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When you need to serve and share files throughout a small business, solutions fall roughly into three primary "grades." A business with only a couple of PCs might get by simply using the built-in file sharing features included with Windows (and the Mac). One major limitation of PC-based file sharing, though, is that file availability is dependent on availability of the host computer for example, if it's very busy, crashes, or simply isn't powered on, you'll have problems accessing files.
Entry-level Network Attached Storage, or NAS, devices from vendors like Linksys and Buffalo Technology basically couple an external hard drive with a network controller, sharing files on the LAN independently.
Small businesses looking for a NAS with more sophisticated, enterprise features will want to consider the Adaptec Snap Server line. Going beyond entry-level network storage, a Snap Server such as the model 210 we review here, offers a wide range of protocol support, enhancements to speed and data integrity and a bevy of corporate-style data management features.
Out of the Box
Adaptec's Snap Server 210 is stout and compact, about the size of a couple of bricks. On its face are several status LED lights that indicate disk and network activity. At the rear, a single gigabit Ethernet port connects the NAS to your network. There's also a notebook-style lock connector and four USB ports.
You can connect an APC uninterruptable power supply to one of these USB ports, coordinating shutdown of the unit in case of a power outage. Adaptec also notes that the USB ports may be eventually be used for supplemental storage or backups between NAS boxes, but these features are not yet available in the current Snap Server software.
For international flair, Adaptec includes three power adapters in the box, one each of U.S., UK, and EU style plugs.
The $1,199 Snap Server 210 consists of two 250GB SATA hard drives set up as a RAID array. As shipped, the drives are configured as a striped, or RAID 0 array, providing a total capacity of 500GB on paper, or about 460GB once formatted. Because RAID 0 divides data across the two disks simultaneously, you can expect nearly double the performance compared to a single disk storage device. But note that in a RAID 0 configuration, if either hard drive fails, all data could be lost.
The Snap Server 210 alternatively supports a RAID 1 configuration, which mirrors data between the two drives. Although you'll enjoy only half the total capacity in RAID 1, should one drive fail the other will contain a complete, up-to-date backup. For as much as 1TB (terabyte) of storage you can opt for the $1,899 Snap Server 210, which comes with two 500GB SATA hard drives.
Adaptec offers several siblings in the Snap Server line. The 210's little brother, the 110, comes with either 250GB ($649) or 500GB ($949) capacity, but with only a single drive, therefore eliminating the capability to take advantage of striping performance or mirroring integrity. The heftier 410 includes four hard drives with either 1TB ($2,495) or 2TB ($2,995) total capacity, and it adds support for RAID 5, which achieves both striping performance and data integrity at the same time.
Getting online with the Snap Server is a breeze. (You thought I was going to say "snap," eh?) Plug the unit into AC power, a network switch, and turn it on. After an initial burst of noise from the cooling fan on bootup, the unit soon settles down into silence.
The Snap Server will automatically request an IP address through DHCP, which should bring the unit online in most networks. If your network does not hand out addresses by DHCP, Adaptec includes a platform-independent utility you can run to manually assign an IP address to the unit.
Out of the box, the 210 is configured with one share, named "share." It is immediately accessible through Windows file sharing, Apple file sharing, and anonymous FTP. Of course, you can change all of these settings. You administer the Snap Server's GuardianOS software entirely through a Web browser.
The core of any NAS, of course, is file sharing. The Snap Server supports Windows file sharing (sometimes known as SMB) and can join a workgroup, Windows NT domain, or Active Directory domain. It also supports Apple file sharing over TCP/IP and/or AppleTalk networks. For Unix systems, you can add hosts for NFS support. You can enable FTP access for people outside your network.
Using the Web interface you can create local users and groups and assign them access privileges to defined shares. The Web interface includes several task-based guides to help you, for example, setup Windows Active Directory security. Administrators can also specify quotas for shares, limiting how much disk space they can consume.
Monitoring and Management
Through the Web interface, an administrator can quickly see status reports on vitals like disk space usage, current user activity and files in use. The real-time event log displays errors or other conditions worth knowing about, particularly failed login attempts. The Snap Server also supports SNMP for remote monitoring.
E-mail notifications let you keep alerted to particular events. One or more recipients can receive messages when the Snap Server is shutdown or restarted or if a volume is full, for instance. It would be nice to see a wider range of user-defined events, though. For example, an alert when a volume is 85 percent full could be more useful information than when the disk has already hit capacity.
The Web interface also makes easy work of rebooting the Snap Server remotely and, when available, upgrading the operating system.
Several of the SnapServer's more advanced features require additional licenses. Adaptec's Snapshots feature lets you capture the state of data at any given moment in time. For the price of a $180 license key, you can maintain up to four snapshots of your Snap Server. Should a file become lost or damaged, you can restore it from a snapshot. By tracking only changed data between snapshots, Snapshots conserve disk space while providing what are basically incremental backups.
The Snap Server also supports optional iSCSI with a $200 license for one server. The iSCSI protocol is used for storage devices to read and write data across TCP/IP networks as if they were physically connected, offering improved performance over file system protocols.
A $40 license adds CA eTrust anti-virus scanning to the Snap Server and $1,100 buys a license to the BakBone NetVault WorkGroup Edition, a backup solution for small and large businesses.
Room to Grow
The Snap Server offers two key features. One is fast, turnkey setup, although you can find this in entry-level NAS product as well. What you won't find in the budget NAS market, though, is the Snap Server's sophisticated operating system with features that can grow with your business needs.
If your need for NAS is purely about storage capacity, budget options will do fine. But if you plan to rely on your NAS for security, data integrity and interoperability with a wide mix of systems, the extra sophistication of the Snap Server may "serve" you well.
Aaron Weiss a technology writer, screenwriter and Web development consultant who spends his free time stacking wood for the winter in Upstate New York. His Web site is: bordella.com