Microsoft wants bigger role in the storage market

Microsoft, never a company to let a profitable market go untapped, announced it is "considering" developing storage resource management software so that it can participate more readily in that billion-dollar-and-growing business. Some apologists for Microsoft have mentioned that the company already has lots of experience providing an operating system for many network-attached storage devices, and that this may be a logical and useful next step. Hmmm.

If this is the right answer, it is certainly for the wrong reason. Microsoft's Server Appliance Kit (SAK) is clearly useful for building low-end and mid-range NAS boxes (Linux is another option), but we should remember that the SAK is in every sense a generic offering that has nothing whatsoever to do with the specifics of storage. Its value is that it can be easily applied to any kind of server - telephony, general Web services and security, are good examples - and has allowed many companies to build useful devices on top of its stripped-down operating system. No one should infer, however, that the company gets any insight into storage from all of this.

Moreover, everyone - especially the many companies that make a living out of specializing in storage-related software and services - will need some serious convincing before they will ever believe that they should buy their storage software from the same company that provides their operating systems.

In fact, Microsoft has been dealing in a limited fashion with storage for some time. Hardware companies have to provide the company with drivers for testing before the software is qualified to appear on any of the Windows distribution disks.

In addition, Microsoft already licenses pieces of technology from a small number of storage vendors and then bundles them in to its own offering.

Microsoft's history here is very much a mixed bag. While it has an extensive interoperability matrix published on its Web site, it has not always been a good partner in the interoperability testing that is prerequisite to getting on that list. Historically, many host bus adapter and peripheral device manufacturers have been unable to get drivers for their products tested in a timely fashion, and thus were unable to get on the distribution disks when Microsoft sends out a new release of its operating system. Obviously, some vendors have had fewer problems than others. Hopefully, this situation has improved since when I was involved in this a few years ago.

There is no bottom line here, nor can there be until we have greater insight into what Microsoft will do, and how it will go about doing it. One can only hope that Microsoft will pay more attention to interoperability issues than it has in the past, and that it understands the importance to storage managers and third-party software and hardware providers that it works not only with its partners, but competitors as well. After all, you never know whom your product may have to cooperate with out there on the bus or storage area network.

Also on the storage interoperability front, IBM's Storage Systems Group announced its Total Storage Proven program, an interoperability testing program where leading companies work together with IBM to deliver both IBM and non-IBM products and solutions. In order to expand the perception of IBM as an open player in storage, the program will include testing with HP, Legato, Microsoft, Novell, Sun, and Veritas software.

Any program that emphasizes interoperability testing - and goes about it in the right way - can offer lots of goodness to users, who will be able to choose from a set of pre-tested, interoperable storage products. But let's not forget that this initiative should also provide value to resellers and independent software vendors also. With a list of interoperable products to refer to they should be able to get new products and configurations out to users more quickly.

A suggestion here: if they really want to do this properly, it probably makes sense for them to link up with IBM's Global Services group. Elements of that organization have been dealing with multi-vendor installations for years now, and may have lots of useful insight to share.

Mike Karp is senior analyst with Enterprise Management Associates (http://www.enterprisemanagement.com) in Boulder, Colo., an analyst and market research firm focusing exclusively on enterprise management. He can be reached via e-mail at mailto:mkarp@enterprisemanagement.com

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