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October 31, 2005

Microsoft’s Universal Distributed Storage vision draws some open source competition

Posted by David Hunter at 11:31 AM ET.

Microsoft last week provided a press release touting it’s Universal Distributed Storage vision. Details aren’t exactly copious, but when last heard from (at the launch of Data Protection Manager in September) it was “delivering distributed storage solutions built on industry standard hardware.” We’ve mentioned previously that hardware vendors are finding that difficult. In this latest iteration:

Responding to customer needs, Microsoft has outlined its Universal Distributed Storage vision, which is about mainstreaming high-end functionality to deliver storage solutions that are built on industry-standard hardware and offered via a multitude of partners in order to lower TCO. Microsoft is working to ensure that Windows manages distributed data storage more cost-effectively than any other platform, irrespective of where the data is – on a server or remote worker’s desktop, centralized or spread across branch offices, on Storage Area Networks (SANs) or Network Attached Storage (NAS).

It’s still trying to sell commodity hardware with Microsoft software which has well known difficulties, but there were two specifics that occasioned the release:

Two announcements on milestones in Microsoft’s progress in storage technology, pertaining to the Microsoft Simple SAN for Windows Server Program and a joint marketing effort between Microsoft and PolyServe, are being made this week at the Storage Networking World conference, a gathering of IT managers, storage architects and infrastructure professionals in Orlando, Fla., October 24-26.

Microsoft is making SANs simpler by leading the industry in shipping technology designed to make it easier to configure and manage this storage option. The forthcoming Windows Server 2003 R2, for example will include a SAN-provisioning application called Storage Manager for SANs. Through its industry-wide Microsoft Simple SAN for Windows Server Program, Microsoft is working with its storage partners to help drive the creation of simple SAN solutions for Windows Server 2003 users for all levels of companies.

We’ve been doing SANs for six, seven years now,” says Baldwin. “Back in the early days it seemed like no two deployments were alike. You could never get the same results. It’s gotten so much easier in just the last year. Now it’s almost like SAN-in-a-box – plug it in and go to work. This is big step in the right direction. It’s going to make SANs the standard way people do storage in any kind of computer environment.”

Industry partners who have just received the Microsoft Simple SAN for Windows Server designation are Brocade, Emulex, EqualLogic, Hitachi Data Systems and String Bean Software, while QLogic’s designation was announced last month.

Also new on the storage technology front is Microsoft’s joint marketing effort with PolyServe to bring highly scalable Windows-based Network Attached Storage clustered file solutions to market. This effort is aimed at simplifying file server consolidation, which remains a key area where cost reductions can be achieved in today’s IT environments.

PolyServe Matrix Server is leading shared-data-clustering software for Windows Storage Server 2003, which enables multiple Windows-based NAS and servers to function as a single, easy-to-use, highly available system. It comprises a true symmetric cluster file system (CFS) that enables scalable data sharing, high availability services that increase system uptime and cluster and storage management capabilities for managing servers and storage as one.

So PolyServe has grabbed a niche by extending the capabilities of Storage Server while other folks are all building plug compatible “SAN-in-a-box” units based on vanilla Storage Server R2 (due before the end of the year). I’m pretty sure which will be most lucrative.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the same day there was an announcement that IBM leads group to create open-source storage software:

IBM and eight other storage vendors are teaming up to form an open-source organization initially called Aperi, Big Blue announced Tuesday. The companies intend to work together to develop common storage software to manage different vendors’ systems, making it easier for users dealing with disparate storage systems. The software will be made available free of charge.

Aperi will be modeled after the Eclipse consortium set up by IBM in conjunction with other vendors to handle open-source projects to create development tools and frameworks for building software. Eclipse was spun out from IBM in early 2004 to become an independent, nonprofit organization called the Eclipse Foundation.

IBM’s partners in Aperi are Brocade Communications Systems, Cisco Systems, Computer Associates, International, Engenio Information Technologies, Fujitsu, McData, Network Appliance, and Sun Microsystems. This is a roll call of some but not all of the leading storage vendors. Missing are EMC, Hewlett-Packard, and Symantec.

Aperi intends to use existing open-storage standards, including the Storage Network Industry Association’s (SNIA’s) Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S), according to the IBM release.

“One of the last pillars of proprietary technology is about to fall,” Jim Stallings, vice president of intellectual property and standards at IBM, said on a Tuesday afternoon conference call. He pointed out that unlike many other areas of software, storage management has held off from embracing open-source technology. “You’re now witnessing the convergence of open source and storage,” he added.

Stallings said Aperi will release its first reference model some time next year, with all members contributing code to the effort, but he wouldn’t be drawn into specifics.

It’s still sounds like vendors shipping commodity hardware with the same software, but now the software is “free.” That’s probably not any easier for the vendors, but it’s definitely worse for Microsoft. Note that were hard feelings from some of the vendors not in the group.

Update: Symantec has declined to join Aperi.

Filed under Alliances, Cisco, Coopetition, Data Protection Manager, EMC, HP, IBM, Open Source, Servers, Storage Server, Sun, Symantec

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