At the end of 2006, Microsoft formally released the first version of its future storage platform, Windows Unified Data Storage Server 2003 (WUDSS). With the product's purpose to provide a single storage platform suitable for SAN, NAS, NFS, and traditional Server Message Block (SMB) storage, WUDSS is designed to provide an easy-to-implement storage solution that will be delivered as an OEM package to users.

WUDSS builds on the existing technologies available in Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 (which currently remains available as an OEM product) but adds functionality and improves the usability of the product. With WUDSS, users will first notice what Microsoft calls Out-of-Box Experience. This is basically a task screen that links administrators with the tools to walk through all the necessary steps to get the Storage Server up and running. For those that have labored through configuring NFS on Windows, the new interface will come as a pleasant surprise--simplifying what has often been an onerous task.

WUDSS's Provision Storage Wizard simplifies the tasks involved in the setup and configuration of the storage device and can be followed with the Provision a Shared Folder Wizard. These tools support both SMB and NFS.

For general management tasks, WUDDS loads a new Share and Management Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-in that finally integrates all the storage-management tools found in Windows Server into a single interface. If you've had to deal with the various snap-ins currently used for storage management, you'll be familiar with the functionality of the new management interface because it doesn’t require learning any new tools. You just have to become familiar with the integrated interface.

Server management can also be accomplished via a remote browser interface, which no longer requires a Windows client. When a user remotely connects to the server manager, an ActiveX RDP client is loaded on Windows, or, if a non-Windows client (or a browser that does not support ActiveX), a Java RDP client is used. All of the functionality of the ActiveX connection is preserved when using the Java connection.

WUDSS also incorporates Microsoft iSCSI Software Target technology that was acquired in Microsoft's acquisition of String Bean Software's WinTarget in March 2006. This means that both iSCSI target and initiator are available through the storage server. iSCSI Software Target's configuration wizards walk the administrator through the creation and configuration of iSCSI targets and let you easily combine file, print, and block server storage on the server. The iSCSI Software Target also supports Microsoft Cluster Services, which enables the creation of volumes larger than 2TB in the server cluster.

WUDSS is an OEM-only product, which means that you need to buy it bundled with storage systems from a Microsoft partner. Not all Microsoft storage partners are offering WUDSS to their customers at this point. For example, last month Dell announced a WUDSS-based storage system but also continues to offer their earlier Windows Storage Server 2003 R2-based products. HP offers a number of Windows-based storage products, but none make use of WUDSS at this point, as HP is bundling its own storage management configuration and management tools.

The unified data storage model concept is a good one, and it appears that Microsoft is making a serious effort to provide a basis for the high-end small-to-midsized (SMB) customer to extend their Windows Server networks into the storage area. Some success has been found with the Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 release, and it remains to be seen if WUDSS can build on that success.