Q&A: Charles Stevens, Microsoft Enterprise Storage

When folks think of storage software, often times the first names that come to mind might be Veritas, HP, IBM, or even EMC these days. But Microsoft? Well, it’s true. The Redmond, Wash. software giant has been gaining momentum in a niche of the storage software market known as NAS, or network-attached storage.


NAS is hard disk storage that is set up with its own network address rather
than being attached to the department computer that is serving applications
to a network’s workstation users. By moving storage, which more often than
not takes up a lot of space, off of the department server and onto the local
area network, applications and files can be piped from one location to the
next because they are not competing for the same resources.


Microsoft specializes in delivering NAS to the low-end markets, and
according to the latest figures from research firm IDC, the market share for
Windows in NAS devices rose 8 percent in the first quarter to 41 percent.
Not too shabby for a market that reaped $1.49 billion last year.


IDC analysts attributed the growth partly to Microsoft’s warm partnership
with Dell, which is enjoying its own success as it seeks to pry its way into
the enterprise a bit more. On other partnership fronts, the company forged a
deal with EMC in which the storage giant agreed to bundle Windows into a
lower-end NAS product.


Charles Stevens, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Enterprise Storage
Division (EDS), and right-hand man to division leader Bob Muglia, is
responsible for sales, marketing and product management. Previously, Stevens
was vice president for the Enterprise and Partner Group, where he was
responsible for Microsoft’s enterprise sales and partner strategy worldwide.


He led a sales force of 6,000 people worldwide, and developed a new
enterprise solution selling model, with a focus on servers and solutions.
Stevens recently spoke to internetnews.com and discussed Microsoft’s
Enterprise Storage Division and trends in the storage market overall.


Q: What does this Enterprise Storage Division do? What is its purpose?
What are its goals?


With the creation of ESD about eighteen months ago, Microsoft clearly
signaled its commitment to the storage market. Currently several hundred
people work in the division and we continue to grow. ESD’s three primary
goals are:

  • To make Windows the best possible platform for storage
  • Catalyze the industry to innovate storage technology for the benefit of
    customers

  • To introduce new Microsoft storage products


We have made good progress on all three fronts. With Windows Server 2003,
Microsoft introduces a number of innovations to reduce the costs and
complexities of storage management for customers, making it easier and more
reliable to manage and maintain disks and volumes, backup and restore data,
and connect to Storage Area Networks (SANs). Partnerships with over 30
partners including Dell, EMC, HP, IBM, and many others exemplify our
commitment to be a leader in the storage industry. The partnerships will
deliver more scalable, better-integrated network storage solutions to
customers for easier storage management and improved price performance.

Customers will see a joint value proposition from our partnerships that will
improve the economics of today’s deployments of industry standard platforms,
while creating new opportunities to address more challenging requirements.
New storage elements of Windows Server 2003 also help us catalyze the
industry, by providing APIs that enable ISVs and IHVs to optimize their
products for Windows.


ESD’s current product is Windows Powered Network Attached Storage (WPNAS).
It has been in the market for over two years and is getting great traction
as evidenced from our increased market share numbers. We are providing our
customers with a great product with advanced features at very competitive
prices. Version 3.0 of WPNAS will be released in the next 90 days. ESD is
currently planning the development of additional products.


Q: How does the Enterprise Storage Division fit into MFST as a whole? The
server group owns .NET (Windows 2003), which offers a number of new features
focused on making it easier to use MFST platforms in a networked storage
environment. How does the ES Division work with the groups that own this
software?

The Enterprise Storage Division is a business division with the Server Group
at Microsoft. We are very tightly linked with the Windows Server team and
played a leading role in the development of new storage aspects of Windows
Server 2003, such as Virtual Shadow Copy Service (VSS) and Virtual Disk
Service (VDS), Multi-Path I/O (MPIO) and iSCSI. We are connected and
integrated with other groups, too. Cross-division integration is very
important, and receives a lot of focus, at Microsoft.


Q: Analysts have said that Microsoft has done little in the way of fleshing out its strategy for ESD since announcing its intentions to enter the market. What is MSFT’s strategy for becoming a major player in the storage market?

Microsoft has offered storage products for some time, such as the NT File
System (NTFS) and the Distributed File System (DFS), as well as offering NAS
capabilities with Windows Powered NAS. We have a clear track record in the
market. Yes, there are many players in the storage industry, but the market
opportunity is still tremendous. Customers are still looking for improved
solutions to manage the explosion of data in the enterprise. What we are
doing is extending the efforts we have already made and addressing the new
problems we see. We think we have an opportunity to be of real value in the
market. Market acceptance of our products and partner support is our goal.

