Imagine there was someone many people loved to hate, but grudgingly loved just the same because of their incredible prowess. In Red Sox Nation, that would be Alex Rodriguez, who we follow year after year with a mix of admiration, envy, and anger as he seems to make all the right moves for the wrong team. Lots of IT people feel the same about Microsoft, whose runaway success is only slightly tempered by occasional schadenfreude when a misstep is made. In our little corner of the world, storage pros have even more reason to wonder how Microsoft can continue to make good move after good move.
It wasn’t always like this – be thankful if you don’t remember FTEDIT! But ever since Windows 2000, Redmond has made improvement after improvement, remaking “bad (SAN) citizen” Windows into Martha Stewart. But unlike the latter, Microsoft hasn’t called much attention to its skills, and this is a shame…
Take iSCSI – Microsoft was an early supporter of the protocol, releasing an excellent software iSCSI driver as a free download. They also bundle a limited (but continuously-improving) volume manager with all modern versions of Windows. Then there’s VSS, which is the first hardware-independent (even hardware-free!) snapshot API I know of. I’ve written articles (1, 2) on Windows storage technologies which go into these in more detail.
But one question that came up in my virtualization seminar made me realize that I forgot one key piece of Gates-tech: MPIO. See, Microsoft has also been bundling a free hardware-independent multipath I/O driver in server editions of Windows since 2003, but lots of folks haven’t gotten the memo. It’s good stuff: A generic driver with device-specific modules (DSMs) for different storage array and network types. MPIO handles transparent multi-path failover (for availability) and load balancing (for performance).
If you have iSCSI, you simply must try MPIO since Microsoft’s own free DSM supports about everything you need, and compatibility is required for logo support. And if you’re on Fibre Channel, you’re probably in luck, too, since most major vendors provide DSMs for their arrays (but some might not be free, I’m told).
So there you have it. Another excellent (and free!) Microsoft product that you (probably) never heard of, cutting out proprietary solutions (at least for Windows Server…)