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Microsoft Gains Storage Traction

With Windows Storage Server continuing to win over small and mid-size customers — with a 53 percent unit share of the 2005 worldwide NAS and unified storage market, according to Gartner — and Windows Unified Data Storage Server 2003 making inroads into the enterprise space, Microsoft appears to be the vendor to beat in the storage server space. While that is clearly not good news for the competition, Microsoft customers (at least some of them) aren't complaining.

"We had been a Novell eDirectory/Novell NetWare shop for authentication and file and print," says Rob Summers, enterprise network planner and integrator at Intermountain Healthcare, a 27,000-employee nonprofit healthcare system based in Salt Lake City.

The problem was that all of Intermountain's clinical applications, both the ones it developed in house and its third-party applications, used Microsoft Active Directory, not Novell's eDirectory.

"In the healthcare vertical, there aren't a lot of third-party tools or applications being written for healthcare delivery that leverage eDirectory or NetWare," says Summers.

So rather than maintain two separate directory structures, eDirectory and Active Directory, Intermountain made the decision to migrate from Novell NetWare to Windows Server 2003 at all of its mid-to-large facilities and from Novell Nterprise Branch Office to Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 at its smaller remote sites. Intermountain also migrated from Novell GroupWise to Microsoft Exchange and is using Microsoft Data Protection Manager to replicate remote file systems back to its central office and its Xiotech Magnitude 3D SAN or one of its larger facilities.

"We've had a great relationship with Novell over the years," Summers says. But the Microsoft products offered "better industry support, third-party utilities and third-party add-ons.

"We are a Microsoft shop. We realize that," he says. "And a lot of our application vendors are relying on and leveraging Active Directory's framework and infrastructure. So we just decided to move forward with Windows Storage Server," which integrates natively with Active Directory.

"You can establish your group policies based on their location in the Active Directory tree, and the management is a piece of cake," he says. "You also have seamless authentication — whether it's a NAS appliance or whatever, it becomes a member server in Active Directory. So you have a single point of management."

Another factor driving Intermountain's decision to move to Microsoft Windows Storage Server at its clinics and homecare agencies, which had either Iomega or HP NAS server appliances, was its need to have a remote office solution "that was very reliable yet could be managed off-site without much effort at all," says Summers. Again, Windows Storage Server fit the bill.

Bottom line, says Summers: Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 "is a great solution for file and print in a NAS box," especially if you are a Microsoft shop with branch office or remote sites.

The 500-Pound Gorilla in a NAS Box

Intermountain is clearly not the only Microsoft shop out there, a fact that Microsoft is well aware of — and counts on.

"We have a large majority of customers today running their server infrastructure on Windows Server," notes Bala Kasiviswanathan, Microsoft's group product manager for Windows Storage.

While talking to their server customers, Microsoft discovered that many of them just wanted basic file and print serving capabilities and were buying network-attached storage devices to do this.

"Customers who had a lot of Windows Servers and wanted to have some of these file-serving capabilities were telling us that the full Windows Server was probably overkill," he says. But they didn't want to put a non-Windows Server product on their network because they didn't want to have to manage two separate directories, as was the case at Intermountain. Enter Windows Storage Server 2003 R2, a kind of stripped down Windows Server for basic file, print and storage.

Of course, you don't have to be a Microsoft shop to use Windows Storage Server 2003 R2, though it certainly helps. The product includes heterogeneous support for protocols such as SMB, NFS, AppleTalk and Netware, allowing data to be shared across different platforms. Similarly, Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 is fully compatible with server management tools such as Microsoft Systems Management Server, Tivoli and HP OpenView.

Additionally, because it typically comes pre-installed from Microsoft's OEM partners, "you don't have to really configure anything," says Kasiviswanathan. "Most of the partners that we have give you a certain capacity and a certain redundancy in their hardware, so you can pick and choose what size and what features you want — and you have a variety to choose from."

Windows Storage Server 2003 R2, he adds, "is still one of the best file and print servers in terms of performance, features and total cost of ownership."

Unifying Storage

Not happy to leave well enough alone, in December Microsoft announced a new addition to the Windows Storage Server family, Windows Unified Data Storage Server 2003.

"Windows Unified Data Storage Server is kind of an evolution," says Kasiviswanathan. "People were telling us that file and print and storage on the network appliance device are great, but I also want to store block data — so can you give me a solution for that?"

To accomplish that, Microsoft created a file and print server that allows customers to store files and block data with Exchange, SQL or any other database on the same device through an iSCSI target interface.

That said, Kasiviswanathan is quick to point out that Windows Unified Data Storage Server 2003 is not a replacement for Windows Storage Server 2003 R2. It's about offering customers a choice, yet another tool in Microsoft's already very large toolkit. For those customers who don't need to store block data and just need file and print serving capabilities, stick with Windows Storage Server 2003 R2, he says.

For more storage features, visit Enterprise Storage Forum Special Reports