Acer Altos easyStore
Like other Network Attached Storage (NAS) appliances, the Altos easyStore from Acer, offers affordable and easy to manage network file sharing — but that’s not all. The other trick up its sleeve is the ability to reserve space for client backups and to enable remote recovery of desktop PCs over the LAN.
A compact and smart-looking appliance, the Altos easyStore is clearly aimed at small businesses wanting to avoid the cost and complexity of a general-purpose file server. To that end, what you get is a small file server running an embedded Linux OS, with a Web-based interface for day to day management and a choice of either 1TB or 2TB of storage across four hot-plug SATA disks. Prices are £425 and £650 (ex. VAT) for 1TB and 2TB respectively.
No special knowledge is required to install the appliance, with a simple Windows console to locate the device on the LAN and a wizard-driven setup routine when you first connect to the management GUI. Windows SMB/CIFS file sharing comes as standard, and there's support for Apple Mac and Linux users, plus a built-in database for user authentication and access control. Optional Active Directory integration on Windows networks is also available, if required.
Software-based RAID facilities also come as standard, starting with RAID 0 where data is striped across all four disks in turn. Compared to simply spanning of the four disks, this can improve performance but doesn’t really add much in the way of redundancy. The RAID 10 option then sees the disks arranged as mirrored pairs, giving 100 per cent redundancy, although you do lose half the available storage space as a consequence.
The most common setup, therefore, is likely to be RAID 5, where recovery information is mixed in with data and striped across all the disks in the array. You can also choose between using all four drives to create the array or just three, with the fourth configured as a hot spare, to take over automatically should one of the working disks develop a fault.
The RAID level is normally set by the wizard during the initial setup, but can changed later — although if you do it later data can be lost if not backed up first. However, unlike a lot of other NAS appliances, changing the disk configuration on the easyStore isn’t a major task — the Acer software taking under five minutes to swap from a linear volume to a RAID 5 setup during our tests. A pair of USB 2.0 ports are also provided to enable external disks to be added should extra capacity be required, however, these can’t be included in an array and are more likely to be used to take backups.
In terms of performance, the Altos easyStore doesn’t quite match what you’d get from a well-specified Windows server, and can’t be used to host applications. That said, you do get a 600MHz Intel 80219 processor, 256MB of RAM and a Gigabit Ethernet interface, so it’s more than enough for a small business network or departmental workgroup looking solely for file sharing. The Seagate Barracuda disks are pretty quick too, and there’s that neat backup trick for those who want it.
This is configured right at the start, when the setup wizard prompts for the available disk space to be divided into two separate areas. One is for shared files, while the other is dedicated to storing backups using the FalconStor DiskSafe Express software bundled with the appliance.
Limited to Windows, the DiskSafe Express client uses the iSCSI protocol to take scheduled backups of the local hard disk. Facilities are available to recover individual files, or even the complete disk image, over the LAN should problems arise. This can take a while to begin with, as a lot of data needs to be copied. However, subsequent updates are very quick and once configured it’s possible to monitor and fine-tune the amount of storage dedicated to each function to better suit your requirements.
We encountered no major problems during our tests, and were particularly impressed by the recovery facilities. You can simply map a network drive to your particular backup data and restore individual lost files yourself, with a built-in PXE server for remote network boot and recovery when all is lost. Note, though, that most buyers will need to purchase extra licences for the DiskSafe client software as only two are included with the appliance as standard.
Small enough to sit on a desk or shelf, the Altos easyStore is simple to set up, and once installed can be largely left alone. It’s also fairly unobtrusive and no more noisy than a desktop PC — so it could be used in an open-plan office if necessary. However, the on/off switch at the front is unprotected and it might be better off tucked away inside a secure, ventilated, cabinet. Other than that, it compares well on price and functionality against competitive products, benefits from a three-year manufacturer’s warranty and, with its bundled backup and recovery software, is well worth considering.