Microsoft announced Friday that it has acquired iSCSI target technology from String Bean Software that will allow users to back up their Windows servers to storage devices over IP networks -- even though it had earlier said it would not make such a move.
"We decided to change our minds," said Claude Lorenson, group product manager for storage at Microsoft. "This will enlarge Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 devices to be a hybrid and serve both block- and file-based data from the same device."
String Bean's core product, WinTarget Server, is an application that allows Windows-based servers to be backed up across a LAN to block-based storage arrays that normally use Fibre Channel connectivity. String Bean, a private company located in Montgomery Village, had already incorporated Microsoft's Virtual Shadow Copy Services -- which allow for data snapshots -- and Multi-Path I/O technology into its product.
"So there's very good integration with our management stack," Lorenson said.
Microsoft has no plans to sell the WinTarget software as a stand-alone product, but plans to release it as an add-on to Windows Storage Server 2003 R2. "This is not shrink-wrap software we'll sell to the channel," he said.
Lorenson said the product will ship with Windows Server 2003 at midyear for an as-yet-undetermined price. Microsoft is also working on an upgrade for current owners of Windows 2003, but Lorenson said that would take longer. He did not know when it would be ready.
Brad O'Neill, an analyst at the Taneja Group in Hopkinton, said that while the WinTarget software is an entry-level technology, it signifies Microsoft's opening salvo into the end-to-end storage market that is led by players such as EMC, Hewlett-Packard Co. and Network Appliance Inc.
"Microsoft is slowly becoming this unavoidable presence in the block-level storage landscape. It's almost happening announcement by announcement so people don't even notice it," O'Neill said.
"If you fast forward 18 months, it's easy to imagine Windows supporting NAS and iSCSI with good midrange performance characteristics," he said.
Last spring, Microsoft began shipping an iSCSI software driver for its Windows 2000 servers, Windows XP clients and Windows Server 2003 platform. At that time, the company said it would not sell iSCSI target software. Lorenson said demand from customers prompted Microsoft officials to reverse course.
Microsoft would not disclose the financial details of the deal, but Lorenson said that three of String Bean's four employees will join Microsoft next week. It was not clear what String Bean Software will focus on in the future; company officials referred all questions to Microsoft.
The iSCSI protocol has become popular in recent years with companies that want to consolidate the backup of Wintel servers farms without having to use expensive Fibre Channel networks. The iSCSI protocol allows storage administrators to back up those inexpensive servers over the LAN. The most significant savings from iSCSI come from being able to use SCSI network interface cards instead of Fibre Channel host bus adapters.
Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. predicts that iSCSI will be used to connect more than 1.5 million servers to SANs by 2007, nearly twice the number of systems it expects to be connected via Fibre Channel. Despite iSCSI's growing popularity, it won't likely kill off Fibre Channel demand anytime soon, since network speeds are still a quarter that of Fibre Channel's 4Gb/sec throughput.