Microsoft pushes storage strategy

By Lisa Coleman

Microsoft is continuing to fine-tune its storage strategy.

In September, Microsoft announced Multipath I/O, which provides standard, interoperable I/O protocols for communication between third-party storage products and Windows servers, including Windows .NET Server 2003, due for release in December. Last month, Microsoft announced Volume Shadow-copy Service (VSS) and Virtual Disk Service (VDS) for coordinating applications and storage hardware to improve functionality such as backup, recovery, and data mining.

"We worked with all of our partners on the application programming interfaces to provide a solution that's interoperable across a myriad of devices and software so that customers don't have to go through the pain of trying to integrate them," says Rakesh Narasimhan, senior director of strategic partnerships in Microsoft's Enterprise Storage Division.

The company will provide MPIO drivers to its partners, who will, in turn, bundle MPIO into their storage products. MPIO technology enables multiple paths between servers and storage devices, improving load balancing, availability, and fault tolerance.

Microsoft partners that plan to incorporate MPIO include Adaptec, Agilent, Brocade, Dell, Egenera, EMC, Emulex, Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi Ltd., IBM, LSI Logic Storage Systems, Maranti Networks, NEC, Network Appliance, oPoet, PolyServe, QLogic, Rhapsody Networks, Seagate, StorageTek, Stratus Technologies Bermuda Ltd., 3PARdata, Unisys, Veritas, Vicom, and XIOtech.

EMC, for example, is integrating MPIO into its PowerPath software, a path management product that performs fail-over and load balancing. In addition, the company is integrating VSS and VDS into its WideSky technology.

"What's significant here is that prior to Microsoft's coming out with these products, we'd do an integration one time into Exchange, another time into SQL, one time for Symmetrix, once for Clariion, etc.," says Don Swatik, vice president of global alliances and information sciences at EMC. Now, integration is a much more efficient and less time-consuming process, he adds.

VDS provides a new set of APIs for managing disks. In Windows 2000, each hardware vendor provided its own proprietary set of APIs for managing its hardware devices. As such, developing uniform storage management software has been challenging.

VDS implements a single, uniform interface for managing disks. Each hardware vendor writes a VDS "provider" that translates the general-purpose VDS APIs into specific instructions for their hardware devices.

Management applications will no longer need to take into account the specific hardware being targeted. Instead, by developing applications that target VDS, next-generation Windows storage management applications will be able to manage any hardware that has a VDS provider.

Meanwhile, VSS is a general infrastructure for creating point-in-time copies of data on a volume. Previously, with Windows 2000, users either had to stop activity on their server during backups, or live with online backup "side effects" such as inconsistent data and open files that could not be backed up. VSS facilitates online backup without those problems. However, users will have to wait until .NET server 2003 hits the streets before reaping the benefits of this functionality.

Over the last year and a half, Microsoft has been cranking up its storage initiatives, including its server appliance kit (SAK) for Windows-based network-attached storage (NAS), which has quickly gained market share.

Earlier this year, Microsoft formed the Enterprise Storage Division to improve its applications and operating systems for third-party storage applications and to work more closely with its storage partners.

This article was originally published on November 01, 2002