Formerly part of Quantum, Snap Appliances made a successful second attempt in 2003 to break free and go it alone. It has always offered a comprehensive range of NAS (network attached storage) appliances with the Snap Server 4500 representing the middle ground of the product range. Originally introduced last year, this latest version delivers an impressive set of features and a generous storage capacity. The 1U high chassis is very well built and comes with a quad of 250GB Maxtor DiamondMax ATA/133 hard disks for a total of 1TB of unformatted storage capacity. The drives are fitted in hot-swap carriers and can be accessed easily from behind the removable front panel. Storage fault tolerance options are also good as the 4500 supports RAID-0, -1 and -5 arrays although these are implemented in software so there will be a minor hit on performance. Even so, there’s plenty of horsepower behind the scenes as the 4500 is endowed with a 3.06GHz Pentium 4 processor teamed up with 512MB of PC2100 memory. The compact motherboard offers a two-slot PCI riser card with one occupied on the 1TB model by a vintage LSI Logic Ultra2 SCSI controller card for attaching tape drives. However, the second slot can be used in conjunction with the new Snap Disk 10 expansion units. Costing £2,800 each, they are designed specifically for the 4500 and expand storage capacity by 1TB increments. You’ll need to purchase a Serial ATA controller (£300) from Snap Appliances but the pair of interfaces allows you to push capacity to 3TB. The units are supplied with four 250GB IDE drives pre-configured as a RAID-5 array which appears to the network as a separate storage volume being managed by the host unit. However, to install them you need to power the main unit off which breaks a golden rule of NAS which is to provide more network storage without interrupting existing services. Snap Appliances has always eschewed Windows power so all its appliances are based on Linux with the 4500 running the latest GuardianOS. This provides a smart management interface that’s common across all its products which offers very easy access to all functions. It supports the CIFS/SMB, NFS and AFP file sharing protocols so Windows, Unix, Linux and Macintosh clients can access the appliance. Security is also very good as the OS supports features such as user, group and NT domain authentication plus Active Directory Services and NIS (network information services) while management access can be secured over encrypted SSL sessions. A smart new feature is the anti-virus capabilities provided by Computer Associates eTrust InnoculateIT. This is integrated neatly on the appliance and accessed from the GuardianOS interface. You get full protection with real-time and on-demand scanners and you can decide whether to ignore, delete, rename or move infected files or let the software have a go at cleaning them. Deeper manual scans can be run at specific times and signature files kept up to date with scheduled downloads from CA’s support site. Backup tools are extensive and start with Backup Express which copies data from up to five appliances to a tape drive on a designated master appliance although its Unix heritage shines through making configuration more complex than necessary. Server-to-Server allows selected appliances to synchronise their contents with other Snap Servers although note this is not true mirroring as it only runs at scheduled times and not in real time. The appliance offers volume snapshots which are stored in native format so you can recover files using just Windows Explorer and you also get the standard Symantec DataKeeper tool for securing workstation data to the appliance. The small to medium business has been poorly served by many NAS vendors with a large number of companies failing to offer any long-term consistency with their product lines or dropping out of various market sectors completely leaving existing customers with third-party service arrangements and obsolete products. Not so with Snap Appliances as it has maintained a solid range of appliances that have been constantly updated and improved over time. The Snap Server 4500 is a fine example which delivers high levels of storage, good management and security and the new add-on units provide masses of expansion potential.

OUR VERDICT

NAS vendors come and go but Snap Appliances has lasted the course and continues to maintain a solid product line. There’s strong competition at the SME level from Dell and HP but neither offer the same high levels of storage expansion and integrated anti-virus measures or include as many backup tools in the price