These days, it's difficult to imagine getting your chief financial officer (CFO) to approve any major IT project—doing more with less is standard operating procedure these days. But I have good news: Windows-powered Network Attached Storage (NAS) can increase your company's profitability and performance.

About 2 years ago, Microsoft set out to create a version of its OS that it could optimize for file serving, storage management, and backup and restore. The company wanted OEM partners to use Windows-powered NAS to build state-of-the-art storage systems that would integrate easily into an existing Windows infrastructure. Microsoft knew the Windows-powered NAS devices should be easy to install (in 30 minutes or less), be highly available through clustering, be managed through a Web browser, and handle all file serving needs. Microsoft also wanted the devices to have no Client Access Licenses (CALs).

In the past 18 months, Microsoft claims to have captured 25 percent of the NAS market. What Windows administrators need to realize, however, is that Windows-powered NAS doesn't merely add storage to your existing servers but can actually replace your file servers.

Zane Adam, director of product management and marketing enterprise for Microsoft's Enterprise Storage Division, says, "Windows-powered NAS is about saving money." Adam provided a case study of a 1000-user company that consolidated 100 general-purpose Windows NT servers into three two-node clusters of 2TB Windows-powered NAS devices. Typically, you need one IT administrator for every 20 production servers. So, by reducing the number of file servers from 100 to 3, you could cut back from five administrators to one administrator, saving as much as $300,000 per year. General-purpose NT boxes also require CALs for file services. Because Windows-powered NAS doesn't require CALs, you could also eliminate that cost. In addition, Windows-powered NAS supports out-of-the-box clustering, deep quota services (down to the file level), and other features that typically require a high-end version of Windows and third-party software. Best of all, Windows-powered NAS meets Microsoft's design goal of a 15- to 20-minute installation.

With all the bad publicity about the added expense of Microsoft Licensing 6.0, the thought of a simple, unlimited license is enormously appealing. In addition, with the confusing array of servers available for Windows, having a product that does one thing extremely well—quickly, reliably, and securely serve files to hundreds of users—is a refreshing change.

Inside the upcoming Windows .NET Server (Win.NET Server) 2003 OS are several storage features that will make Windows-powered NAS better than the current Windows-based version. These features include multipath I/O support, virtual disk service, and Microsoft Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS).

Windows-powered NAS supports every client (e.g., UNIX, Linux, Macintosh) with no CAL fees. However, unlike other NAS solutions, Windows-powered NAS also supports Active Directory (AD), Microsoft Dfs, and other features native to a Windows 2000 and, soon, Win.NET Server implementation.

To learn more about available products, check out the Microsoft partners (listed below) who have created NAS solutions around Windows-powered NAS. Pay special attention to vendors that offer hot-swappable drives, a feature that Microsoft built into Windows-powered NAS but didn't necessarily implement on every solution.