Storing Up the OS

Microsoft and Red Hat will integrate storage management software into platforms.

Microsoft Corp. and Red Hat Inc. are planning to add new storage management software to their respective platforms, moves that promise to give more flexibility to enterprise administrators.

Microsoft is expected to discuss the bundling of storage technologies—including Fibre Channel and RAID drivers, iSCSI support, data shadowing, host bus adapters, and APIs—into Windows .Net servers at WinHEC in April.

A more immediate plan for the Redmond, Wash., company is to expand the existing API for Server Appliance Kit 2.0 this summer to enable storage management software, sources close to the company said.

The plans follow the formation this winter of an Enterprise Storage Services Group within Microsoft, headed by Bob Muglia, former head of Microsofts .Net team.

Microsoft officials declined to comment on the storage initiative, but analysts who have had discussions with the company about storage issues say the plans make sense.

"Theres no question in my mind that Microsoft has interest in the storage space. Its one of the very few areas where the growth is still very strong," said Arun Taneja, an analyst with Enterprise Storage Group Inc., in Milford, Mass.

Randy Kearns, an analyst with Evaluator Group Inc., in Greenwood Village, Colo., said integrating storage management software into the operating system will help enterprises.

Microsofts storage strategy is fueled by its desire to push Windows .Net servers deeper into data centers. To do that, the company needs to define and execute a storage plan, according to analysts and Microsoft partners.

"This is real big news," Kearns said. "[The] OS will take on the snapshot capability—typically those features from the storage systems are extra-charge items. That says all these extra features that you put into the storage system from [competitors] that are more money, you can really get from the OS. It may be more toward driving storage to commodity."

In the Linux universe, Red Hat plans to add file journaling, volume management and iSCSI to its Linux distribution this summer, said Brian Stevens, director of engineering at Red Hat, in Tyngsboro, Mass. Red Hat also has plans that are two to three years out for a unified storage management architecture for technologies such as virtualization and data replication, Stevens said.

Bill LHotta, enterprise server engineer at Lucent Technologies Inc., sees advantages to storage management moving into server operating systems.

LHotta, in Naperville, Ill., runs terabytes of storage on Compaq Computer Corp., EMC Corp., Hitachi Ltd. and Sun Microsystems Inc. systems, all attached to Solaris and Windows servers. "The ability to expand, migrate and do serverless backups is whats important to me," he said.

"What I really see as the big upside is that right now, if I have a problem, I might have to consult with the vendor of the hardware, the vendor of the host bus adapters, the vendor of the back-end switch. If we could eliminate one of those, thats certainly going to simplify my life," LHotta said.

For storage vendors, the Microsoft and Red Hat moves are a blessing for some and a curse for others. Operating systems with native storage hardware drivers could aid host bus adapter vendors such as Emulex Corp., JNI Corp. and QLogic Corp.

Native management features and programming interfaces, however, could undermine makers of the storage units, such as Compaq, EMC, Hitachi, IBM and Network Appliance Inc., all of which have storage management software initiatives of their own.