Q&A: Bob Muglia on the Business of Storage Management

Bob Muglia, Senior Vice President, Enterprise Storage Services Group

PALM DESERT, Calif., April 3, 2002 — Information is being produced at a dizzying rate. “As much information has been created by the human race between 1990 and today as was created in all of history before 1990,” says Bob Muglia, Microsoft senior vice president in charge of the company’s newly formed Enterprise Storage Division. The capacity to store information is keeping pace with that data explosion, but the cost and complexity of managing stored data is a problem of increasing importance to business customers worldwide.

Muglia delivers a keynote speech today at Storage Networking World, the world’s largest gathering of storage-networking professionals and thought leaders. As head of the Enterprise Storage Division at Microsoft, Muglia has taken on the challenge of working with Microsoft partners to improve storage-management solutions for enterprise customers in ways that increase efficiency and lower costs. PressPass spoke with Muglia about the new division’s work and his vision for the future of data storage and management.

PressPass: Why did Microsoft form the Enterprise Storage Division, and what is its mission?

Muglia: Storage is something that is very important to our customers. Microsoft has had an important role in storage management for many years — we build file systems, we build file servers, we build databases that people use to store information — but there are a lot of things we can do within our existing products, and our new products, to improve the way our systems work, make it easier for partners to build storage solutions, and give our customers a better experience. That’s what my division is all about. It’s about looking across the overall Microsoft product line, thinking about how we can improve Windows Server, thinking about how we can improve SQL Server, thinking about all the ways we can augment what we are already doing to provide a better experience for our business customers.

We see our mission in terms of a very long timeframe. Just looking at the kinds of things we think we can do, we’ve come up with about 10 years’ worth of work. One major milestone along the way will be the launch of Microsoft Windows .NET Server later this year, because in this release of the operating system we’re adding a lot of fundamental storage facilities; things like the Volume ShadowCopy Service (VSS), which will provide a standard way for Windows applications to interact with point-in-time copy capabilities from any vendor; time-warping facilities to let people go back in time to capture data at key points; and virtual disk services that give applications visibility to the underlying storage systems. There are a lot of new facilities in Windows .NET Server that are critically important to providing the foundation for applications that will help our customers manage their stored data more efficiently and at lower cost — but that’s just the beginning of the value we believe we can deliver to our customers.

PressPass: How will Microsoft’s deeper involvement in the storage business affect the industry? Specifically, how will this affect Microsoft partners that are already heavily involved in data storage and management?

Muglia: Our focus is on making Windows the best possible platform for storage-based systems — that is, on how we can help facilitate the creation of applications and services on Windows that rely heavily on the underlying storage systems. I think that will benefit storage vendors tremendously, as well as independent software vendors (ISVs) that build solutions of top of Windows, because Windows will become more broadly used in that context.

So continuing to improve Windows is only part of the solution. Vendors who create the underlying storage systems and the applications that sit on top of the operating system (OS) have a critical role in everything Microsoft is trying to accomplish in storage management. The OS provides the glue between the storage system and the applications, and that’s the key for us. How do you give an application visibility into the underlying storage system? You create a consistent way in the operating system for applications to have that visibility. How do you manage multiple storage systems? You have consistent facilities within the operating system to enable that. People may buy management tools to make that happen, but the operating system is what holds it together. That’s our focus at Microsoft, gluing those things together in a way that enables a cohesive solution.

We’re also looking at how we can add more value over time. This field is very broad, and as we think about how we can add value, we also see the ways our partners can add value with us. For example, today we already have facilities in Windows that provide some replication services. Now, we’re having conversations with our partners about how we can provide better visibility of the storage layer, so that as we improve the replication services in Windows they can help us move data more effectively. Even as we think about ways for Windows to do more things, there are opportunities for partners to plug in and add value on top of that.

PressPass: How will this affect your competitors in this business?

Muglia: Our goal is to make Windows a better platform for applications that rely on storage. In many ways, Windows is already a richer platform. Traditionally, Windows has been a very productive platform for developers, because we provided a lot of functionality that was not there on other platforms, so we saved time for the developers. We want to continue to extend that lead. For people who want to build storage-based solutions, Windows will be a better platform, and we will compete more and more effectively for that business.

PressPass: Why is this the right time for Microsoft to make a larger investment in the storage business?

Muglia: First, the use of our systems by enterprise customers continues to grow, and to help facilitate that use, it’s critical that we make these investments now. Today, we do a good job of making Windows work with storage-based systems, but to take the next step within the enterprise we need to do a great job. Now is the right time to make the investment to go from good to great.

