Microsoft explores new software areas

Microsoft Corp. will find some receptive corporate users as it explores partnerships and potential technology developments in the storage and security software markets.

Several corporate users said last week that they would be interested in new storage and security offerings from Microsoft because they have extensively deployed the vendor’s Windows server operating system to run their applications.

Tom Pane, vice-president of technology at New York-based AnnTaylor Stores Corp., said the retailer has more than 100 Windows NT servers, plus about 25 Unix servers from Sun Microsystems Inc.

To monitor storage, AnnTaylor uses a tool from Austin, Tex.-based Tivoli Systems Inc. But Pane said he would like to get more detailed analysis than the tool provides.

Pane said the Tivoli product can tell him when his servers reach 75 per cent capacity, but it won’t manage volume or show dwindling disk space and growth trends that could help him make storage migration decisions.

“You can buy from third-party vendors, and you can string together solutions, but it really should be coming from Microsoft themselves, and they’re not really there today,” he said.

Frank Orlow, manager of Clark Retail Enterprises Inc. in Oak Brook, Ill., said he also would be interested in Microsoft products for storage management and security. “Anytime you’ve got a bundled software environment with products from the same company, generally they play well together,” he said.

Prohibitive Costs

Orlow said he checked out Microsoft Operations Manager to help with volume-level storage management but found the cost approximately US$700 per processor prohibitive for his 36 Windows servers.

A storage-area network (SAN), which would provide additional management capabilities, would also be too expensive, said Clark, so he has three staffers monitoring storage manually.

Jim Prevo, CIO at Green Mountain Coffee Roaster Inc. in Waterbury, Vt., said he carefully designed his company’s storage and uses tools from Compaq Computer Corp. to monitor storage capacity in 45 Windows 2000 and NT servers. He said that he hasn’t seen how enterprise storage would benefit his company but always pays attention to Microsoft’s products.

Microsoft provided no details about its existing or potential offerings in the storage or security markets.

The software maker last month announced internally that Mike Nash would head its new security business unit, according to company spokesman Dan Leach. Nash is due to complete his transition from Microsoft’s content development and delivery group to the security unit within the next two months, Leach said.

The first product due from Nash’s division is the next version of Microsoft’s Internet Security and Administration Server, an enterprise firewall and caching tool, Leach said.

Fresh off his efforts to launch Microsoft’s .Net consumer services group, Senior Vice-President Bob Muglia switched gears in November to head Microsoft’s new enterprise storage services group, Leach said.

Muglia’s group is charged with developing “a cohesive product and business strategy for the evolution of Microsoft file systems, network-attached storage, [SANs], backup, continuous availability and storage resource management,” according to Microsoft’s Web site.

“Storage management is a real pain point out there, and Bob is looking at what steps Microsoft can take to better explore that for customers,” Leach said, noting that Muglia’s group will consider both partnerships and potential technology developments.

“Beyond that, no business decisions have been made,” Leach added.

Leach said Muglia will report directly to Jim Allchin, group vice-president of platforms. Nash will report to Brian Valentine, vice-president of the Windows division, who reports to Allchin.

Mixed Expectations for New Products

Speculation is mounting among industry observers about Microsoft’s potential new storage and security offerings, but the company remains mum on the details.

Rob Enderle, an analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Giga Information Group Inc., said it wouldn’t be unprecedented for Microsoft to create new product divisions only to later decide to partner rather than build new software itself. However, Enderle said he thinks Microsoft will move forward on storage to fill out its portfolio of server software.

“They increasingly find themselves bidding against products like IBM’s WebSphere, which seem more complete because they can connect to these other offerings from IBM,” Enderle said.

John Pescatore, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc., predicted that Microsoft will make a bigger push into the consumer security sector with antivirus software or personal firewall services, rather than into the enterprise software space, which is increasingly being dominated by security appliance hardware.

“They’re way too late to do anything meaningful,” Pescatore said.

To date, many of Microsoft’s storage offerings have been licensed from other companies, such as Mountain View, Calif.-based Veritas Software Corp., said Bill North, an analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC.

Going forward, North said, he thinks Microsoft will both partner with other vendors and build its own storage software products.

Nancy Marrone, an analyst at Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Storage Group Inc., said it’s conceivable that Microsoft will have offerings in storage network management, storage resource management, data management, virtualization and storage policy management, potentially thrusting the software maker into competition against vendors such as EMC Corp., IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co. and BMC Software Inc.

“They see that something’s a big market, and they’re going to go take as much as they can of it,” said Marrone.