View this month's Buyer's Guide

If you're a small-to-midsized business (SMB), cost and ease-of-use largely determine any technology investment you make. When considering a storage-technology purchase, for instance, products that are simple to configure and run and require minimal IT intervention are more likely to make your short list than those that require more attention. Microsoft had you in mind in 2003 when it released Windows Storage Server (actually a rebranding of a product formerly named Windows Powered Network Attached Storage). Windows Storage Server 2003 is a version of Windows Server 2003 that's optimized for file and print serving and runs on NAS devices. You manage a Windows Storage Server 2003 NAS device from a Web browser UI. The product supports Microsoft Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) for point-in-time data snapshots and recovery, supports Microsoft Dfs, lets you attach a NAS device to a server cluster (up to eight nodes), and supports Microsoft Multipath I/O (MPIO) and iSCSI or Fibre Channel connections.

What's It Good For?
One of the most popular uses for Windows Storage Server is on a NAS device for secondary storage. SMBs or remote sites of a larger organization can back up their servers or use VSS or replication software to copy data in real time to a Windows Storage Server–powered NAS device, where data can be recovered much more quickly than if it were stored on tape. Companies can also back up the data on the NAS device to tape for remote offsite storage. Yet another use is to connect a Windows Storage Server appliance to a SAN as a SAN gateway, then boot from the SAN if a server crashes.

Because it's geared toward file and print serving, Windows Storage Server is also useful for consolidating Windows file servers, including Microsoft Exchange servers. Microsoft provides the Windows Storage Server 2003 Feature Pack, a product that lets you consolidate Exchange Server 2003 databases to Windows Storage Server NAS devices.

Selecting a Product
Unlike Windows 2003, you can buy Windows Storage Server 2003 only preconfigured on a NAS appliance from one of Microsoft's many Windows Storage partners. Appliances that run Windows Storage Server span a fairly broad range in price and disk capacity, as Table 1 shows. All the appliances listed in this Buyer's Guide include some type of management software, a backup and restore capability (one via a third-party backup product), and reporting. Most of the appliances support VSS, storage virtualization, and iSCSI and provide some type of hardware redundancy.

Other features to consider when you're selecting a Windows Storage Server–configured appliance are whether the product includes antivirus software and has an archiving capability. Of these two "extras," archiving might be the more important of the two, given that most SMBs already have installed antivirus software but are less likely to have developed a storage-archiving strategy to conform with compliance regulations.

As you'd expect, the more you're willing to pay for an appliance, the larger the feature set. EqualLogic's PS200E storage array and LeftHand Networks' LeftHand SAN with SAN Filer 100, for example, start at $51,800 and $20,000, respectively, and offer large native disk capacities and all features except for archiving and antivirus software. At the low end, the Iomega NAS 100d starts at $499 but offers relatively small disk capacity and a much smaller feature set.

Simplifying Storage
Microsoft isn't a household name in storage yet. However, with Windows Storage Server and, more recently, Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager, Microsoft is aiming to focus and reinforce its storage strategy. Windows Storage Server gives IT pros a straightforward way to use their NAS devices, storage servers, or even SANs in a familiar Windows environment. For more information about Windows Storage Server, go to http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserversystem/wss2003/default.mspx.