Microsoft execs fire back at NetApp comments

In a recent interview, Network Appliance CEO Dan Warmenhoven claimed that Microsoft's Windows Storage Server 2003 NAS platform was no competition because it's a low-end product. Microsoft asked for a chance to rebut that view and talk about the company's storage road map. Below are excerpts from a Computerworld interview with Yuval Neeman, corporate vice president for storage and platform solutions, and Marcus Schmidt, senior product manager for Microsoft Windows Storage Server 2003.

Q: Dan Warmenhoven charged that Storage Server can't compete with NetApp's NAS offering because Windows is low-end. What do you have to say about that?

Schmidt: We've gone from 0 to 50 percent market share in three years. The core platform in Storage Server spans the low end all the way to the high end. We have some of our high-end partners, like EMC and HP, offering very competitive NAS solutions to NetApp. Being a platform has its advantages in that we really can offer a lot of choice. We have lots of vendors bringing additional value to the solution.

I definitely see many situations where we're in a competitive situation with NetApp. One example is the British Airport Authority -- the largest airport authority in the world. They also happen to own and run Heathrow (Airport), which is one of the largest airports in the world. They're building a new terminal: Terminal 5. As part of that, they evaluated what solutions they would have for their files. They looked at NetApp and (Windows) Storage Server and decided to go with Storage Server ... for cost, cost of ownership and the familiarity their administrative staff had with (Windows).

There were some inaccuracies in what the NetApp CEO claimed. SQL has always been able to run the database on the NAS product.

Q: What about iSCSI?

Schmidt: It depends on how you look at iSCSI. We are the leaders in enabling iSCSI in a big way by having a very good iSCSI initiator. ISCSI has two sides to it. The initiator, which is where you ask for the data, and the iSCSI target, which is where you store it. We're not playing in the iSCSI target space because that's very tightly tied to the hardware, and that's where NetApp is playing a role. In fact, in many places where people are using NetApp iSCSI, they're actually using a Windows server to talk to that iSCSI (target). We're definitely a leader in iSCSI and intend to continue to be because we see that as a way to bring down the cost of storage solutions people want.

Q: What's the overall direction of Microsoft with respect to Storage Server?

Neeman: One is reducing the total cost of ownership. Where you really end up paying more is over the lifetime of the system. It's primarily the people cost of continuing to run that system and keep it going. The second one is really about scale and availability. Our goal is to continue to offer the best price/performance out of that, bar none. Last but not least, we want to look at areas where customers want more than just platforms and actually want a solution from us. When we see broad requirements, we might decide to go into them -- and Storage Server is a good example of that ... focusing on specific solutions.

Q: Are you expecting to partner with more companies other than EMC, HP and Dell for support of your Exchange Feature Pack?

Schmidt: It's available to any other of our OEM partners. It's just that those three are the ones who've committed to ship it on some of their products in the really near future. HP is starting to ship it now, and EMC is starting to ship it now as well with their NetWin 110.

Q: What about IBM? Why haven't they stepped up to the plate on the Exchange Server Pack?

Schmidt: IBM actually is no longer running a NAS device that uses Windows. They did have Windows-powered NAS back in the Windows 2000 era, but they're not Windows Storage Server 2003 at this stage.

Q: Is there a reason for this? Are you trying to win them back?

Schmidt: We would love to have IBM back as a partner. The reasons? I'd refer you to IBM to talk about their specific reasons. At this stage, they're only selling the previous release of the product, which is that Windows-powered NAS.

Q: Do you see Microsoft ever coming out with SAN-based software, software that promotes the transfer of block level data?

Neeman:We don't want to rule out anything. We just think the more you move up the stack, the more value in software you can bring. If anything, we want to move toward the application rather than down to the block level. We clearly want to have the best solutions to manage the block level and have great drivers so there's great throughput, multipath access and, of course, more availability and robustness in accessing block devices. But I don't see us playing at the block level. It's just not the place where we can add value to our customers.

Q: What about NAS devices that have write-once, read-many capabilities for security and compliance?

Neeman: That's something we're looking into. It would be on the NAS platform, a Windows feature, if we decide to do it. It's something we're exploring. It's not just in compliance cases. If you think about reference data and medical records, it turns out we're going to see more types of data which are mostly write once. We're looking into adding platform support for that. The other part again is really in partnering. (Microsoft) Exchange turns out to be where people are seeing compliance as a challenge because the amount of data being produced on a daily basis is much more than say in a transactional file. We're kind of working with the Exchange team and partners like Legato and KVS and others that provide specific compliance solutions for Exchange.

Q: Does Microsoft have an information life-cycle management strategy, and what is it?

Neeman: When you say "ILM," I think much broader. I think about, How do you connect (data) all the way from document creation through its life cycle? I don't see that being addressed today by any vendor. I shouldn't say none, but no major player. We definitely think Storage Server today is used as a storage for warm data. We'll continue to look for opportunities in that space. Longer term, it's really the integration with the applications that we're starting to think about. It's a vision, not a product line yet. I want to be clear about that. That's where we think it starts. Annotate documents with some lifetime rights management information and then have intelligent systems that can do something with it.

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