To NAS, or not to NAS? That is a question being asked by many a small company as soon as their workers need to share files, printers and other office resources. Seeking to fill that void is the Dell PowerEdge T20, a bare-bones server starting at $299 that can be populated by standard components supplied by the reseller, end customer or both. The base price includes a 3.0GHz dual-core processor but no drives, memory or OS.
The T20 we tested performed quite well, but Dell added a few things before sending a unit to the CRN Test Center for review. First, the dual-core Pentium G3220 in the base model was replaced with a Xeon E3-1225 v3. That's a quad-core, quad-thread processor running at 3.2GHz. Dell also added 8 GB of 1,600MHz single-rank memory, a DVD ROM drive and a 1-TB 7,200 RPM SATA hard drive. It also arrived with Windows Server 2012 R2 preinstalled. Total retail cost: $754.98.
Dell's PowerEdge T20 is housed in a boxy minitower that's 14.2 inches high, 17.2 inches deep and 6.9 inches wide. The side panel is lockable and can be easily removed and replaced without tools. Inside the roomy cabinet and easily accessible are four memory slots clearly marked in two channels. Drives in its four internal bays (two 3.5-inch and two 2.5-inch) also can be serviced without tools. Internal 2.5-inch drives mount in plastic caddies, which feel a bit flimsy. An optional bracket kit can take two more 2.5-inchers, making a total six internal drives with RAID control provided by Intel's Rapid Storage Controller 12.x on-board.
There's room for three PCIe cards: one x16 G3, one x16 G2 and an x1 G2. There's also a PCI legacy slot. Cards are held in place with a tools-free mechanism that unlatches from the inside and flips rearward toward the outside. A power supply is held in with four screws plus an internal latch. Its 290 watts seem a bit stingy for a server, but the test unit consumed just 60 watts under heavy load, leaving plenty of overhead for adding peripherals. Graphics are provided by Intel's HD Graphics P3000 GPU. The motherboard provides VGA and dual DisplayPort outputs.
Dell's low-end server didn't break any Geekbench records, but it held its own in other ways. Its top score on Geekbench 2.3 was 12,868, not enough to get it onto CRN's Top Ten list of servers, but just enough for 10th place in desktops, if it had qualified. But IOmeter told a different story. The T20 delivered a sustained transaction rate of 70K IOps when processing 512-byte packets, putting it on par with servers several times more. With 32K packets, it delivered a sustained data transfer rate of 185 MBps, plenty of horsepower for the file-sharing needs of a small workgroup.
While under load, the T20 never consumed more than 61 watts, less than a quarter of the energy that a typical server might draw. Noise also will be a nonissue. With just a single fan, the T20 is so quiet that we actually had to peek at the power LED on the front panel a few times to confirm that it was running.
The Bottom Line
For the small office, the decision between buying a file server or NAS often puts simplicity over cost. For the quick sale and setup, the NAS would win every time; it's specialized to be easy to set up and maintain, and can be accessed from outside the firewall. Like Windows Server, many NAS boxes also can be configured to share a printer, serve web pages, accept FTP transfers, send and deliver mail and hand out IP addresses. Many also have mechanisms for making one-touch backups to a USB port.
But with the configurable PowerEdge T20, Dell gives service providers the flexibility to acquire bare-bones systems and populate them with the components on hand, and add any requested features before delivery. It also can be part of a domain that can be managed and fed policies as needed. When it's time to add storage or PCIe-based capabilities, the T20 presents options not available to most NAS devices. While it's not hard for NAS makers to develop a UI that's easier to use than that of Windows Server, ease-of-use for customers isn't always in sync with the creation of billable hours. For the service provider looking for a low-cost, configurable server with more flexibility than a NAS, the CRN Test Center recommends the PowerEdge T20 from Dell.
PUBLISHED MARCH 19, 2014