Microsoft plans to launch an iSCSI initiator to allow servers to perform diskless boots from storage-area networks without expensive and specialised host bus adapter (HBA) network cards.
The company is also expected to discuss at the Storage Networking World conference in San Diego this week its plan for a future upgrade to its storage offering that can be used to create an enterprise-level clustered network-attached storage (NAS) system.
The new iSCSI feature pack for Windows Storage Server 2003 Release 2 is slated to ship by midyear, Microsoft said.
Claude Lorenson, group product manager for the storage division at Microsoft, said the company has been working with IBM to ensure that the upgraded iSCSI initiator supports IBM's BladeCenter technology.
The joint effort aims to allow the use of a common network interface card to transfer block-level data between IBM servers and Microsoft back-end storage devices.
Alan Hunt, manager of operations at Dickinson Wright PLLC in Detroit, has been booting his IBM BladeCenter from a Microsoft SAN for almost a year, but he has been forced to use special HBAs from QLogic.
Integrating the iSCSI initiator and the BladeCenter management software would greatly reduce the complexity of Dickinson Wright's storage systems, Hunt said.
Matt Wineberg, worldwide product marketing manager for IBM's BladeCenter, called Microsoft's iSCSI initiator "an attractive diskless-boot alternative" that won't "break the bank."
HBA cards cost from $600 to $800 for blade servers, according to industry analysts.
"We expect the performance [of the Microsoft-IBM offering] to be good or better than systems with an HBA," Wineberg said.
Lorenson said the later enterprise NAS offering will be included in a future upgrade to Microsoft Windows Storage Server 2003 R2, whose iSCSI and NAS technology currently targets small and mid-size businesses.
The updated NAS offering will be more competitive with higher-end offerings from storage leaders such as EMC and Network Appliance, Lorenson said.
Lorenson wouldn't say when the enterprise NAS upgrade will ship.
Brian Garrett, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, said that although Microsoft's low-end product has been quite successful, the company will have a much harder time breaking into the high end, long dominated by vendors such as EMC and NetApp.
In a recently published report on Microsoft's NAS and iSCSI products, Tony Asaro, another analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, recommended that companies running mostly Windows-based systems with "some mix of Linux/Unix" should look closely at the Microsoft offerings when evaluating NAS systems.
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