My previous three commentaries described the features, functionality, and common uses for Windows Storage Server 2003, Microsoft's optimized file server. Common uses I described included file serving, file server consolidation, Storage Area Network (SAN) integration, and backup and recovery. I want to explore a few more uses for Windows Storage Server and investigate its future and impact on the storage market.

This September, Microsoft's hardware partners will begin releasing Windows Storage Server-based Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices. One partner, Iomega, will introduce two models, 205 (160GB) and 305 (240GB), whose prices will start at less than $1000. Either Iomega model could serve as a small business server for a company with fewer than 10 employees and could incorporate today's most popular small business applications such as Intuit's QuickBooks Pro financial software and Microsoft Office 2003. The business could connect various desktops to the server through a Wi-Fi network and could sign with a reputable ISP that provides a T1 line for fixed-price phone services, high-speed Internet connections, and Web and email hosting services. This setup should cost well under $5000. And, because you can remotely manage Windows Storage Server across the Internet, a consultant could easily support this configuration for a small business that doesn't have on-staff IT personnel.

As I mentioned in my July 9 commentary, I believe that Windows Storage Server-based NAS devices will serve as front-end gateways to SANs. You can use Windows Storage Server's Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) and Virtual Disk Service (VDS) features to control the underlying functionality of a SAN. DataCore's SANsymphony uses VSS and VDS to enable Windows Storage Server to invoke storage configuration, space allocation, and data replication services on a wide variety of SAN devices. Such capabilities let Windows systems administrators use an OS they understand instead of learning a new proprietary OS to run a SAN. If systems administrators can take advantage of SAN features (e.g., dynamic allocation of storage, LUN maintenance, hardware replication, snapshot management) from a Windows Storage Server-based NAS device, they're more likely to adopt the new NAS-and-SAN-fusion storage solutions.

According to IDC, Microsoft Windows Powered NAS (WPNAS) devices have garnered 41 percent of the market share for NAS units shipped. That figure is up 8 percent from the previous quarter If this trend continues, Windows Storage Server-based NAS devices will gain the majority market share in the next quarter. Four primary user decision factors are price, partner reputations, administrators' comfort with Windows Storage Server, and ease of use. If Windows administrators can buy a competitively priced NAS device from a major IT manufacturer (e.g., Dell, IBM, Iomega, Hewlett-Packard--HP) that uses a standard Windows Server OS (i.e., Windows Storage Server) and has a feature set that rivals its competitors, those Windows administrators will likely buy Windows Storage Server-based devices rather than proprietary OS devices. Microsoft's hardware partners will match prices with non-Windows–based NAS devices and win sales. In time, Windows Storage Server will be able to control most SAN functionality through VDS and VSS, making it easier for Windows administrators to take advantage of sophisticated storage features without having to learn a proprietary SAN OS. I plan to follow Windows Storage Server's progress to see whether it lives up to its potential impact on the storage market.

http://www.microsoft.com/storage