EMC exec touts closer ties to Microsoft

EMC is working closely with Microsoft to ensure that its storage equipment will be able to take advantage of new storage management capabilities planned for a future version of Microsoft's operating system, a top EMC executive said.

The partnership, which builds on an existing relationship, could help Microsoft's server operating system creep further into the data center, where EMC is the dominant storage player, and at the same time help EMC sell more of its storage gear to Microsoft customers, analysts said.

Engineers from the two companies are collaborating to ensure that future EMC storage products are optimized to work with a version of Windows code named Blackcomb, which is due out in 2005, said Jim Rothnie, senior vice president and chief technology officer at EMC, during an interview here last week at the Storage Networking World conference.

The goal is to fine tune products from the companies in a way that should make "a huge difference" to the performance of EMC's storage gear when used in conjunction with Microsoft's software, according to Rothnie.

"We have a very close relationship with Microsoft" which includes work to ensure interoperability between future products, he said. "The central piece of what we are doing is cooperating to ensure (Microsoft's) products work very well with ours."

Microsoft's plans for Blackcomb include a major revision to the Windows file system which, among other things, should allow it to add a host of storage management tools to the operating system, Bob Muglia, senior vice president of Microsoft's enterprise storage services group, said during a speech at the conference. Blackcomb will be able to communicate with applications and tell them which storage systems would be best suited to handling certain types of information, he said.

The so-called unified file system (UFS) should also help to break down barriers between certain file types and make it possible for companies to manage information in large "blocks," as opposed to small subsets of data that are held in a variety of storage systems, Muglia said.

Analysts said a close relationship between the companies makes sense given Microsoft's increased focus on storage and its ongoing push to sell more high-end server software. The Redmond, Washington-based software maker recently formed the storage group headed by Muglia, which will work to boost the storage management capabilities across Microsoft's products.

"EMC represents the storage core of the biggest data centers in the world, and Microsoft wants to be a player in the core of the biggest data centers of the world," said Steve Duplessie, an analyst at Enterprise Storage Group Inc. in Milford, Massachusetts. "There is logic between these two getting together."

Another analyst agreed.

"Number one, it helps Microsoft get into the data center and number two, if they to do a universal file system, it makes sense to have a partner that can propagate (that system) from a storage standpoint," said John Webster, a senior analyst for Nashua, New Hampshire, research company Illuminata Inc.

Muglia was making his first public appearance here in his new role as Microsoft's storage chief. While the storage group employs only about a dozen people today, he said Microsoft is serious about storage and wants to make its OS the "best operating system for storage." [See "SNW - Microsoft opens window into storage plans," April 4.]Muglia has yet to grant the media an interview since taking on the new role. Zane Adam, a Microsoft group product manager, confirmed that the company is working with EMC to develop future storage products, but declined to comment on any plans for Blackcomb, saying it is too far down the road.

Even with the tight relationship between Microsoft and EMC, other vendors should still be able to tune their software to work well with Microsoft's products, Duplessie said. "This relationship will not preclude would-be competitors and third parties from coming up with better ways to skin a cat," he said.

In addition to shedding light on EMC's work with Microsoft, Rothnie also revealed that EMC will soon release a "new type" of large storage system designed for handling large files that are not often changed by users. The executive wouldn't provide many details, but said at least one product would be geared towards media companies and possibly scientific markets. The system would come with specialized software for handling media files or "fixed images" and for speeding the performance of applications that use bulky but rich content.

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