Microsoft Promotes Interoperable iSCSI

With the spate of recent storage conferences and the upcoming Microsoft Tech Ed 2004 conference, I've been hearing from a lot of vendors about Internet SCSI (iSCSI). In "Combining Today's Technology to Make Tomorrow's Products," May 3, 2004, InstantDoc ID 42621, I covered one of the first iSCSI products for Windows Storage Server 2003, which motivated many other vendors to contact me about their pending products in the same space. However, rather than talking about other Windows-specific products, I want to take a somewhat different direction and discuss how Microsoft's iSCSI support goes beyond particular products--and even Windows.

To understand the way that the iSCSI market is shaping up in the Windows universe, you first need to look at the iSCSI component that Microsoft has released. The iSCSI software available for the Windows platform is what's known as an "initiator"--a piece of software that lets Windows access an iSCSI target. Microsoft isn't releasing and has no plans to release its own iSCSI target software for the Windows platform, according to the transcript of an online Q&A session with Suzanne Morgan, enterprise storage program manager in the Windows Core Team. (To read the transcript, click the first URL at the end of the commentary.) As a result, Redmond has left the production of Windows-compatible targets to the third-party development community.

Yes, many vendors have Windows Storage Server products. But I think what's more important is that the Microsoft iSCSI initiator will let Windows connect to just about any iSCSI target, even though Microsoft officially supports only targets that have been qualified under the Designed for Windows logo program. The target doesn't have to be a complete storage device; a supported host bus adapter (HBA) can connect to storage devices that don't have the Designed for Windows logo and can enable those devices to be used with Windows servers and clients. Consequently, the storage devices themselves need not run Windows Storage Server--or any version of Windows, for that matter.

In fact, of the more than 60 qualified products listed in the Designed for Windows logo spreadsheet for iSCSI, more than half are devices from Network Appliance (NetApp), best known for its Network Attached Storage (NAS) and Storage Area Network (SAN) products, which don't use any version of the Windows OS. (To view the iSCSI Designed for Windows logo spreadsheet, click the second URL below.) NetApp does, however, have a complete suite of Windows-based tools to run and manage its storage devices. These tools bring a well-tested enterprise-class storage product into the hands of Windows systems administrators, including administrators who might have been a little leery about building a storage architecture strictly around the relatively new Windows Storage Server model. And in multiplatform shops, where Windows and UNIX IT folks are often at loggerheads, the tools make available products that can satisfy the requirements of both constituencies.

Releasing the iSCSI initiator while letting third parties provide the target is a good move on Microsoft's part, allowing Windows Server products to integrate smoothly with enterprise-class products hosted on other firmly entrenched OSs. Although playing well with others has never been a Microsoft strength, the decisions Microsoft is making with respect to iSCSI will further the cause of Windows as an enterprise platform. For more details about the Windows iSCSI implementation, go to the third URL below.

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