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Microsoft To Use New NAS OS To Duke It Out With NetApp In The Enterprise

The Wednesday introduction of Microsoft's new NAS operating system, Windows Storage Server 2003, is aimed at extending the company's OS lead into the storage market and chipping away at the enterprise space currently occupied by Network Appliance.

"The [networked-attached storage] market was dominated by proprietary systems like that of NetApp, which are sold in only one way," said Charles Stevens, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Enterprise Storage Division. "Now the market has a broad choice of configurations and applications that can be customized."

NetApp, Sunnyvale, Calif., has been very entrenched in the high end, said Stevens. "But NetApp has been backwards and forwards in regard to the channel. Our OEMs have started to scale Windows Storage Server into the NetApp space."

As for Microsoft's potential to attack NetApp, solution providers are divided.

Gary Belford, vice president of sales at Lilien Systems, a Mill Valley, Calif.-based Hewlett-Packard solution provider, said both Microsoft and HP will be better positioned for the enterprise NAS space with the new operating system.

"HP's NAS offering can use some fortification," Belford said. "NetApp has a commanding lead in the NAS space, and the Microsoft relationship will be a big boost for HP."

While Microsoft can dominate the low end of the market, which is price-sensitive, the NetApp feature set in the enterprise is so rich as to provide a formidable barrier to Microsoft, said Merrill Likes, president of UpTime, an Edmond, Okla.-based solution provider and NetApp partner.

"Mirroring, snapshots--no one else has them like NetApp does," Likes said. "NetApp's latest Ontap operating system allows up to 250 [data] snapshots, which can provide point-in-time copies every hour in a mission-critical environment, if needed."

While Microsoft has had success in the NAS market, the Redmond, Wash.-based company also has a major perception problem with many customers, Likes said. "Look at Windows Server and all the security holes. I'm not sure people are ready to trust all their data with Microsoft," he said.

Even so, Likes said he expects Microsoft and NetApp to start bumping heads in the $50,000-and-less space as the latter continues to roll out new entry-level products.

One advantage for Microsoft is that solution providers can get Windows Storage Server-based NAS appliances from a variety of sources, and the OS is readily available to entry-level customers, Stevens said. In addition, the entire array of Windows applications for backup, security and management can be acquired from any vendor. "If someone uses NetApp, they must use software certified by NetApp," he said.

A number of Microsoft allies said they are currently shipping--or will be shipping soon--appliances based on the new OS.

Inline, for example, is already shipping its FileStorm NAS appliances with Windows Storage Server, said Harry Garonzik, regional manager at the Dulles, Va.-based vendor.

The new FileStorms come in 1U, 2U and 3U form factors with prices ranging from about $5,000 for a 160-Gbyte configuration to $30,000 for a 7-Tbyte model, Garonzik said. About 25 percent of the company's products go through the channel, he said.

HP is planning to start shipping its StorageWorks NAS 2000s based on Windows Storage Server sometime this month, said Harry Baeverstad, NAS business director at HP, Palo Alto, Calif.

The 2000s, which is an upgrade to the company's existing B2000, will have a starting price of $8,295 for a 580-Gbyte configuration and scales up to 24 Tbytes, Baeverstad said. By year's end, HP plans to move all of its NAS appliances to the new platform, he said.

Dell, too, is planning to ship similar products this month, company executives said.

The Round Rock, Texas-based vendor plans to offer Windows Storage Server on its PowerVault 770N and 775N systems for small and midsize businesses and for workgroups, with prices starting at $4,999, they said.

EMC and Iomega also are planning to offer NAS appliances in the near future, Microsoft executives said.

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