Microsoft formally began supporting iSCSI more than two years ago when it included iSCSI initiator support in Windows Server 2003. However, Microsoft didn't release its own version for the other half of the equation, iSCSI target software, until July 2006, when Microsoft released the iSCSI target technology it acquired from String Bean Software in early 2006. The target software, called Microsoft iSCSI Software Target, is available as the Microsoft iSCSI Software Target Application Pack and only through OEMs selling Windows Storage Server and Windows Unified Data Storage Server 2003. By adding the iSCSI Software Target Software Application Pack to either of the Microsoft storage server offerings, a user could provide an end-to-end Microsoft solution for deploying an iSCSI-based storage network.

iSCSI is important because it enables businesses to build storage networks without requiring them to have a dedicated SAN implementation. Although iSCSI technology doesn't address the performance and security advantages of a dedicated SAN, iSCSI does bring the organizational and management advantages of storage networking to a price point that lets smaller businesses implement the technology. Vendors such as HP and Dell offer complete lines of iSCSI storage devices aimed at the more price-sensitive small-to-midsized business (SMB) market.

The Target Application Pack provides the iSCSI target and management software in the form of the Microsoft Management Console (MMC) iSCSI Software Target snap-in. By using the snap-in, you can consolidate block- and file-storage workloads across multiple storage server devices, which can be consolidated to reduce the time, effort, and expense of managing your storage requirements.

Once the iSCSI target software is installed on the storage server, the target software provides the transparent support for Windows Server storage technologies such as Microsoft Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) and the Microsoft Virtual Disk Service (VDS) API. The target software also includes the Microsoft iSCSI Software Target VSS Hardware Provider software to provide full support for the creation of consistent, application-aware snapshots of virtual disks (required for use with Microsoft Exchange Server) from the iSCSI initiator. This support is transparent to users and applications and simplifies expanding storage capabilities as the business's storage needs grow. Current users of Windows Storage Server 2003 Release 2 (R2) can upgrade their storage servers by contacting their equipment manufacturers. Owners of the new Windows Unified Data Storage Server 2003 will find that iSCSI is already fully supported on their platforms.

If you aren't using any of the dedicated Windows storage servers and still want to implement iSCSI storage networking on a Windows Server-based network, you can get the WinTarget iSCSI software directly from String Bean Software at http://www.stringbeansoftware.com . This software lets you do iSCSI storage networking using any Windows 2003 system. The iSCSI initiator software is already available in Windows 2003 and requires only an appropriate iSCSI software target to function. It also works with iSCSI initiators found on a number of UNIX and Linux implementations, giving you cross-platform support. The Microsoft iSCSI target is supported only with Microsoft OSs. WinTarget has optional VSS Hardware Provider support for users in Exchange Server environments.

iSCSI should be high on the list of any SMB looking for options to improve its storage management architecture. With the native support for the iSCSI initiator in Windows 2003 and easy availability of iSCSI target software, we should expect to see a significant increase in iSCSI storage networking in 2007.