Microsoft Brings More Storage Functionality To Windows, Exchange

On the NAS side, the Redmond, Wash., company this week is unveiling a new Feature Pack that allows database and log file data from Exchange Server to be stored on NAS appliances running Windows Storage Server 2003, said Marcus Schmidt, senior product manager.

The vendor recently decided to reinstate NAS support for Exchange with its latest version, said Schmidt. "Exchange supported NAS in version 5.5," he said. "But when the company moved to Windows 2000, we said Exchange could only be supported on a SAN or via direct-attach. Now the new version of Exchange that's just out supports NAS and SCSI. ... So we came out with a Feature Pack to make sure it happens [with Windows Storage Server 2003]."

For OEMs building NAS appliances on the operating system, the Feature Pack is expected to ship in the next 60 to 90 days, said Schmidt. At that time, ISVs will also be able to incorporate NAS support for Exchange in their applications, he said.

Solution providers will have opportunities to consolidate Exchange on fewer storage devices or consolidate data into fewer Exchange databases, Schmidt said.

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On the SAN side, Microsoft unveiled two tools aimed at easing the deployment and maintenance of Fibre Channel SANs under Windows Server 2003, said Claude Lorenson, technical product manager for storage technology.

The first, Fibre Channel Information Tool, is a SAN discovery tool that looks at various parts of a multivendor SAN to gather information on firmware revisions, drivers, worldwide port names and statistics into a database, where it can help storage administrators troubleshoot deployment and other problems, said Lorenson.

The tool is expected to be available for free download starting in May, Lorenson said. A number of vendors, including Emulex, LSI Logic and QLogic, are demonstrating the tool at the Storage Networking World conference in Phoenix this week.

Microsoft is also unveiling the Storage Event Tracing Tool. Tracing is the ability to monitor events within a SAN, particularly the signals sent from one device to another, said Lorenson.

The traces are downloaded into a text file for access by storage administrators when troubleshooting a SAN, Lorenson said. "This reduces finger-pointing on a SAN, so an administrator won't call the host-bus adapter person and getting told the problem is in the array and then the array person saying the problem is in Windows," he said.

The tracing tool is slated to be included in Service Pack 1 for Windows Server 2003, said Lorenson. Service Pack 1 is also expected to include improved storage media support; improved support for Volume ShadowCopy Service, which allows point-in-time copy capabilities to be integrated between the operating system and applications; and improved support for iSCSI, he said.

Microsoft this week also is starting to support Windows iSCSI initiators in its Windows Server Datacenter Edition, which means storage vendors can start qualifications of their iSCSI hardware with the operating system, Lorenson said.

Also new is iSCSI support for Windows' Multi-path I/O, which allows up to 32 data paths with load balancing between the paths should one fail. This is expected by year-end.

The new storage capabilities for the Windows operating system are aimed at particular value-add features, and not at competing with storage management ISVs, Lorenson said. "Most storage ISVS have much more rich offerings such as charge-back capabilities and the ability to set policies," he said. "So we don't compete with them."