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Microsoft used the first day of its TechEd conference to announce a $1.7 billion investment in R&D for Windows Server products and a new version of its storage operating system.

All told, Microsoft is throwing more than $2 billion at improving and promoting its server products. The $1.7 billion will go to bulking up the products themselves, and another $450 million is set aside for "community-based efforts", otherwise known as developer and engineer brainwashing sessions.

These moves come as Microsoft has put its whole line of enterprise server products under the Windows Server System brand. By giving server products a common name, Microsoft aims to convince users that various software products will work well together.

The Windows Storage Server 2003 operating system is a case in point. Users will be more familiar with the old Windows SAK (Server Appliance Kit) name. Windows Storage Server 2003 has started shipping to manufacturers and should arrive on hardware from the likes of EMC and HP in September.

Users will find Windows Storage Server 2003 on a variety of NAS (network attached storage) systems, including NAS-heads that simply sit in front of a SAN (storage area network) and fully-functional storage servers.

Microsoft has been at this storage thing for only a couple of years, but it can already laid claim to 38 percent of all NAS deployments in 2002. Rivals include various Linux-based systems and Network Appliance's Unix-based kit.

With the new storage OS, users can create shadow copies of data for single or multiple volumes of information. Microsoft has also included the Distributed File System (DFS) and support for server clusters with the operating system.

In addition, there is a new SRM (storage resource manager) GUI, which should help with setting up a storage network and managing all the boxes. Data management products from Veritas are bundled in as well. Support for the emerging iSCSI protocol is built-in, but it's up to OEMs to provide it as an option, Microsoft says.

The company has made storage a top priority in its mission to stretch further into the data center. These days executives even mutter the words "Unix and Linux interoperability", to prove Redmond can play with the big boys.

With the backing of heavy hitters such as HP and EMC, Microsoft's enterprise software play has legs. It will, however, take the company some time yet to match the functionality of the Unix crowd. ®

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