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When you need more storage on your network, getting it by installing a NAS (Network Attached Storage) [define] drive is practically a no-brainer. But while physically installing a NAS device is almost always a cakewalk, getting one to work in harmony with an existing network operating system isn't always so simple (or even possible). That's especially true if your use Windows as your NOS [define] and take advantage of its various storage-related features.
Small businesses looking for networked storage that will be simpatico with an existing Windows-based network would do well to consider Iomega's $1,999 StorCenter Pro NAS 250d with REV Built-In. Although somewhat pricey by NAS standards, it's easy to set up and offers a level of features and Windows integration you won't typically find in a Linux-based NAS device.
With a 3.2 GHz Celeron CPU and 512 MB of RAM, the StorCenter could easily be the foundation for a conventional server or workstation in another life. In real-life, the StorCenter runs Microsoft's Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 — a special version of Windows Server 2003 that's optimized as a file and print server. The premise here is that jettisoning anything that's not related to file and print serving results in better performance (i.e. less resource overhead) and reliability than a general-purpose server.
While some NAS devices in this category and price range are designed to be rack-mounted, the StorCenter Pro uses a cube-shaped chassis (roughly the size of a small form-factor PC) that's easy to tuck away almost anywhere. (Incidentally, Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 is only available bundled with OEM hardware).
Our StorCenter 250d evaluation model offered a 500 GB capacity courtesy of pair of 7200 RPM, 250 GB hot-swappable SATA II (also known as SATA 3.0 Gbit/s) drives [define]. They ship in a default RAID 1 mirror configuration, resulting in usable storage of 235 GB (that's 250 GB, less the amount consumed by the unit's operating system). You can also operate the two disks independently to realize close to the unit's full capacity (470 GB), or if you prefer performance over redundancy, opt for the StorCenter's RAID 0 striping mode [define]. (You can buy replacement drives for $449 direct from Iomega.)
Switching storage modes on the StorCenter isn't to be taken lightly, however, since the OS resides on the same disks that store data. As a result, reconfiguring the disks eradicates not only your data but the StoreCentral's operating system too. This necessitates reloading the OS from a DVD, which is time-consuming and requires you to connect a monitor, USB-based keyboard, mouse, and DVD drives directly to the unit.
The StorCenter connects to the network via a Gigabit Ethernet port, and as you may have already guessed from the product name, our evaluation model sports a internal 70 GB REV removable media drive to aid in data archiving or creating off-site backups. A single REV disk is included, and though the drive supports up to 2:1 compression, you'd need multiple disks to backup anything close to the StorCenter's full capacity. (If happen to want the StorCenter sans REV drive, the MSRP drops to $1,399). The StorCenter also provides four USB ports (two on the front, two on the back) that you can use to add external hard drives to backup the unit or for supplemental storage.
Although Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 is designed to handle both file and print server duties, Iomega doesn't offer the print server functionality in this model. Even more disappointing, it can't be added as an upgrade. To get the print server feature on the StorCenter, you must go upmarket to one of the higher-capacity models (750 GB or 1.5 TB) both of which also feature three drives — and thus RAID 5 support as well as hardware-based RAID (the 500 GB model uses software RAID) and dual Gigabit Ethernet ports.
Installation and Configuration
Getting the StorCenter Pro up and running on a network was a simple matter of plugging it in and turning it on. A discovery tool locates the device on the network and launches Internet Explorer to enable further configuration. You interact with the unit not through conventional browser-based administration screens, but rather with a Remote Desktop Protocol Active X plug-in (therefore, you can't use Firefox). The RDP plug-in gives you access to the full Windows Server interface, but you can also administer the StorCenter using the Remote Desktop utility that comes with Windows XP.
When you first log into the StorCenter, a Quick Setup Wizard walks you through the basic configuration parameters, like customizing administrator account login info, e-mail alerts and general network settings like IP address and server and domain names. We were able to add the StorCenter to an existing domain without difficulty.
Following the initial setup, StorCenter management is accomplished though the familiar Microsoft Management Console interface [define], so anyone with a passing familiarity with Windows Server should be able to configure the StorCenter fairly easily. But even if you're not, there are also a series of Wizards that can be used to perform major functions.
Just like a conventional Windows server, the StorCenter's storage is accessible not just by Windows clients, but by Mac and Linux/Unix clients too. It's worth noting that unlike a regular Windows server, you don't need to buy a CAL (Client Access License)[define] for every system that connects to the StorCenter.
Storage Features and Applications
Because the StorCenter is an actual Windows server, one of its major benefits is that you get the same storage-related capabilities you'd find in a general-purpose Windows server. This includes things like support for disk quotas, the Encrypting File System (EFS), and Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS), which is used to make regular and automatic backups of rapidly-changing files. To make most efficient use of disk space, you can also take advantage of Windows Storage Server 2003 R2's Single Instance Storage (SIS) feature, which detects multiple instances of the same file and replaces the redundant copies with links (which are transparent to the user) that point to a single copy of the original file.
The StorCenter is designed to function only as a file and print server (or, in this case, just a file server), so you can't use it to run your own applications. An exception to this rule is made for those applications that are appropriate for a file server, such as anti-virus or backup utilities. Iomega includes third-party tools for both these functions — CA's eTrust Anti-Virus 7.1 is already pre-installed (though it's turned off by default) and you also get a copy of CA BrightStor ARCserve 11.5 with which to backup the StorCentral. For backing up clients, EMC's Retrospect Express is also provided (though the included license is limited to five-clients).
Ultimately, we're disappointed that the StorCenter's print server feature is limited to the higher-capacity versions, especially given that the 750 GB unit (the next step up) costs $900 more the 500 GB model. (Having said that, the 750 GB version gives you a host of additional features besides just the print server for your extra cash.)
But while we think some prospective buyers will miss having the print server available in the lesser model, the Iomega StorCenter Pro NAS 250d with REV Built-In still offers the benefits of Windows-based storage with less complexity and expense than a general-purpose server. It should prove to be an efficient way for a small business to add reliable and redundant storage to its Windows network.
Price: $1,999 (MSRP)
Pros: easy to set up; offers Windows storage features like disk quotas and encryption; includes built-in REV drive for archiving
Cons: print server only available on higher-capacity models
Joe Moran is a regular contributor to PracticallyNetworked.
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