By Matthew Southwell
While its desktop applications garner headlines on a daily basis, Microsoft’s storage division is relatively unknown. Established in January 2002, the team was created to discover and establish an entry point into the market.
I|~||~||~|While its desktop applications and operating systems garner headlines on a daily basis, Microsoft’s enterprise storage division is relatively unknown. Established in January 2002, the team was created to discover and establish an entry point into the global storage market for the software giant, as it looked to tap into one of the few IT markets with continued double digit growth. “The objective, at the high level at least, was to make Windows the best platform for storage. So we worked within our own division, and with the other divisions at Microsoft, to develop a range of storage features that addressed our customers’ needs,” says Zane Adam, director of product management & marketing for Microsoft’s enterprise storage division.The group’s first offering was a Windows powered NAS (network attached storage) appliance server — an optimised file server based on Microsoft Windows — which has already achieved a 32% market share, according to IDC. Adam says the rapid adoption of the product stems from a need to manage increasing amounts of data with decreased IT spending.“When we started talking to customers they knew that the amount of data they had was growing, but they didn’t really know how to get to the useful information, or where it should live and how to protect it. Therefore, our primary goal was to make sure the customers’ storage needs were addressed and, because we have a platform that can address their needs, it was a natural progression for us to go into the storage arena and develop a solution that could address a customer’s back end while also working well with our front end application servers,” he explains.Another factor in the rapid adoption of the Windows powered NAS appliance server is the growing need for consolidation. “As companies’ storage needs grow, the number of servers they need also grows and this bring with it problems of extra expense and administration. However, by consolidating their data on a Windows powered NAS device, we can help companies reduce their costs,” explains Adam.Moving forward, Microsoft’s enterprise storage division intends to release more products to the market during 2003. Foremost among these is NAS 3.0, which is scheduled for release in April and will be based on the software vendor’s .Net platform.“The current NAS product is based on an optimised version Windows 2000 advanced server. However, the next version we bring out will be based on an optimised version of .Net server. This will have storage features built into the platform itself and, as a result, the launch will be a defining moment for us in terms of the platform,” says Adam.However, while Microsoft is looking to flesh out its NAS offering, it has no plans to enter the storage area network (SAN) market due to the nature of the product. “SANs are not part of the plan because they are more a technology deployment architecture without an operating system or file system running on the infrastructure. We are more of a front end to that and the extent of our involvement in SAN is to make Windows Server a better SAN citizen. In this regard, users will see a lot of innovation in .Net Server version of Windows 2003 and our NAS boxes will have a lot of SAN friendliness built into them,” explains Adam.Although Microsoft works with OEMs that are present in the Middle East, such as Dell, HP, IBM and Iomega, the enterprise storage division has had poor visibility throughout the region thus far. However, Haider Salloum, marketing manager for Microsoft South Gulf, expects this to change as the company introduces Windows Server 2003.“We hope to become a key player in [the storage] market over the coming year, as it is a natural extension to [our] Windows Server 2003 business… It’s not our corporate policy to disclose sales forecasts, but we hope to achieve a significant market share in this region this year,” he says. ||**||