Microsoft launches server operating system for storage

A new special edition of the Windows Server 2003 operating system is expected to help Microsoft play a bigger role in addressing the storage needs of more midsize and large companies

A new special edition of the Windows Server 2003 operating system is expected to help Microsoft play a bigger role in addressing the storage needs of more midsize and large companies.

Windows Storage Server 2003, which the company launched at this week's Storage Decisions 2003 conference in Chicago, is the upgrade to software formerly known as Windows Powered Network Attached Storage. Enterprise and standard versions of the dedicated file-and-print server will be sold by hardware vendors such as Dell , EMC and Hewlett-Packard as part of their storage offerings.

Last year, Windows-based network-attached storage (NAS) products commanded 38 % of the market in units purchased, but they captured only 15 % of the total revenue, according to Gartner analyst Pushan Rinnen. Those figures reflect Microsoft's solid presence in small companies and in the departments and branch offices of large corporations, as well as its difficulty in cracking the dominance of Network Appliance and EMC at the enterprise level.

"We haven't been a big player in storage," acknowledged Charles Stevens, a vice president in Microsoft's enterprise storage division. He said that Microsoft is still mainly a vendor with a "general-purpose platform" but that the company is gaining traction among users looking to consolidate to storage servers to reduce costs and management needs, especially if they have remote offices with limited IT support.

Analysts said they expect Microsoft to start making inroads at more companies because of Windows Storage Server 2003's performance improvements, fail-over clustering capabilities and useful new features, such as the Volume Shadow Copy Service and the Virtual Disk Service.

The Virtual Disk Service provides a standard way to interface with storage devices, from direct-attached storage to storage-area networks, and simplifies the configuration of disks. Volume Shadow Copy Service lets users take a snapshot of files at a point in time.

Disk-to-Disk Backup

Julian Morris, a senior vice president and director of IT at Draft Worldwide , said the Chicago-based marketing services agency is testing HP StorageWorks NAS 2000s with Windows Storage Server 2003 for disk-to-disk backup. Since disk costs have declined, the company plans to keep 30 days of information available through online backup so IT administrators can restore files within minutes, he said.

In the past, the company retained only a week's worth of tapes on-site for disaster recovery purposes, and anyone needing a file from an older backup tape had to wait two to four hours to get it from the off-site storage facility. Plus, network engineers had to be on-site to load tapes and restore files.

Morris said the combination of HP's management tools and Microsoft's new Windows Storage Server Web interface will make it easier for IT administrators to remotely manage file restoration, and new Volume Shadow Copy features will let end users restore their own files without IT's help.

Performance will also improve, Morris said. Draft Worldwide needs six hours to back up 38GB of data using its tape backup library equipment. Using the NAS device as an online backup, it can be done in four hours, he said.

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