REDMOND, Wash., April 11, 2005 — For IT managers and professionals, this week’s Storage Networking World conference in Phoenix, Ariz., is an opportunity to gain insights and tools that address the growing challenges of data storage, data management and business continuity facing IT organizations. For Microsoft, the April 12–15 conference is an opportunity to reiterate its commitment to helping companies meet these and other storage challenges, company officials say.
Storage encompasses the ability to hold, protect and retrieve digital data. Together with security, it ranked as the No.1 pain point with IT managers for businesses of all sizes, according to a recent survey by CRN magazine. Many companies are feeling the strain as their IT infrastructures need to store data more cost-effectively and manage it efficiently, a need driven largely by the relentless digitization of business documents and processes, and organizations’ growing need to maintain round-the-clock system availability.
For an overview of Microsoft’s recent progress in the storage space and the customer needs the company aims to address in the coming years, PressPass spoke with Jeff Price, senior director of Windows Server Marketing at Microsoft; and Ben Fathi, general manager of Windows Server Division at Microsoft.
PressPass: Microsoft is a relative newcomer to the storage industry. How would you characterize its performance to date in the storage space?
Price: When Microsoft started focusing on the storage space, we defined our charter around the following three areas: Making Microsoft Windows the best platform for storage, creating a vibrant partner ecosystem, and creating storage-specific products and solutions. Let’s look at each of these areas in more detail.
1. Making Microsoft Windows the best platform for storage.
If you look at our journey in this area, we’ve come a very long way. For example, the Microsoft Windows Server NT 4.0 family of operating systems was not the friendliest as a platform for storage. By comparison, Windows 2000 Server added technologies such as distributed file systems, replication and caching, and hierarchical storage management while the Microsoft Windows Server 2003 family of operating systems offers many significant storage improvements, including point-in-time access to previous versions of data and greater interoperability with Storage Area Networks (SANs).
2. Creating a vibrant partner ecosystem.
As a platform company, Microsoft cannot provide storage solutions to customers unless we have partners involved in the entire process. So we met with as many as 200 storage industry partners across the board — systems partners, networking partners, software partners and system integrator partners — with the intention of offering customers a wide range of storage solutions that are built on the Windows platform.
Fathi: A great example of our partnering efforts is the Microsoft Windows Simple SAN Program, which helps Windows customers reduce the cost and complexity of their storage infrastructures by allowing them to easily install, deploy and manage networked storage.
3. Creating storage-specific products and solutions.
Price: The first product we introduced was Microsoft Windows Storage Server 2003 to enable our partners to build and offer a Network Attached Storage (NAS) solution. Today, all the major server original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) — Dell, HP, IBM, etc. — are shipping solutions based on Windows Storage Server. The second product we started investing in was Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM), which was introduced in the second half of 2004 and which you will be hearing more about soon.
PressPass: What are your salient accomplishments over the past year?
Fathi: The first accomplishment was our ability to make products and features that were previously perceived as high-end available to a larger customer base. An example of this effort would be the ability to take application-consistent snapshots or “point-in-time” copies of data, an ability that used to cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. We have made this functionality available as a standard platform capability in Microsoft Windows Server 2003 called Volume Shadow Copy Services (VSS), and have worked with all the major backup independent software vendors (ISVs) and storage hardware partners to build and deliver integrated solutions. Another example would be high availability and load balancing for data streams from operating systems going to external storage, known as MPIO (Multi-Path Input/Output). Again, this feature is available in the platform with Microsoft Windows Server 2003.
A second area of progress that we’re excited about is our success in engaging with a broad set of industry partners to bring industry-wide benefits to customers. An example is our leadership in the iSCSI area. Microsoft Windows Server 2003 was the first operating system to enable a standards-based iSCSI Initiator — a piece of software that provides connectivity between a server and a storage device over Internet Protocol (IP) networks. We also released a version that was backwards compatible with Microsoft Windows Server 2000.
Another area we’re proud of is the broad customer adoption of Microsoft Windows storage technologies and the rich set of partner solutions as evidenced by Microsoft Windows Server being No. 1 in terms of attachment to external storage, according to IDC. In addition, Microsoft Windows Storage Server 2003, the NAS solution we talked about earlier, is the market leader from a units perspective in the > $500 category, according to Gartner.
PressPass: Can you give more examples of Microsoft’s working with the industry to develop a vibrant partner ecosystem?
Price: Since we began engaging with industry partners and industry bodies such as the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), more than 200 storage technologies and solutions based on our platform features — including VSS, Virtual Disk Service (VDS), iSCSI and MPIO — have been introduced in the marketplace.
We’ve also worked with our industry partners to deliver products to our customers built on Microsoft Windows Storage Server 2003. Our efforts with DPM had the effect of making the storage industry look at disk-based solutions for backup as a viable alternative to traditional tape-based solutions, and also involved working with more than 30 industry partners.
We’re also working very closely with the SNIA — for example, by participating in various hands-on-labs and interop demos that showcase not just Microsoft products, but progress across the storage industry.
PressPass: What do you foresee in the future for Microsoft’s storage investments?
Fathi: The single largest need we repeatedly hear from customers across all segments is this: How can Microsoft help them manage the explosive growth of storage while reducing the total cost of ownership? This translates into three specific needs, and we are committed to investing in these areas.
1. Making storage simple. We consciously continue to invest in technologies that will help our customers focus more on their business needs. Examples of our continued investments are making high-end features available to a larger customer base, as well as specific initiatives such as the Microsoft Windows Simple SAN Program.
2. Managing and protecting the data in branch or satellite offices. This need is particularly high among enterprise customers. We have invested heavily in protocol innovations for Wide Area Networks (WAN) as well as remote management tools which will be available in Microsoft Windows Server 2003 R2, currently in beta testing and scheduled for release the second half of this calendar year.
3. Making storage secure. Across the board, customers are requiring that security be manageable, and that it be addressed at a very basic level across all of these storage solutions. We are making heavy investments in the platform and with our industry partners to build inherent security in all our current and future storage solutions.