Microsoft Unveils Simple SAN For Small Business

The software giant is bringing vendors together in a program called Simple SAN in an effort to cut the cost and complexity of deploying entry-level SANs in businesses that still depend on direct-attached storage.

The first Simple SAN bundle was unveiled on Tuesday by Hewlett-Packard and Costa Mesa, Calif.-based QLogic.

The bundle is built around an HP StorageWorks MSA1000 Small Business SAN Kit, a new version of the company's MSA1000 array, and includes an 8-port Fibre Channel switch and two Fibre Channel host bus adaptors from QLogic.

List price for the kit without hard drives is $9,999. It is slated to be available Nov. 1.

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The different components are tied together using the storage-specific features of Windows Server 2003, said Rahul Auradkar, director of Microsoft's Windows Server Division. "Our goal is to drive SAN proliferation in small and midsized businesses," he said.

The company's operating system itself was not modified for Simple SAN, Auradkar said. Instead, Microsoft is pushing its vendor partners to focus on making sure all the drivers and applications work together. "We want them to focus on the whole solution customer experience," he said.

Stephen Allen, president of Integrated Technology Systems, a New York-based small business solution provider, praised the move by the vendors.

"It's good that HP recognizes that small businesses need more computing power than most people give them credit for," he said. "It's wrong to think a small business can be down for a day. It's actually worse for a small business than a larger business. The company is the owner's soul."

However, it's also wrong to make small businesses think that a SAN can be acquired for under $10,000, Allen said. "You can't build a SAN without the disks," he said. "Imagine selling a car without tires. Someone inside HP said there is a psychological barrier to SANs of $10,000, and I understand what they are thinking."

A properly configured SAN based on the MSA1000 is difficult to acquire for under $20,000, Allen said. The only reason for a small business to acquire a SAN is if it needs failover capability, or if its storage requirements exceed the internal storage capacity of a server, which is about 750 Gbytes when configured for RAID-5.

Instead, customers typically require an extra server to do the failover, some kind of tape backup device, and a lot of hard disks, which drives up the cost of the SAN, Allen said.

For instance, one 250-employee client of Allen's recently engaged his company to install a SAN in order to make sure its employees had 24x7 access to e-mail. In addition to the extra server, which allows failover to do Exchange maintenance without taking down the e-mail system, the customer also had to buy an extra copy of Exchange, per Microsoft requirements.

"It shouldn't be up to the small business's owner to say, hey, I need a tape backup," he said. "They're too busy. They're selling, and doing the accounting."

Kyle Fitze, director of marketing for HP's SAN division, said the new SAN bundle is aimed at the two-thirds of small businesses that still deploy direct-attached storage. It is certified to work with all backup applications and devices, and installs in a few clicks of the mouse, he said.

While the Simple SAN can be installed quickly, there are still many opportunities for solution providers to add value, such as consulting and services, said Frank Berry, vice president of marketing at QLogic.

Furthermore, the bundle should help a new class of solution providers enter the SAN market, Berry said. "Many [solution providers] tell us they're not interested in SANs at all, but a lot want to support SAN installations," he said. "Our whole industry is going through an era of VAR recruitment, and it will be VARs who we haven't talked to in the past."