Second, the use of storage, and the amount of data being stored, just continues to explode. We are seeing a critical crossover point from tape to disk, for example, and once that crossover happens it will just keep going. Over the next five to 10 years, the amount of information people will be storing, the way they will want to work with it, all of those challenges will just explode.

Because of fundamental hardware changes, data-storage capacity has grown dramatically. It’s still growing, faster than ever. But that increase in data storage raises new challenges for our customers. How do they manage that stored data? How do they reduce their overall cost of ownership when they have more and more data to manage? We think that is a software problem, and that’s why we see Microsoft as being able to play a very important role in the solution. Software is our business.

PressPass: What do you mean by a “critical crossover point” from tape to disk? Why is that so important?

Muglia: We’re in this interesting situation where the cost to store a gigabyte of data on disk is now dropping below the cost to store a gigabyte of data on tape. It’s a remarkable change that speaks volumes about the way disk-storage capacity is improving — it’s actually outperforming Moore’s Law — and that change will have very long-term influences on our customers. The idea that disk is suddenly cheaper than tape is actually a very disruptive thought. As this happens, it’s creating great opportunities for customers, because now people can use disk-based systems — essentially, near-line storage servers — to store yesterday’s copy of their files or yesterday’s copy of their Exchange database.

The hard part about backing up data is not so much how you back it up as how you recover it. Disk-based systems provide a much more straightforward path to getting the data back, while pulling the administrator out of the loop. If a user deletes a file they didn’t mean to delete, a disk-based system will allow that user to just click on something in the user interface and get the file back themselves without having to call an administrator, have the tape loaded, and go through a long and complicated recovery process.

The fundamental question is how we can make it easy for end-users to get back data they’ve accidentally deleted, or for administrators to recover volumes that have been lost because of some catastrophic hardware failure. The approaches for doing that on disk are quite a bit different than those you might use for tape. Microsoft is in a position to help facilitate that and provide a lot of added value. Disk won’t replace tape — tape will always be used to archive data — but it augments those systems and provides a whole new set of solutions for more streamlined storage and faster recovery of data. We know customers will find that very interesting, because we’re already in conversations with them.

PressPass: How does Microsoft’s increased focus on storage fit into the company’s overall enterprise strategy?

Muglia: It’s very consistent, but it’s only one important piece of a much larger puzzle. As people rely on Windows and Microsoft .NET solutions for broader and broader sets of their business applications, the storage of data associated with that becomes increasingly critical. Inasmuch as Microsoft can be the best possible partner with enterprise-class storage systems, it allows our enterprise customers to rely more confidently on the full range of our business solutions.

PressPass: Briefly, can you explain how Microsoft plans to address some of the fundamental issues of storage management, things like continuous availability and storage consolidation?

Muglia: First, it’s important to understand the scope of the problem. As much information has been created by the human race between 1990 and today as was created in all of history before 1990 — and the pace is accelerating. The key question for us is how we can address the issues around that data explosion, issues like security, manageability, consolidation, continuous availability, data protection and total cost of ownership.

Continuous availability is an example of a key issue for customers. People want to build very high-end systems to consolidate a lot of data for many different users on a small number of boxes, and making those highly available through all kinds of failures is critically important. The key to this is how we work with our hardware partners to build systems that are clustered and highly available. And once we have cluster-based services, what can we do to make it simpler for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to build those systems, simpler for customers to deploy them, and easier for people to work with them? Multi-site systems are very important these days as people think about the aftermath of September 11. It’s still very complex to build and manage those systems. Microsoft is making many different types of investments in terms of how we can get data shipped to multiple places, and how we can work with our partners to make that happen.

With security, our focus, very broadly, is on trustworthy computing. For manageability, we’ve built a manageable infrastructure to make it easier for people to build storage systems that are self-tuning. With consolidation, our focus is around storage networking and how we can work with partners in both the Network Attached Storage (NAS) and Storage Area Network (SAN) spaces to build front-end applications that work against those. Here, we think abut things like file systems, database systems and collaborative systems like Exchange — how those pieces fit together, and how we can work with partners to allow PC economics to drive down the costs of storage down while providing greater manageability and more capabilities in consolidated systems. This is key because customers today have storage in separate islands, so managing the stored data is very difficult.

With data protection, we split this into the near-line storage case and the archive case. With disk being cheaper than tape, we think there’s a major opportunity for companies to build disk-based, near-line storage systems to make it easier for people to recover data after an end-user deletion or catastrophic failure. This is certainly a great opportunity for our partners, and our core model is really how we can work with our partners so that they continue to deliver great solutions around Windows.

