An easy way to add needed storage

If your IT group is typical, you might have more work than you can handle. So what do you do on Monday morning when the sales group's file server is nearly out of disk space? Adding a disk to the array means that a member of the support staff will spend most of the day backing up the server, installing the new drive, reconfiguring the disk array, and bringing the system back up.

SciNet claims that Blazer, the company's new Network Attached Storage (NAS) appliance, lets systems administrators bring additional storage online in a few minutes without shutting down the server. The company aims Blazer, which looks like a microtower PC and uses a customized version of Linux, at small workgroups and small businesses. Blazer comes with a 400MHz AMD K6-2 CPU, 32MB of RAM (Blazer's maximum RAM capacity is 768MB), a 100Mbps Ethernet interface, and one to four 20GB EIDE hard disks. You can mount two hard disks internally and two more in hot-swappable drive trays, which are accessible from the front panel. Blazer's motherboard is easily accessible, and you can use standard DIMMs to upgrade memory. Similarly, you can use standard EIDE drives to easily upgrade disk storage.

I tested Blazer's single-disk model. When I unpacked the unit, I found neither a keyboard nor a mouse. But when I attached the unit to a 16-node segment of a DHCP server-equipped test network and booted the unit, I realized I wouldn't need a keyboard or mouse. Blazer automatically generated a server name, and its two-line LCD panel displayed the name and its assigned IP address and subnet mask. If your network lacks a DHCP server, you can attach a standard keyboard to Blazer's DIN-style keyboard connector and manually enter the IP address and subnet mask. The installation process took less than 10 minutes.

You can use a Web browser to perform all administration and configuration functions from any client on the same network segment as Blazer. The unit's home page presents options for creating users, groups, and shares; assigning user and group rights; adding, removing, and maintaining hard disks; changing the server's name, domain, workgroup, and system clock settings; shutting down or restarting the server; and updating the server's OS over the network. The unit's 32-page installation and administration guide clearly explains administrative options. I easily created several user accounts, assigned the users to different groups, and assigned share rights to the two groups.

The HTML pages make the configuration process easy for small workgroups that don't change frequently. However, Blazer doesn't integrate into Windows NT's security infrastructure. Therefore, you'll need to make user and group attribute changes on Blazer and on either your peer-to-peer workgroup systems or the PDC.

After I completed the configuration process and logged on to the network with my user account, Blazer appeared in Network Neighborhood. I mapped the unit's default share and had no problems reading and writing files. I used Client/Server Solutions' Benchmark Factory FileBench test to compare Blazer's speed to that of a 266MHz Pentium II-based Hewlett-Packard (HP) NetServer E45 file server running NT 4.0 with 128MB of RAM and three 4.2GB SCSI hard disks, two of which were striped using RAID 0. The HP server ran much faster at high client loads, but both units performed similarly at client loads of 100 users or fewer, which is fine considering Blazer's small-workgroup focus. Blazer's assets make it a strong NAS offering for small workgroups that don't require frequent changes to user or group attributes.

Contact: SciNet * 408-328-0160 or 800-653-1010
Price: Starts at $1195
Decision Summary:
Pros: Simple installation lets you add storage quickly without bringing down the server; good performance for small workgroups; excellent expansion capabilities; reasonable price
Cons: Doesn't integrate into Windows NT's security infrastructure
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