Another Option: Server Appliances

Whether due to costs, complexities or other factors, a tried-and-true server may not be the answer for every business. If that&'s the case, solution providers need to pare down their offerings to the basics and define exactly what a customer needs. An appliance offers the basics (and often a little more) for a small business, along with quick deployment and simplified management. The basics usually include connectivity, storage and security—in other words, a place to share data while still offering protection.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Anthology Solutions has created the P400T Yellow Machine to meet those needs. Essentially, the P400T is storage melded to a broadband router, yet the product offers more than the sum of its parts.

Anthology Solutions started with a relatively standard concept—a NAS device—and added an eight-port 10/100 switch, broadband routing capabilities, RAID capabilities and Web-based administration to create an easily managed storage appliance that behaves almost like a true network server.

Anthology Solutions&' claim to fame is the capacity offered—units are available with as much as 1.6 Tbytes of storage. That massive amount of storage proves to be very flexible, and installers can choose from several levels of RAID protection to balance data protection against total storage needs. RAID Levels 0, 1 and 5 are supported, offering either maximum capacity, drive mirroring or data striping with parity.

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The unit is configured with four IDE hard disk drives, which are user serviceable and upgradable. The cover can be quickly removed by unscrewing three thumbscrews, and drives can be quickly replaced if there is a failure. As hard drive capacities increase and prices drop, there should be no reason that solution providers cannot upgrade the Yellow Machine to multiple terabytes of storage.

What makes the Yellow Machine series ideal for smaller businesses is the all-in-one design. The unit is a little larger than a shoebox and offers several features that are specifically geared toward smaller networks. The browser-based administration brings additional ease to deployment and management of the device, which proves to be a benefit to both end users and solution providers.

On the local networking side, the system can support Windows-, Linux- and Macintosh-based clients; administrators can quickly set up shared folders for those platforms and additionally set up folder security, if needed. For those sites with existing servers, the Yellow Machine offers some integration options, such as Microsoft Active Directory or WINS-based networking.

Anthology Solutions also includes with the unit a desktop backup capability and a Web-filtering application. Those options bring data protection and added security to the network, which is often overlooked in the typical small-business environment. For example, the desktop backup application can be set to automatically back up connected systems several times daily, while the Web-filtering capability can prevent users from accessing unauthorized sites, which helps to keep nefarious applications from entering the network. Administrators can also set up the P400T to archive all incoming and outgoing e-mail, a useful feature for businesses that need to meet HIPAA or Sarbanes-Oxley requirements.

Solution providers will find the Web-filtering capabilities a good starting point. The device can filter based upon URL definitions, categories or keywords, bringing a sorely needed capability to many small businesses. Solution providers can extend that capability by offering setup or even adding a managed service to the package to provide additional filtering or remote access capabilities.

The Yellow Machine&'s integrated eight-port 10/100 switch takes care of Ethernet connectivity to client machines, but the lack of Gigabit Ethernet support could prove to be a detriment for those looking for higher network speeds. Solution providers can add wireless access to the system by bundling a wireless access point with the unit. The integrated firewall offers all of the expected options and is similar to the typical broadband router-based firewalls on the market. The unit offers Network Address Translation, Stateful Packet Inspection, port forwarding and blocking, Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol and proxy services. Those combined security features should be a good starting point for small businesses. Of course, solution providers can build on that security by offering additional software, such as antivirus and spam-filtering applications, to further protect their clients&' networks.

One item not offered by the Yellow Machine is secure remote access. The product could be greatly improved by adding VPN support, which would allow remote workers and road warriors access to saved files or shared data.

Anthology Solutions offers partners a basic channel program. Channel partners can expect the company to provide margin protection, sales and marketing tools, technical support and discounted demo units. Platinum-level partners also have access to quarterly promotions, rebates and additional discounts from authorized distributors.

Anthology Solutions&' Yellow Machine proves to be a good starting point for a typical small business, but solution providers can find more opportunities by bundling additional services with the unit, or even use the unit as a means to connect a traditional server to the Internet, while providing disk-based backup to that server. Either way, with a few minor enhancements, the Yellow Machine could prove to be a real winner in today&'s ultra-competitive small-business market.