PressPass: Is there also an issue about making systems less complex so you have less hardware to manage?

Muglia: Yes, there is, and it’s a question of how to make the hardware simpler, how to provide less complex views into the hardware. The other thing that’s quite important is figuring out how hardware can take advantage of PC economics. How does hardware ride the cost-curve down? In just the past couple of years, we’ve seen the cost of enterprise-class storage drop dramatically from around 20 cents per megabyte to 3 to 5 cents per megabyte — it’s going to continue down that curve. The funny thing is that even though the storage cost per megabyte has gone down so precipitously, the total cost for enterprise customers hasn’t dropped very much because management costs aren’t going down at the same rate.

PressPass: Total cost of ownership (TCO) is a key issue for enterprise customers. How will the approach Microsoft is taking to storage management help customers reduce their TCO?

Muglia: Because Microsoft is a platform vendor, we can facilitate applications talking through the operating system to the storage system. A lot of the problems customers refer to when they talk about virtualization of data — that is, the idea of making it transparent for people to manage and work with data that’s stored in storage systems –really is a question of how applications can manage themselves. For applications to do their own storage management, they need visibility to the underlying storage systems, and Microsoft can provide that interoperability, that glue between those things.

Today, there is no standard way to do that. Using the Windows platform, we can help to establish some straightforward ways for applications to work with storage: understanding where to lay out an index; understanding what to do with log files; how you actually facilitate shadow copies; or backing up that information and all of the things associated with that. We can facilitate that, and by helping to streamline and simplify storage management for our customers, we can help them lower their TCO.

With TCO, you have to think about the overall life cycle, and the policies and tools that get created on that. The life cycle starts with the design of an application, goes to the development and deployment, the change management, the analysis of the application. All of this certainly covers storage, but it also expands well beyond storage, so it’s about how policy-based tools can be built — mostly by our partners — on top of the underlying infrastructure that Microsoft can help provide.

PressPass: September 11 made clear how critical security can be, while the increasing trend of linking computer networks to the Internet and each other is complicating the issue. How is Microsoft helping customers address that challenge?

Muglia: Security is the most important issue that Microsoft is focused on now, and is a core component of our Trustworthy Computing initiative. A key part of this initiative is making sure our developers have broad security training and awareness as they’re building and testing our software. We’ve instituted a massive testing and training program to make sure that people fundamentally understand the principles of writing secure code. It’s a very important process and will help to ensure that the systems we’ve built have the highest possible security.

There are two other steps that are very important for customers. One is creating policies around all these things and helping customers understand how to deploy systems securely. Basic configuration is part of that, making sure that systems are configured securely by default, and that customers are careful about opening up potential security faults.

The other is the feedback cycle. The great thing about the Internet is that even though it has tremendous potential for spreading some of these problems, it also has the potential to deliver solutions. Things like Windows Update give us the ability to get fixes out to customers quickly and to make it painless to get them installed. We’re currently working on a new software update offering, which allows a customer-designated server inside a corporation to automatically pull down fixes from Microsoft so that administrators can more easily deploy those fixes within their organizations. Giving customers control over that process is a key milestone.

PressPass: What is your personal vision for the future of data storage and management?

Muglia: Ten or 20 years from now, any information of relevance will be digital, and I think it will all be online. The amount of available storage will be so dramatically higher than today that you almost won’t worry about it. Storage density is doubling every year. In five years, we’ll see portable computers with a terabyte of storage. If you go out 20 years, you’ll have multiple petabytes [a petabyte is equivalent to 1,000 terabytes] in your portable. To give you an idea of what that means, five or six petabytes is enough storage to run a high-quality video of your entire life.

The amount of data storage that’s available to people effectively goes to infinity, so the question becomes, how do you manage all of that stored data? How do you find things that you care about? How do you get things back? These are software issues.

For example, a meeting like this will be video-recorded, and if you want to take notes you’ll have the ability to annotate the video at various points. How will we index video and audio to find words and phrases that are part of it? How can you find stored information regardless of whether it’s typed words, handwriting, audio, video or other images in digital form? How can software make it easy for people to find and recover the information they care about?

One of the things my wife kids me about is that I do only one of three things with paper: shred it, scan it, or laminate it. What that says is that paper is transitory storage; it is not a permanent thing. We’re moving quickly toward a world where lightweight, low-cost, portable digital devices with extremely high-resolution will be common. There are screens right now that are better in every way than paper. They are better to read on, everything is better. They’re not better in both sunlight and inside, we haven’t got that fixed yet, but these trends will continue over the next 10 or 20 years. All things will go to digital format, so it becomes an issue of how you find those things.

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