As Microsoft continues to encourage and provide incentives for its customers to adopt the latest version of Microsoft Exchange Server, the result is often a two-stage upgrade process, particularly for small businesses. When companies decide to upgrade Exchange, they often redesign their storage infrastructure at the same time, moving from traditional DASD to Network Attached Storage (NAS). To capitalize on this trend, enterprise storage vendors are reworking the way they reach customers and are aggressively working with channel partners to address the small-business arena.

Email is an essential business application, and its impact is impressive. According to one study, corporate employees can typically spend as much as 25 percent of their workday using their email application. Moreover, as much as 45 percent of a company's business-critical information resides in message databases.

The importance of the information generated and stored in email infrastructures is growing at an impressive clip. According to a study by The Radicati Group, a Palo Alto, California-based technology market research firm, the amount of archived email will skyrocket over the next several years as companies struggle to comply with new federal regulations and adhere to internal policies. As an official at the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education noted in a published interview, companies are afraid to throw anything out.

The increasing importance of email and the need to archive email information have placed pressure on the storage infrastructure in three ways. First, email systems must be extremely scalable to accommodate the growing amount of email data. Second, email systems have to be exceptionally reliable--companies can't afford to have their email systems go down. Indeed, if a major telephone service outage and email outage occurred simultaneously and companies had to choose which service would be restored first, many companies would opt to restore email service first. Third, if an email system goes down, companies must be able to recover very quickly. In fact, according to one study, each 0.1 percent of email downtime costs companies $20 per user in lost productivity.

Under these pressures, as smaller companies improve their email infrastructure, they also move from traditional DASD to network-based storage infrastructures, according to Rod Matthews, senior director of Windows marketing at Network Appliance. NAS effectively addresses many of the challenges posed by the growth of email. By centralizing all email data in one location in a network, companies can rationalize backup processes and implement disk-to-disk backup infrastructures. Disk-to-disk backups can lead to more rapid recovery in the event of a system failure.

Moreover, companies that use NAS can cluster Exchange servers so that if one fails, the application can roll over to another server and still access all needed data. Companies can also more easily mirror data in different locations for archiving purposes.

If NAS provides such obvious benefits for email systems, why haven't more small businesses installed NAS? The answer is easy--skills and cost. In the past, small businesses have viewed implementing NAS as too complicated and expensive. But that too is changing. This month, Microsoft announced support for the Internet SCSI (iSCSI) interface within Exchange Server 2003. Coupled with the emergence of high-speed 10Gb Ethernet technology, setting up an effective network-based storage infrastructure for Exchange could be as easy as creating a subnet with a couple of ports on an existing LAN.

Meanwhile, major vendors such as EMC and Network Appliance are launching initiatives that will make their products more accessible to small businesses. Network Appliance has launched product bundles aimed directly at Exchange users and has worked hard with its channel partners to reach small businesses. According to Matthews, Network Appliance's indirect sales have increased by 9 percent in the past year. For its part, EMC has partnered with Dell to reach a broader target audience.

The combination of new Microsoft technology, coupled with the spread of iSCSI support and 10Gb Ethernet, should motivate even small companies to upgrade their storage infrastructures for the foreseeable future. The release of Microsoft SQL Server Yukon technology in 2005, Matthews suggested, should spark a similar upgrade.

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