Dell Taps Microsoft for NAS Solution

NetworkAttached Storage (NAS) has been touted an ideal storage system for WindowsNT/2000 administrators since it scales quickly with a minimum of fuss. DellComputer decided to use Microsoft’s Windows 2000 Server Appliance Kit for itsforthcoming line of PowerVault NAS devices. Bruce Kornfeld, product manager forPowerEdge, believes Windows 2000 is the appropriate product for the middle tohigh end of Dell’s NAS line.

DeanneHoppe, lead product manager for embedded and wireless products at Microsoft,says all of the relevant functionality from Windows 2000 is available on NASdevices created with the Server Appliance Toolkit. But to make the deviceslightweight and secure, Microsoft and its OEMs remove unnecessary portions ofthe operating system: “We turn off the services that are irrelevant,” Hoppesays. Dell and Microsoft believe the streamlined appliance makes an idealstorage appliance.

Remoteaccess features are crucial to future Windows 2000 NAS appliances. Rather thanattaching a monitor and keyboard to the device, administrators will be able toaccess the device through remote access windows or through a browser-basedadministration page.

Microsoftoffers a toolkit to develop network appliances for a variety of tools. TheServer Appliance Toolkit offers OEMs operating system modules for assemblingthe functionality necessary for dedicated devices. In addition to NAS devices,Microsoft promotes the toolkit for creating dedicated Web server appliances,simplified servers for small business, and backup and recovery appliances forworkgroups.

Hoppe sayspartnering with OEMs for the NAS space is a strategic opportunity forMicrosoft. “We have seen a great deal of demand for Windows 2000 in fixed-functiondevices,“ Hoppe says.

Appliancevendors often target administrators with mid-level skill sets or too manyresponsibilities to spend valuable time configuring dedicated servers. Windows2000, with its user-friendly GUI, fits perfectly into a space where devicescome preloaded and preconfigured. Windows 2000, of course, is not the onlyoperating systems in the NAS market.

Microsoft’snemesis Sun Microsystems has also acknowledged the importance of NAS. InSeptember, Sun announced that it would buy Cobalt Networks, a creator ofLinux-based, entry-level NAS and file server appliances.

Dell alsooffers a Linux-based NAS device for the low end of the market. Its Powervault705N is a 1U rack-mountable NAS that can hold 120 GB to 240 GB. Dell’s Kornfeldbelieves Windows 2000 is more appropriate for the middle and high end of themarket.

SteveDuplessie, senior analyst at Enterprise Storage Group, is not sure Windows 2000is the best fit for NAS appliances. “Windows has never proven to be a goodembedded appliance operating system,” he says. “There’s just way too muchbaggage.” Although Dell and Microsoft will turn off many features of Windows2000, Duplessie believes that it is too big and clumsy for an appliance.

On theother hand, Duplessie says Windows 2000 may be attractive to OEMs, such asDell, who have many product lines focused on Windows. The NAS option expandscurrent product lines and reinforce the vendor’s relationship with Redmond.

Oneadvantage Windows 2000-based NAS devices may have over devices using Linux orproprietary operating systems is the familiarity of the operating system andattendant services. Dell and Microsoft have not finalized what services will beenabled on the line, but OEMs can deploy much of Windows 2000’s advanced functionality,including IIS 5.0, Network Load Balancing, and Microsoft Cluster Server.

PowerVaultis not Dell’s first implementation of the Server Appliance Kit. In April, Delland Microsoft announced that the toolkit would be used for a Web serverappliance. The PowerApp.web appliance server allows simplified management ofmid-level Web infrastructures. IBM announced a similar device.

Dell joinsCompaq in the Windows 2000-based NAS space. Compaq announced its product, theTaskSmart N-Series, in August.

Dell Computer Corp., Austin, Tex.,
Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash.,