Microsoft: storage supernova?

You may have not noticed, but Microsoft is playing a fairly significant role in the storage market. The Redmond, Wash.-based software supernova came out of practically nowhere to capture nearly 30 percent of the NAS market, according to IDC, since the introduction of its WPN (Windows Powered NAS) two years ago. This summer, it'll release Version 3.0, as well as a Web download that augments the forthcoming .Net server to support iSCSI. Has Microsoft truly arrived?

This isn't Joe Millionaire, so we won't hold the suspense. Of course Microsoft has arrived.

Take a look at the slow and steady success of WPN. In 2000, Microsoft started pushing WPN as an alternative to OEMs that were building NAS devices internally. Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Computer Corp. jumped aboard and have had success ever since. To date, IBM Corp., Iomega Corp., NEC Corp., and about 10 other OEMs are onboard, praising Microsoft for being the closest thing to a standard compared to fellow proprietary solutions from Network Appliance Inc. and EMC Corp.

Microsoft told us Version 3.0 will feature an API that can be written to to permit real snapshots. In other words, the technology -- dubbed volume shadow copy service -- will actually communicate with the OS and application, and freeze computing tasks to make an actual point-in-time copy. Without this function, data can become corrupted if the system is performing a task when the snapshot is taken.

In Version 3.0, Microsoft will also introduce a second API that enables low-level SAN management, meaning LUN discovery, mapping, and masking. This feature is called VDS (virtual disk service). Of course, there are also performance and scalability increases, which will be announced later, including the ability to manage eight nodes simultaneously -- six more than possible with the current version of WPN.

Now here comes iSCSI, making more waves. Microsoft has long verbalized its plans to support iSCSI in its next version of .Net server, which sports a bundle of storage management features, including volume shadow copy service, VDS, and open files backup, as well as better support for SANs. Microsoft's support for iSCSI means many things. For one, it gives the company a bigger market opportunity with WPN, as it's likely we'll see NASes front-ending iSCSI targets. Microsoft has also been hosting secret plugfests where vendors are certifying its targets against iSCSI.

And, of course, with Microsoft's (read: big-name vendor) support, it's very likely that iSCSI will really take off.

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