Microsoft opens window into storage plans

Microsoft on Wednesday gave the public a glimpse at its storage strategy several months after appointing a top executive to head the company's newly formed storage division, only to say it will need years to develop its data management technology.

Here at the Storage Networking World conference, Microsoft's Bob Muglia gave his first speech since taking on the title of senior vice president of the enterprise storage services group. Muglia -- who has worked on .Net, Office and other major projects and products -- described technology plans that would make Microsoft's operating system act as a hub for managing data across PCs, servers and storage systems.

"We want to make Windows the best operating system for storage, and that is a long-term focus," Muglia said.

Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington, is looking to add various management features to upcoming generations of Windows. These features would allow the operating system to pick which servers and storage systems should handle information and how best to direct the flow of data between workers and computers. For example, the operating system could automatically distribute and direct database software files and processes toward high-performance servers and storage systems, giving data-intensive applications a priority over less critical software.

The operating system could also help simplify management tasks by seeking out storage systems with extra space instead of having an administrator direct these types of functions, Muglia said.

The company's grand vision is to create a file system within Windows that would create a standard way to access data for all types of applications and computing systems. This would allow companies to manage a large pool of information instead of needing to set policies for and administer small groups of server and storage systems.

"It is not for the faint of heart," Muglia said. "It is not something you will see in the next couple of years. It will take a long time."

Beyond this vague outline of Microsoft's future storage plans, Muglia provided little insight into how the company plans to accomplish its goals. Muglia did refer to several partnerships with EMC Corp., Dell Computer Corp., Compaq Computer Corp. and others as being key to bringing its lofty data management vision to fruition.

One analyst said Microsoft's storage play is the next step in the company's move away from PC-centric computing and toward a focus on managing information over a vast network.

"Microsoft has a heritage with the PC but has realized that the network is becoming like a massive mainframe," said Dan Tanner, a senior analyst with the Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston.

Microsoft's increased presence in the storage market has some industry pundits hoping the vendor can use its might to speed the development of much-needed standards for data transfer. Analysts, however, also warn that Microsoft could also become a new competitor for mainstay storage vendors such as Network Appliance Inc. and EMC in the long term, as both companies are looking to their software products for future revenue as hardware prices go down.

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