Intel, BSquare Team On WSS-Based Custom Storage

BSquare, Bellevue, Wash., is offering a free image download based on the WSS operating system that lets even the smallest custom system builders build a storage appliance based on Intel's SSR212CC barebones storage array, also known as Compass Creek.

WSS is a version of Windows Server 2003 aimed at building storage appliances. Large OEMs such as EMC, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Iomega, as well as a handful of tier-two branded vendors, have been using the platform for several years to build NAS appliances.

Microsoft also recently introduced a service pack for WSS that adds an iSCSI target to WSS. The target, based on technology Microsoft acquired in March from String Bean Software, allows appliances built with WSS to also be used as iSCSI SAN arrays.

But for small custom system builders, the only way to use WSS for making their own appliances has been to acquire it through one of a handful of embedded systems distributors -- including BSquare, Arrow Electronics, Avnet and Bell Microproducts -- and develop the appropriate storage image based on the hardware they use.

Sponsored post

BSquare, the largest Microsoft embedded licensing distributor, and Intel have been quietly reaching out to the channel to change that, said Scott Caldwell, business development manager at BSquare. Under the new program, which has yet to be formally introduced, BSquare has developed a preconfigured image of WSS specifically for Intel's Compass Creek storage enclosure.

Solution providers can download that image free from BSquare and load it onto a Compass Creek enclosure they buy from any of Intel's distributors. After loading the appropriate hard drives and memory, the solution provider then can ship the appliance to a customer for a free 30-day trial. Should the customer decide to buy the appliance, it can be converted to a licensed copy of WSS.

Caldwell said there has never been an easier way to build a storage device based on a major OS like WSS. "VARs can download the OS for free, load it into a Compass Creek box, follow a step-by-step document and in 90 minutes have a completely validated solution they can test and demonstrate to customers," he said.

Scott Peiffer, director of storage solution marketing at Intel, also cited the ease with which solution providers can use the combination.

"Just integrate the hard drives and add the memory. It works," he said. "All the work has been done by BSquare. Any IT administrator can do it. Anybody who has loaded an operating system should have no trouble."

Peiffer said the combination of a Compass Creek enclosure with WSS and the solution provider's hard drives and memory enables custom system makers to build a storage appliance in the $4,000 to $5,000 list-price range. What's more, because the solution providers are doing their own configuration, they can differentiate themselves from name-brand storage arrays by hard drive density and by their own services and solutions.

For now, the WSS image allows a NAS appliance to be built, Caldwell said. Yet within the next week or two, another version of the image is expected to be available that includes Microsoft's iSCSI initiator. At that time, BSquare and Intel will formally launch the WSS/Compass Creek platform, he said.

Wallace DaPron, owner of DaPron Systems, a one-man system builder in Limerick, Pa., said he's looking forward to testing the combination once the iSCSI image is available.

DaPron said he has been trying to gain access to WSS for prospects looking to deploy a low-cost iSCSI SAN based on Compass Creek, but sourcing the OS was difficult. "I knew I could always put a Linux OS on the box," he said. "But my customers are not as familiar with Linux. But as I started working with BSquare, I found them to be very helpful."

Tom Derosier, co-owner of CPU Guys, a Hanson, Mass.-based system builder, on the other hand, said he will stay away from WSS. "I'd honestly rather not use a Microsoft product to back up data," he said. "Not yet, at least."

So far, the BSquare preconfigured WSS image is only available for Intel's Compass Creek platform, but other similar images may become available based on future Intel storage enclosures, Caldwell said.

Both BSquare and Intel offer alternatives for custom system builders looking to differentiate their appliances even further. For example, BSquare has an OEM Pre-installation Kit (OPK) for system builders that sign a Microsoft OEM Customer License Agreement (CLA), Caldwell said. Though most companies that sign a CLA are large OEMs, it's available to smaller system builders as well, he added.

With the OPK, system builders can tailor a WSS image to the storage hardware they use. Once the image is satisfactory, the system builder can then order the appropriate number of licenses from BSquare, which then will send the Certificate of Authenticity (COA) stickers that prove the licenses were purchased.

However, in that case, the creation of the image requires the solution provider to have a technician with the appropriate experience, Caldwell noted The alternative is to have BSquare build the image. "If you ship two units, it's not worth it," he said. "But if you ship five units a month for 18 months, it's probably cost-effective."

Intel has a number of storage enclosures that have their own operating systems, and in addition to WSS, Compass Creek has OS options for system builders looking to build a storage appliance, including various flavors of Linux and Windows, such as Windows Server 2003, Peiffer said.

System builders also can choose disk-on-module devices with a built-in storage appliance image that plugs into an IDE slot from Open-E, a Puchheim, Germany-based company. Peiffer said that starting Oct. 16, an image based on software from FalconStor, Melville, N.Y., will be available for Compass Creek as well.