The Macro-strategy of Microsoft Includes Storage

“There are big changes happening today in the [insert your preferred technology here] area of IT.” That’s what our industry says all the time. It’s like movie trailers that start off “In a world…”. It can all-too-easily go beyond a truism to become a cliché and go onwards to be parody: indeed, a movie carrying the very title “In a World…” was released just this week!

But what if the Martians (….or true love, or talking planes, or something else equally unexpected) really started to appear? Would we have spent so long thinking it unlikely or impossible that we might just miss the signs that would have prepared us to embrace it? And that’s exactly where we seem to be with one of the changes happening in IT today. You see, it’s also significant that the big contemporary shift is actually….well, a big change. Traditional “big changes” in IT are often hype and for decades have been largely about better tools with which to do the things we’re already doing; it’s the IT equivalent of laundry detergent that “washes whiter.” But the big change these days (growing from, manifested by, and built upon elements like virtualization, clouds and convergence) is not – to extend the analogy - about washing clothes better; it is instead about a whole new approach to keeping clothes clean.

In simple terms, what is this new approach? We can see the signs that corporate IT is going the way of becoming something akin to a ginormous laptop, which is - after all – simply a pool of resources that works seamlessly, has all the components you need, and is a breeze to use…there are applications that are pre-tested, interoperable, and users can network (with each other, a data center or a myriad of clouds) at their whim. To use one more analogy - the big changes in the “IT car” that you’ve traditionally built from components (like engines, exhausts, chassis, and wheels) are no longer about better components but are about having an integrated vehicle and “transportation management system.”

You can see it everywhere – vendors are falling over themselves to talk open-ness and integration. And, guess what? Big changes such as this lead to opportunities for unexpected ingénues to break out. So here goes with my Martian/true love/talking car alert: you should start to imagine being “in a world where Microsoft runs your corporate storage, both broadly and effectively…”!

That last sentence might not be a line that rolls easily off your tongue just yet, but watch this space….or, to be more precise, watch Microsoft’s Storage Spaces. Describing Microsoft as an ingénue might be even more of a stretch for some reading this than the assertion that it is serious about, and growing increasingly capable in, storage. But, while its OS might have been responsible for managing lots of storage in standard-sized laptops over the decades, it has barely registered in that respect in genuine, large-scale corporate server environments. However, that could very well be about to change. The Storage Spaces element within Windows Server (all versions BTW, not just the latest Windows Storage Server 2012) is essentially a software-storage-suite. It is built on a striped, mirrored, or parity RAID-like architecture (Microsoft has its own streamlined approach that precludes some of the shortcomings of traditional RAID, such as the write hole, while also improving other elements). And it is rapidly adding storage functionality so that users can enjoy that cool, really useful, and often-expensive enterprise-SAN experience without opening their checkbooks half as wide as they are used to. Is it perfect yet? Not in terms of every feature, but our ESG Lab team has tested it and the basics work really well. Is the deployment and go-to-market model fully ironed out? Also no, because this approach isn’t going to find many immediate BFFs amongst the incumbent storage providers! But the value proposition is excellent - our testing has shown it to be, at least, competitive in terms of key characterisitcs like performance and reliability with traditional solutions - and users will likely be attracted to another flexible Microsoft tool that minimizes training needs and offers administrative ease and familiarity.

My colleagues have also been writing about the way that this new world we’re entering (or indeed have been gradually moving to for a couple or more years now) is perfectly suited to the Microsoft model; and it has been sharp enough to be ready. Amongst others, Steve Duplessie wrote about its cloud suitability and Mark Bowker covered its microsoft-surface-server-for-your-datacenter/index.html" target="_blank">Integrated Compute Platform opportunity. Of course, I may be a tad biased to storage (!) ….but I believe that owning and controlling the orchestration and management of the data itself is really, ultimately far more important than the processing platforms and applications. Irrespective, Microsoft is clearly making a play to be one of the last few standing in this new world, by ensuring it becomes a full provider.

This idea that Microsoft is poised to be a significant storage player (amongst everything else it’s up to) is probably enough of a surprise for one blog, so I’ll stop here for now. But I’ll return to the topic – and the product capabilities - in a more granular way and with more of the nitty-gritty detail soon. Think of this as just the trailer for the main feature!

Topics: Storage IT Infrastructure Cloud Services & Orchestration