In September 2003, Microsoft unveiled Windows Storage Server 2003, a major update to the product previously known as Windows Powered Network Attached Storage (WPNAS). Unlike NAS devices from Snap Appliance (on the low end) and the massively scalable NAS rack mounts (on the high end), Windows Storage Server scales to meet a variety of needs. Here's what you need to know about Windows Storage Server.

A New Windows 2003 Edition
Earlier WPNAS products were specially designed versions of Windows 2000 that Microsoft created with the cooperation and help of storage partners such as Dell. But with Windows Storage Server, Microsoft's NAS server product becomes a full-fledged member of the Windows Server 2003 family of products, and as such, can integrate more seamlessly into Windows-based networks, use all the impressive storage-oriented improvements Microsoft made with this release, and work with the administration tools you're already familiar with.

At a high level, Windows Storage Server is primarily an optimized and dedicated file server, although you can configure it for print serving as well. In addition to the standard administration tools, including Windows 2003 Terminal Server, Windows Storage Server includes a unique Web-management front end that's accessible from any Web browser. This interface is similar to those that have accompanied other NAS devices.

At a low level, Windows Storage Server sports the performance improvements, support for larger volume sizes and more files per volume, and improvements to Microsoft Dfs and the Encrypting File System (EFS) that come free with any member of the Windows 2003 family. The product also supports the new Microsoft Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS), which lets you easily configure point-in-time backups that users can access without the help of an administrator.

Bundled Only
Like Windows 2003, Web Edition (but unlike other Windows 2003 products), Windows Storage Server is available only when purchased with new NAS devices from vendors such as Dell, HP, and Iomega. As a result and because NAS products constitute an unusual product category, hardware OEMs, not Microsoft, service Windows Storage Server. You must obtain bug fixes, security fixes, and other product updates from OEM Web sites, not from Windows Update. Microsoft says it will work directly with its hardware partners to ensure that they receive security updates as quickly as possible. However, responsibility for communicating and providing those updates to customers will lie with the vendors.

A Highly Scalable Consolidation Solution
Vendors are free to ship Windows Storage Server–based servers on any hardware that Windows 2003 supports. As a result, a variety of Windows Storage Server devices are available, each offering different price points, configurations, and scalability. On the low end, companies such as Iomega will supply sub-$1000 devices with 160GB of storage. Several products featuring more than 300GB of storage are available in the $3000 range. On the high end, Windows Storage Server scales up to multiple terabytes, and companies such as Dell and HP offer modular, scale-out solutions that can grow with your company. The list price of a Windows Storage Server device is the only up-front cost: Unlike most Windows 2003 products, Windows Storage Server doesn't require you to purchase Client Access Licenses (CALs).

Recommendations
Windows Storage Server is an exciting addition to the Windows 2003 product family, offering important technical improvements over existing NAS products at a similar price point. Because Windows Storage Server devices are essentially appliances, you can easily add them to a corporate network without any server downtime, set them up within minutes, and fully configure them in less than 30 minutes. And by leveraging your investment in Windows technologies, Windows Storage Server devices are extensible and scalable, offering seamless storage capacity upgrades going forward. If you're in the market for NAS-based storage, be sure to evaluate Windows Storage Server devices.