Microsoft releases storage salvo at SNW

If I had to choose a single reason why anyone should go to SNW (Storage Networking World), it would be: because you can see stuff actually working, which is also an opportunity to take an early peek at new, upcoming products.

Vendors go to the show for those very reasons, not to mention to meet customers and thread business relationships. The number of promising new products and technologies presented at this year's show was exceptionally large (although, to be fair, I've never been disappointed by SNW).

Believe it or not, Microsoft was on the front line, and not just because of its Windows Storage Server OS for NAS appliances. As I hinted in my previous column, vendors are beginning to deliver on Windows Server 2003 VDS (Virtual Disk Services), and although the number of compliant storage arrays is still a moving target, other vendors are jumping on the bandwagon.

For example, at the booth where EZPilot, running on Brocade, Emulex, and Hewlett-Packard hardware, was demoed, I witnessed interesting conversations such as this: "Allow me to introduce myself. I developed the VDS client for [insert name of array from big storage vendor here]." This was followed by exchanges of business cards and promises to reconvene after the show to add more compliant hardware to the EZPilot family. (Sorry, I'm keeping the vendors' names to myself.)

If your company counts storage by the petabytes, EZPilot may not interest you, but for the numerous SMBs waiting to move away from the DAS swamps to networked storage, it's a great facilitator.

Another Microsoft product presented publicly for the first time at SNW is System Center Data Protection Manager, which everybody will call DPM. It has the potential to hit it big with SMBs -- and perhaps with others as well.

Think of DPM as a separate server dedicated to handling nearly continuous disk-based backup of files in a Windows environment. Yes, I said files, because, at least in its first release -- expected for the second half of this year -- DPM won't handle more complex issues such as database backups or bare-metal recovery. Microsoft is promising to develop those features for the next major release of DPM, expected in 2007.

Obviously, having an online copy of backups simplifies the restore process immensely. The added benefit from Microsoft is that end-users who lost or damaged a file can dig into their own DPM bag for instant recovery without bugging an administrator.

You can even protect files across a WAN with DPM and centralize your backups at the main office -- although, depending on requirements, you may want to consider combining DPM with Windows Server 2003 R2 (Release 2) and its improved file-sharing features.

As Microsoft is not getting into the business of competing with vendors of backup applications, DPM sees no tapes. There is a development kit that allows partners to fill the gap between those online backups and tape archival.

To say that partners and customers are interested in DPM would be an understatement. According to Microsoft, more than 5,000 customers have already subscribed to the beta program.

A remarkable indication of partners' interest in DPM comes from Quantum, a company that certainly knows a thing or two about data protection. At SNW, Quantum gave me a private demo of a still-in-the-works solution that merges DPM's bloodhound-like capability to find files in need of backup with Quantum's DX30/DX100 disk-based backup appliances.

I have so many things left to tell you about this extraordinary edition of SNW, so tune in again next week for more. You won't be disappointed, I promise.

Mario Apicella is a senior analyst at the InfoWorld Test Center.

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