OPERATING SYSTEM VENDOR Microsoft has taken the wraps off its Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials, offering small businesses network attached storage (NAS) server software.
Admitting it repackaged the basics of Windows Home Server, the Vole said that its Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials release is a "new edition targeted at small businesses". By small businesses it means less than 25 clients can connect to a machine running the operating system with an unnecessarily long-winded name.
It's actually very hard to see how this release is nothing more than a severely crippled version of the firm's Small Business Server. The feature list, though having all the main features ticked off, such as storing, backing up and the recovery of files, management console and network health monitoring, still lacks of any real reason why OEMs would end up choosing Microsoft's offering instead of Linux.
Presumably realising the signage for its product would be longer than the shelves it would be stocked on, Microsoft decided to flog Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials directly to OEMs rather than consumers. That means that the Vole expects the OEMs to come up with nifty hardware designs using its operating system and collect licence fees. The only problem is that, like Windows Phone 7, it has arrived at the party long after everyone else has guzzled the booze.
Tackling the obvious, Linux when combined with freely available, open source file sharing and networking monitoring tools, has been offering similar functionality for years. Then there's the fact that NAS vendors such as Netgear and Qnap have already built software on top of the Linux operating system. Running Linux on NAS boxes wasn't just a boon for techies either, with all customers enjoying the benefits.
The stereotypical image of systems running Linux having steep learning curves was banished with easy to use interfaces developed by the OEMs. This has resulted in users getting the best of both worlds, with Linux reliability and security coupled to ease of use provided with either web-based configuration screens or client side applications. For the more technologically adventurous, access to the command line is also there, opening up greater possibilities for feature expansion, not to mention avoiding an artificial restriction on the number of clients the server can connect to.
While none of these points might bother the person who just wants a small box to serve up documents or movies, Microsoft cannot sit back and rely on existing Microsoft networks that deploy technologies such as Active Directory to help it flog licences. Samba, the popular free filesharing subsystem, has supported Microsoft's Active Directory for many years. This goes to show that the Microsoft brand doesn't deserve the same weight any longer as it once did.
Even if the notion of having to install disparate software packages puts companies or users off, distributions such as FreeNAS based on FreeBSD are available, offering vendors a viable and highly secure software distribution to build upon.
All in all, Microsoft's decision to aim its Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials release at devices pitched at small businesses is likely to be a mistake. OEMs are unlikely to reinvest time and money in replacing already competent software that they created or customised. And even if OEMs do decide to ditch their current software, alternatives exist at compelling price points without the restrictions imposed by dealing with Microsoft.
The Vole might have finally decided to enter the small business NAS market sometime in the first half of 2011, but it will find a market that has already matured. It likely will have to drop some of the restrictions, and perhaps its prices, if it intends to enjoy some success. µ