Microsoft Paves the Way for Server SAN and Hybrid Cloud Adoption

At TechEd 2014 in Houston, TX this week, Microsoft made it clear that it is no longer content to just send customers to storage array vendors to meet their storage needs, especially when it comes to embracing a cloud-oriented approach to infrastructure. In the process of improving Windows storage technology, Microsoft is effectively delivering the benefits of–and addressing the barriers to–the adoption of server SAN technology.
The Storage Spaces software that is part of Windows Server 2012 R2 turns direct-attached storage into a virtualized pool of shared storage. One driver in the development of Storage Spaces was Microsoft’s own need for highly available storage that can inexpensively scale out for Microsoft Azure storage services.
Last week Jerome Wendt, DCIG’s President and Lead Analyst, wrote about server SAN (link) and noted both the benefits of–and the barriers to–its adoption. The benefits of server SAN include significant improvements in performance, much lower cost and the ability to simply and affordably scale storage. The barriers to adoption include concerns about enterprise-level support, lack of plug-n-play simplicity, and the unproven nature of many server SANs.
Microsoft’s decision to include server SAN technology in Windows Server 2012 will certainly accelerate the adoption of server SAN in businesses of all sizes. The fact that the software comes directly from Microsoft will reassure many business decision makers that the necessary support will be available from Microsoft or a Microsoft partner. The fact that the server SAN technology is included with Windows Server and is compatible with other Windows Server storage-related technologies will go a long way in addressing concerns about plug-n-play simplicity.
The third key barrier to server SAN adoption is the unproven nature of many of these offerings. No business wants to discover that “A penny saved is a penny earned.” turns out to be “Penny wise, but pound foolish”. One advantage Microsoft’s server SAN technology has in addressing this concern is the fact that Microsoft is already using this same technology to deliver Microsoft Azure, one of the few global cloud-scale storage services.
At TechEd, Microsoft also demonstrated how adoption of this technology could smooth the way for businesses to implement a hybrid cloud with Microsoft Azure as the cloud services provider. Announcements included Microsoft Azure Site Recovery, a tool to enable disaster recovery to the cloud—the Microsoft Azure cloud. Disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) has a lot of appeal, and Microsoft Azure Site Recovery intelligently leverages Microsoft technology to ensure that Microsoft Azure is on almost everyone’s short list of providers to consider.
Another Microsoft technology enabling the hybrid cloud for businesses is Microsoft StorSimple. StorSimple is an on-premise hybrid storage appliance that provides an “infinite E: drive” by automatically tiering data from flash memory to hard drives and ultimately the cloud. The primary use case for StorSimple is as a public cloud gateway appliance for the unstructured data that lives in file shares and large archives—data that has a short life of active utilization but a long retention period.
As currently offered by Microsoft, StorSimple will have limited appeal to small businesses. Microsoft is selling the onsite appliance and Azure storage as a bundle that begins at $50,000 per year for 50 TB of deduplicated and compressed Azure storage. But for businesses with large repositories of unstructured data, Microsoft claims that StorSimple can deliver annual savings of 60 to 80% versus traditional shared NAS systems.
This is the first in a series of blog entries based on my experience at TechEd 2014. The next entry will reflect the key themes that emerged from discussions with vendors on the exhibit floor.

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