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Microsoft furthers Windows storage portfolio with acquisition

Microsoft has acquired a new iSCSI technology that may allow more Windows shops to explore low-end storage.

Microsoft has ratcheted up its interest in the iSCSI storage market with last week's acquisition of an iSCSI SAN technology built specifically for Windows.

The technology, called WinTarget, is manufactured by String Bean Software Inc., a privately held company in Montgomery Village, Md. Microsoft is only acquiring the assets of String Bean Software and not the company.

Building a storage area network (SAN) based on iSCSI requires a host server to have an iSCSI initiator for sending data, and the storage device must have an iSCSI target for receiving the data. While Microsoft has included iSCSI drivers in server operating systems before, this is the first iSCSI target for its storage operating system, Windows Storage Server 2003. The company now plans to include WinTarget in WSS 2003 R2. R2 is expected to start shipping next month.

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The iSCSI protocol allows Windows managers to create storage networks based on Ethernet. An iSCSI boot support is one of the more interesting features of the technology, according to Robert Stephenson, managing director of storage research for TheInfoPro Inc., a New York consultancy. The boot support lets administrators boot servers from a central location and make changes and updates much easier.

"They can do it almost lights out," he said.

The String Bean acquisition is also further proof of Microsoft's interest in the iSCSI storage standard, which is booming, Stephenson said.

Recent figures from IDC, a Framingham, Mass., research firm, indicate iSCSI is indeed taking off. The protocol posted a 130% revenue growth and reached $94 million in the last quarter of 2005. Stephenson noted that most iSCSI growth is with small and medium-sized businesses because the majority of enterprises have a large Fibre Channel investment.

Stephenson said he thought the technology would appeal to Windows shops just starting to convert from direct attached storage and explore lower-end SAN solutions. He doubted the product would compete directly with other vendors who sell Microsoft-compatible SAN products.

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