Q: Outside of NAS, which has been a big success for the company, what
areas will Microsoft be focusing on? Software management? Storage resource
management? File systems? Where does Microsoft see the real growth
potential?

Our division is actively focused on helping solve multiple challenges
customers face in ensuring the availability of reliable data and generally
lowering the costs and complexities of storage. That means we’re focused on
the full range of storage solutions, from a software perspective, including
file systems, NAS, SAN, backup, continuous availability, near-line storage
and storage resource management In terms of growth, we expect to see
continued growth in NAS. We also foresee real growth in the adoption of
storage solutions by small to medium size companies. IP SANs – supported by
technologies like iSCSI – will be a driving force behind that growth. We
certainly see great growth potential in the international markets.

Q: Will you develop this software internally, or will you still be
working with partners like Veritas in the future? How is your relationship
with Veritas?


ESD will develop new software products and we will continue to work with a
partner ecosystem. Much of what we are doing is providing an infrastructure
for storage management. With that infrastructure in place, our partners can
then build the value-add products on top of what we are providing. We think
this presents a tremendous opportunity for our current partners and
potential new partners moving forward. Particularly as storage management
features of Windows Server 2003 are adopted, partners will be able to
innovate more advanced capabilities. Already we have many of the major
hardware and software vendors working with us in support of Windows Server
2003 APIs such as Virtual Shadow Copy Service (VSS) and Virtual Disk Service
(VDS), as well as Multi-Path I/O and iSCSI. Veritas is a good partner and
has announced support of Windows Server 2003 with its introduction of Backup
Exec 9.0.


Q: Standards play an important role in the management of storage-oriented
software. One of these, the Storage Management Initiative Specification
(SMI-S), formerly known as Bluefin, is an open protocol that makes it
possible for disparate storage devices to work together on a storage area
network (SAN)? What is, if anything, Microsoft doing with regard to this
spec? How does iSCSI fit into Microsoft’s storage strategy? Discuss the
importance of this within Windows Server 2003. Some storage pundits have
positioned iSCSI as a potential threat to the existence of Fibre Channel.
Does Microsoft see the two in this light, or are they complementary and
why?


We are exploring and evaluating Bluefin at this time but Microsoft is
enthusiastic about iSCSI. We are playing an important role in bringing the
storage vendor community together to make iSCSI-based applications and
storage devices a reality for customers. iSCSI will provide a lower-cost
option for customers that require high levels of performance and reliability
for their planned storage area network (SAN) implementations.

Microsoft will
deliver Internet SCSI (iSCSI) support for Windows client and server
environments in June. Microsoft’s iSCSI software driver will be provided via
Web download at no charge for Microsoft Windows 2000 client and server
versions, Windows XP client, and the Windows Server 2003 family of products.
More than 60 independent software vendors (ISVs) and independent hardware
vendors (IHVs) are in the planning stages or are developing Windows-based
applications and storage hardware products for iSCSI. And Microsoft has
created an iSCSI Designed for Windows Logo Program to enable IHVs to qualify
their Windows-targeted iSCSI hardware components.


We do not view iSCSI as a replacement for Fibre Channel. iSCSI complements
existing storage solutions – for example, if an enterprise has two or more
separate Fibre Channel SANs in operation, iSCSI is the perfect low cost
solution to connect these storage islands. If an enterprise has not yet
invested in Fibre Channel, iSCSI allows it to implement a new cost-effective
storage solution that runs over their existing Ethernet infrastructure.

By
being able to leverage the existing TC/IP and Ethernet networks, the cost of
entry into the world of SANs is considerably lower. iSCSI allows
small-to-medium-sized companies that can’t handle the large capital outlay
associated with Fibre Channel to be able to deploy a SAN of their
own–something that was beyond their reach until now.


Q: What challenges and key trends does Microsoft see going forward in the
storage software market that will shape its strategy?

For our division, the biggest challenge is building out our organization
quickly but intelligently. We need to grow rapidly in order to meet the
great opportunities in front of us, but we want to exercise discipline and
strategy as we do so. Finding smart, creative and dedicated people is a top
priority for us. From a market trends perspective, the development and
adoption of standards will be a key element of our strategy. And we look
forward to working closely with customers and partners as we execute on our
mission.

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