed to provide more integration with the feature sets for installation and remote management.

OEMs are expected to begin offering NAS appliances built with Microsoft's new software before year-end. Major OEMs using Microsoft's NAS code include Dell, EMC, Fujitsu Siemens, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Iomega, Legend Group Ltd., and NEC. Notably, EMC announced in April that it would license the software and deliver a midrange NAS appliance within the next two months.

EMC's NetWin 200 will be based on EMC's Clariion CX 200 disk arrays and Intel-based servers. The device will be targeted at the midrange market while EMC's Celerra remains its high-end NAS product. NetWin 200 will be priced between $50,000 and $135,000. EMC and Microsoft also will work together to make EMC's proprietary Celerra servers compatible with Windows-based NAS devices.

In addition, EMC will integrate Windows Server 2003 APIs into its ControlCenter storage management framework. The APIs encompass Microsoft's VSS, VDS, and MPIO.

NAS devices based on Windows have made significant inroads into the entry-level and midrange NAS markets. For example, NAS devices based on Windows captured 32% of NAS unit shipments in 2002, according to International Data Corp. Overall, the midrange NAS market (devices priced from $5,000 to $100,000) grew 35% in 2002. Meanwhile, the lower midrange ($5,000 to $25,000) also will continue to grow.

While analysts often pigeon-hole Windows-based NAS devices into the broad midrange category, Microsoft insists its operating system provides "high-end" features, such as load balancing, point-in-time copies, virtualization, and support for iSCSI.

"For many years, Microsoft has stated its intention to grow its products so that they will be suitable for high-end enterprise environments. Microsoft also views its operating systems with a very long-term perspective and keeps adding features that are necessary to work in high-end environments," says Dennis Martin, senior analyst at the Evaluator Group.

This article was originally published on July 01, 2003