Why Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 isn’t needed

Microsoft Corp. has announced a new release of its Windows Storage Server 2008 software, a product previously codenamed Breckenridge. As with previous versions of Windows Storage Server, the 2008 R2 release isn’t an end-user product but instead is intended for sale to electronics makers who can deploy it in the likes of NAS hardware devices.
With a 25-user limitation, Microsoft claims WSS2008R2 is the perfect product for smaller businesses and lists its features as server and PC backup, Active Directory Domain joining, network health monitoring for Windows and Mac PCs, and remote Web access from virtually anywhere. Block transfer via iSCSI is also supported.

We’ll start seeing the first devices using WSS2008R2 at the beginning of 2011, but it’s notable that the announcement didn’t include an arm-long list of vendors signing up to use the software.

There’s an obvious reason for this: They have no need. Network-attached storage (NAS) hardwareis a market in which Linux is firmly entrenched. In fact, had there been no Linux, it’s very doubtful that there would even have been a NAS market. The freedom and availability of Linux allowed the creation of NAS in the first place.

You might not think that your NAS runs Linux but that’s part of the trick: Vendors developed their own user interfaces that hid the messy internals from users, while enabling them access to the beauty of open source technologies like Samba, which pretty effectively recreates anything Microsoft has on offer in its file server line.

What we have here, then, is Microsoft attempting to break into a market dominated by Linux. I honestly thought I’d never find myself writing that.

Microsoft faces an uphill struggle. Why would a vendor implement WSS2008R2 when it brings with it a 25-user limitation and licensing fees that will push up the price of their hardware? This is especially relevant for smaller businesses, at which WSS2008R2-based products are to be aimed, as they’re likely to have meager IT budgets compared to larger organizations.

From an original equipment manufacturer point of view, Linux might have higher initial setup costs–those pretty GUIs need a fleet of coders to create them–but this needs to be done only once for an entire product range. Additionally, some companies have struggled with the nature of Linux licensing, forgetting that they can’t simply take Linux and add-in their own cool bits, keeping everything secret. Any changes to Linux that are then redistributed much be shared as source code.

The only reason I can see for WSS2008R2 ending-up in NAS devices might be to appeal to businesses so tightly in the grip of Microsoft that they can’t possibly consider products by anybody else. The Microsoft brand still has some cachet in such circles, and using WSS2008R2 in a product will no doubt allow vendors to add “Designed for Windows 7” stickers to the box.

However, as I mentioned, if anybody buying a Linux-based NAS is worried that they’re going to have to tackle a command line, then they’re plain dumb. Vendors are pretty careful to avoid mentioning what operating system their NAS devices use; spec lists tend to focus much exclusively on the hardware and functionality offered.

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