Microsoft Enters IP-SAN Market with New Storage Software

The company's iSCSI Software Target Application Pack will allow SMB users to install, configure and run a storage area network from a single console.

Microsoft plunged into yet another IT market—the IP-SAN space—by announcing July 28 the availability of the iSCSI Software Target Application Pack, which will be distributed to Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 OEMs.

With the new offering, Microsoft is reaping the benefits of its March acquisition of String Bean Softwares intellectual property, which it has rebranded into the Application Pack.

The Application Pack is a software-based iSCSI SAN (storage area network) product that provides the functionality to centralize, consolidate and manage storage using a single console, a Microsoft spokesperson said.

It is a scalable product designed to enable customers to install and configure a full-featured storage system for both block-based and file-based storage, and provides snapshots through Volume Shadow Copy Service.

iSCSI, an IP-based storage networking standard for linking data storage facilities, was developed by the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force). By carrying SCSI commands over IP networks, iSCSI is used to facilitate data transfers over intranets and to manage storage over long distances.

The first OEM to use Microsofts new solution will be Hewlett-Packard, the spokesperson said.

Some industry insiders have said they believe that more than 75 percent of existing iSCSI deployments involve Windows servers, so they see this Microsoft move as a foregone conclusion.

Claude Lorenson, group product manager for Microsofts Storage and Windows Server Division, in Redmond, Wash., told eWEEK in March of 2006 that the WinTarget iSCSI SAN technology was to be incorporated into the Microsoft Windows Storage Server R2 product line as an add-on feature.

Since it is an OEM product only, it will be packaged with Windows Storage Server R2 from Microsofts channel partners to provide block and file storage for SMB (small and midsize businesses) and midrange customers as a hybrid device.

"The reason we went with iSCSI is we felt that we have an obligation to simplify storage for our users," Lorenson said, noting that Microsoft already has released a native iSCSI initiator driver and plans to augment the WinTarget technology with added management capabilities.

The new Application Pack makes the benefits of SANs available to organizations of any size—from small businesses to the departments and branches of the largest enterprises, the Microsoft spokesperson said.

The Application Pack is fully supported when used with the Microsoft iSCSI Software Initiator, and it is designed to be compatible with all other iSCSI-compliant initiators.

Dave DuPont, senior vice president of marketing and business development at iSCSI appliance maker Sanrad Inc., in San Mateo, Calif., told eWEEK, "Microsoft told us about their String Bean plans five months ago."

DuPont said the development "adds more legitimacy to iSCSI as a storage networking technology and IP SANs as a viable network architecture. It also legitimizes the disaggregation of storage management and services from the storage itself, a hallmark of Sanrads architecture."

How will this announcement affect smaller, dedicated competitors like Sanrad?

"Microsofts new offering will have a significant impact on the low end of the IP SAN market. It will accelerate the implementation of IP SANs and ... adversely affect the market opportunity for entry-level iSCSI storage vendors," DuPont said.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about Microsofts storage offerings for SMBs.

However, he said, "It will not, other than further legitimizing the IP SAN market and disaggregated storage architectures, have a direct impact on Sanrad. Our platforms are focused on the midrange and higher ends of the market, where our purpose-built storage network platform, sophisticated management capabilities and broad storage services bring significant value."

The iSCSI Software Target Application Pack announcement needs to be seen as part of a clear and significant commitment by Microsoft to IP SANs, DuPont said.

"Microsoft isnt just making a bet, they are positioning themselves to take advantage of a titanic shift in the server storage world to open, heterogeneous storage solutions based on IP networks."

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Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...