Microsoft outlines future storage plans

By Kevin Komiega

On the heels of releasing its System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM) software, Microsoft has recently been hinting at its storage product plans through 2007, including a new beta release of the Windows Storage Server 2003 operating system and a line of appliances aimed at remote offices.

The release of DPM is just the first step toward the realization of Microsoft’s Universal Distributed Storage strategy, a new campaign aimed at delivering distributed storage software and hardware appliances based on industry-standard components.

To that end, Microsoft announced the beta release of Windows Storage Server 2003 R2, the next incarnation of the company’s storage operating system. Storage Server 2003 R2 features integrated collaboration tools based on Microsoft SharePoint, an index search feature, and performance tuning capabilities. The software is scheduled for general availability by year-end.

The R2 release will also include new features in name-space virtualization and replication for remote office deployments.

Microsoft will tackle distributed file systems with the next Storage Server release through a patent-pending replication engine the company developed for replicating data from branch offices to a central site. The replication engine copies file changes instead of whole files to speed response times and, according to Microsoft, reduce the cost of bandwidth.

But Microsoft isn’t necessarily evangelizing a centralized storage and data management architecture. The company believes more data needs to be easily accessible at branch offices. “Lots of organizations have tried to swing the pendulum the other way by trying to centralize as much data as possible. There is a need for data to be everywhere and it’s our job to make sure the technologies are spread throughout the organization so that it’s easy for people to put it all together,” says Radhesh Balakrishnan, group product manager for Microsoft’s Windows Server Division. “That’s the vision, which is of course futuristic.”

Microsoft is generally on a two-year release cycle with its storage products. Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 is considered a minor release, with the next major release to follow in 2007 as part of the Longhorn operating system launch.

Microsoft promises to add features such as client-side caching in Windows Vista, self-healing, and a transaction file system in Longhorn Server.

From NAS to SANs

Bolstered by its success in the NAS market with Windows Storage Server 2003, Microsoft’s plans for the future now include a big push into midrange SANs.

“Mid-market administrators tend not to be as storage savvy as their enterprise [counterparts]. They are typically more trained in Windows,” explains Balakrishnan. “That’s why we want to make it an absolutely brain-dead task to set up a SAN.”

Microsoft’s Simple SAN Initiative was launched last summer in an effort to work with partners to build SAN configurations based on the Windows Storage Server platform.

The program includes ensuring the Windows platform has built-in support for SANs. Microsoft is working toward that goal by providing technical support and plugfest assistance to partners and working with hardware vendors to simplify the task of setting up a SAN.

This article was originally published on November 01, 2005