Several vendors have released server appliances based on Microsoft's Windows 2000 Embedded Server Appliance Kit (SAK). Microsoft offers a complete embedded OS that developers can use for a variety of applications, and the company has targeted Network Attached Storage (NAS) and Web servers through OEM channels for the embedded OS's use.

Vendors will release many different server appliances into the market over the next few years. Appliances offer reliability and high performance, are easy to set up and manage, and generally have one purpose. A substantial portion of the server market will probably comprise single-purpose appliances—and the storage arena is a prime target. And with Win2K Embedded SAK NAS appliances, you'll be able to add two characteristics not commonly found in traditional Windows servers: The appliances are headless, and you typically manage them with a browser-based management utility.

The appliance approach relates easily to storage, and, as John Webster at the Illuminata analyst group recently observed, it accounts for much of Network Appliance's success. In a recent InfoStor guest column, Webster wrote that when Network Appliance sells into an enterprise, it doesn't just displace one Windows file server—it displaces dozens of them. (Web servers, such as the Sun Cobalt server and the Apache Web server, can displace other servers in much the same way.) So if you were Microsoft and something was replacing your general-purpose servers, you'd want to make one of your systems the replacement. And with the help of its Win2K Embedded SAK, that's just what Microsoft is doing. Although Microsoft doesn't charge a Client Access License (CAL) fee for a NAS appliance based on Win2K Embedded, the company still gets a lucrative server OS license fee from the sale.

Microsoft released Win2K Embedded SAK 1.0 in April 2001, after working with a limited number of partners on the basic framework. Win2K Embedded SAK 2.0 adds a turnkey solution for NAS and Web appliances that lets OEMs create the appliances by running a script. Win2K Embedded SAK 2.0 will be available second quarter 2001 in English, Japanese, and German. A version of the Win2K Embedded SAK based on Windows 2002 will appear in 2002.

Microsoft is adding third-party plug-ins to NAS SAK appliances through licensing arrangements, including Columbia Data Products' (CDP's) Persistent Storage Manager (PSM) and W. Quinn's Quota Manager software. CDP's PSM offers high-availability data protection software for NAS. W. Quinn's StorageCeNTral storage resource management (SRM) technology provides realtime quota monitoring and enforcement, best-practices storage use reporting, and screening to prevent unwanted files (e.g., MP3 files) from writing to these server appliances.

From what I've seen so far, Microsoft and its partners' server appliances look like high-performance, good-value products for the departmental, small-network, and midrange markets. Web servers based on Win2K Embedded SAK include Dell's PowerApp.web and IBM's Netfinity A100—and Dell has recently set a price/performance benchmark with its PowerApp.web server.

Win2K Embedded SAK servers offer several advantages in Windows-based networks, where they integrate well into Active Directory (AD) and the Win2K family of servers. Win2K Embedded SAK 2.0 is greatly improved, and I expect more improvement in versions to come.