Microsoft Weighs In

Get ready for the software industry's 1,000-pound gorilla to startmaking some aggressive moves in the enterprise storage realm. Yes, I'mtalking about Microsoft.

To date, Microsoft has included utilities and other things in itsoperating systems and applications software to allow customers toperform rudimentary storage tasks. Yes, each new version of each majoroperating system has provided more sophisticated storage features, butit certainly hasn't been anything that most enterprises have taken tothe bank.

Indeed, Microsoft has done pretty much only what's been absolutelyneeded. (That's one of the reasons the third-party storage industry hasthrived.) So far, the company has not thought about storage as astandalone market, or as something critical for enterprise customers'success.

That's about to change.

In early September, Microsoft announced Multipath I/O, technology thatallows servers to talk to storage devices via multiple paths. Many ofthe storage industry's heavy hitters have committed to developingproducts to support Multipath, including EMC, Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard,Hitachi, Seagate, and Veritas.

Multipath I/O "delivers a standard and interoperable path forcommunication between storage products and Windows Server," Microsoftsays. "Customers will have the flexibility to incorporate products frommultiple vendors into a single, interoperable storage infrastructure."

So far, Microsoft is playing nice with the third-party storagecommunity. Or rather, those vendors recognize the business imperativefor supporting whatever Microsoft is doing regarding storage. But Idon't suspect that "scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" philosophy willlast forever.

The company has signaled its intent to come out swinging in enterprisestorage. In April, Microsoft announced a division devoted to storage.

Headed by senior vice president Bob Muglia, the small group (byMicrosoft standards) is looking to make sense of numerous existingcompany initiatives and product lines. The firm also launched a Web site(http://www.microsoft.com/storage) that talks about its plans here.

Among other things, company executives have talked about extending XMLor using metadata to access and organize storage throughout a company.

And a white paper on the company's storage site says that "Microsoft'svision for storage is to make it a full member of the trustworthycomputing infrastructure: reliable, secure and easy to operate to thepoint that users hardly ever think about it." Along with its vendorpartners, Microsoft "is delivering storage management solutions rangingfrom data protection to NAS, to multi-site availability."

My prediction is that Microsoft will work with the third-party storagecommunity as long as it's in its best interests to do so. But thecompany will go its own way relatively soon, with proprietary extensionsthat might well be superior to anything out there. But it will alsowreak havoc in an industry that hasn't taken the opportunity toconsolidate and play nicely together. If you think things in StorageLand are confusing now, just wait about a year.

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