To understand where Windows Storage Server 2003 came from, take a walk with me down memory lane. Think back to, say, 1998 or so, when a good-sized server might have a pair of 18GB disks and a large Exchange mailbox store might take up 8GB or 9GB. In that environment, the cost of storage was driven primarily by the expense of buying hard disks and supporting hardware, such as RAID controllers.

Since then, the storage landscape has changed dramatically. Many companies have large storage farms, and I know at least a dozen people who have multiterabyte storage capacities in their homes. The purchase price of storage continues to drop rapidly, but the cost of maintaining that storage is, at best, trending downward by only a couple of percent each year¡ªin some environments, maintenance costs are actually increasing.

The problem, of course, is that demand for storage is skyrocketing. Users are storing more and more information in their mailboxes, and Exchange Server 2003¡¯s site and server consolidation features result in larger numbers of mailboxes finding their way onto fewer servers.

In parallel with these trends, what I call ¡°bits-in-a-box¡± Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices have become increasingly common. The best known of these is probably the Snap Server line from Snap Appliance. Basically a small box that plugs into your network and acts as a dedicated file server, the Snap Server is fairly inexpensive and requires very little configuration or ongoing maintenance. However, Snap Servers don¡¯t run Windows.

Microsoft's response to the popularity of such non-Windows NAS devices was to introduce Windows Powered NAS. The company's strategy was to build a Windows-based file and print server that equaled or bettered the ease of management and low deployment cost of other appliances and to add value by making the Windows-based server look, act, and work just like any other Windows server in an Active Directory (AD) domain. It didn¡¯t take long for OEMs ranging from giants such as HP and Dell to smaller companies such as Iomega to start shipping Windows Powered NAS devices.

Windows Storage Server is the next generation of the Windows Powered NAS line; it¡¯s based on Windows Server 2003 and incorporates the same kernel and structure as the earlier product. The biggest difference between the two is that Windows Storage Server machines can¡¯t be used to run applications, such as Exchange, Microsoft SQL Server, or Oracle Database¡ªWindows Storage Server systems function only as file and print servers. Limiting the functionality was a conscious decision on Microsoft¡¯s part, because part of the rationale for storage-specific servers was that they could cost less than general-purpose servers. Microsoft has had considerable success selling Windows Storage Server as an alternative to other storage methods and is now trying to leverage that success into the Exchange world.