- ✓Easy to install and manage
- ✓Automatic backups
- ✓Expandable and failure-resilient storage
- ✓Low power consumption
- ✕Physical security needs tweaking for busy office environments
- ✕Consumer-focussed media features might deter some business users
A secure backup and file-sharing solution based on Windows Home Server (WHS) sounds an unlikely-sounding product for a small business to buy into, but HP's new StorageWorks X510 Data Vault range might change a few minds on that score.
HP has been selling WHS systems — the MediaSmart Server series — to consumers since the launch of WHS at the end of 2007, and the X510 range is a rebranded version of the latest MediaSmart models. It may be badge engineering, but there's nothing wrong with that — especially when the base product is an excellent solution to the storage, backup and remote access needs of a small branch or home office with no (or limited) IT support.
HP's StorageWorks X510 Data Vault range is a rebranded version of the latest Windows Home Server-based MediaSmart Server products.
The X510 is neatly styled, but very obviously a consumer design. It's a tiny black micro-tower box based on a 2.5GHz Pentium E5200 dual-core processor with 2GB of PC2-6400 unbuffered DDR2 ECC RAM. It has four front-accessible removable SATA 3.5in. drive trays (not lockable, although the bottom tray has a simple catch lock) behind a non-locking grille door. Two of these trays were populated with 1TB drives in our review model, the Q2051A. Two other models are available, offering 1TB (Q2050A) and 3TB (Q2052A) of preinstalled storage respectively. Additional external drives can be added via the four USB 2.0 ports or the e-SATA port. There are large aqua-white status LEDs for each drive, plus power, network and health indicators (these can be dimmed or turned off).
The X510 has four front-accessible removable SATA 3.5in. drive trays behind a non-locking grille door. Our review sample came with 2TB preinstalled (2 x 1TB drives).
There's a worryingly unprotected power button on the rear panel: it only takes a light accidental touch to power off the X510. A Gigabit Ethernet connection at the rear completes the I/O ports — the unit is designed to run headless, with all management and configuration done over the LAN, so there are no keyboard, mouse or VGA ports. This means that if there's a problem preventing the OS from booting, there's no easy way to troubleshoot it.
Setup is simplicity itself: plug the X510 into a DHCP-enabled network and turn it on. In just over a minute it's ready to start connecting clients using the HP-modified client connector software (this can be downloaded from the server itself if needed). Up to 10 wired or wireless Windows (XP or later) or Mac (OS X 10.5 or later) clients are supported, but there's no Linux support. Windows 7 clients may work, but are unsupported as there are still some issues that will be addressed in the next WHS service pack update (Power Pack 3). Microsoft says this will ship by the end of 2009. Current X510s have Power Pack 2 installed.
The client software is wizard-driven and includes setting up the administrative password for the X510, which is enforced as strong if remote access features are required. It took us about five minutes to complete setup (it will take longer if it needs to install .NET Framework 2.0) .
The X510 is underpinned by Windows Home Server, which runs on a customised version of Windows Server 2003 SP2.
You then create user accounts for each client via the WHS Console applet. Again, strong passwords are enforced for any users granted remote access rights. Each user gets a private folder, plus configurable access to the preconfigured shared media folders, once more emphasising the consumer roots of the X510.
WHS is based on Windows Server 2003 SP2, giving it a solid underpinning. Microsoft has added some unique capabilities, including automated daily backup, and it excels at this. It uses a single-instance store at data cluster level, making it very efficient in terms of storage requirements and network traffic. After an initial full backup, only changed clusters need to be stored in the daily backups. Automatic backup management maintains 3 daily, 3 weekly and 3 monthly backup sets at any time. It works in the background and is quick — under 20 minutes daily on our 300GB test client.
Automatic backups are a key feature of the X510. Files can restore individually, or you can do full bare-metal restoration.
Shared folders can be backed up separately to an external drive, but there's no provision for server backup.
Microsoft's unique Drive Extender technology allows dynamic recovery from single-drive failure. It also allows the X510 to present the total storage capacity (internal and external) to users as a single named network resource, so drive mappings are not needed — another simplification that's handy in an unmanaged environment. External drives of any size can be added dynamically to expand this monolithic storage pool.
HP adds lots of useful extra features to the WHS Console, such as this system health overview.
It’s not just all about backup though, and HP adds in lots of extra features to the standard WHS Console. Some of these — such as a TwonkyMedia add-in for UPnP media streaming over a network or the internet — may not appeal to all businesses. There's also an integrated iTunes server and a video transcoder for creating smartphone-friendly MP4 files.
An excellent power management add-in lets you schedule server sleep times, and there's also a comprehensive hardware monitoring add-in that can notify you of problems via the client applet. We measured power consumption at around 38-40W in normal use.
Mac support is also good, hooking in to the Apple Time Machine service for backups. The final trick up the X510's sleeve that will appeal to smaller businesses is remote access. The built-in web server not only gives you file access, but also remote desktop services and access to the WHS Console — all via a secure SSL web portal. You can create a custom domain name for this in three ways: a free Windows Live Custom Domain (Windows Live ID needed); HP's Personal Domain Name (from TZO.com: 12 months free, then $9.99 [about £6] annually); or a custom TZO.com domain, which allows you to port an existing domain. Remote access worked well for us and required no technical expertise to set up, as it uses UPnP to configure and test port forwarding on your router.
The StorageWorks X510 Data Vault is a powerful package for the price, and an interesting move by HP. Although its consumer origins are obvious, don't let this deter you if you want a low-cost, easy to use backup and remote access device for a small office.