Historically, the Snap Server family of storage appliances has been one of the longest term players in the SMB and mid-range NAS markets, and has consistently offered one of the most comprehensive ranges of products.

The latest 500 series compliments this even further by adding three new members to the clan with the 520 on review sitting in the middle and aiming to offer plenty of capacity and expansion capabilities but in a low profile rack chassis.

However, even the Snap Server’s pedigree hasn’t stopped the range from going through more hands than a dodgy motor, as even as we write this review, Adaptec has finally opted not to sell the product family.

Earlier this year, Adaptec decided to offload its entire systems division and concentrate on its core ASIC and HBA disk controller products. Negotiations with interested parties had been ongoing for a number of months but eventually Adaptec pulled out as it couldn’t get the price it wanted.

Curiously, that’s precisely what happened with Quantum-owned Snap Server many years ago - as it blocked a management buy-out - when it realised that the NAS market was worth more than it thought. However, a few years went by, Quantum finally relented and in 2003 up popped the new owners, Snap Appliances – the company that Adaptec acquired last year.

And so to the Snap Server 520 which is a smart amalgamation of Supermicro 1U chassis and H8SSP-ADPT motherboard. It comes equipped with a single 2.2GHz AMD Opteron 248 single-core processor teamed up with a decent 2GB of PC3200 memory which can be expanded to 4GB.

Internal storage is handled by a quartet of 250GB Seagate SATA hard disks in hot-swap carriers but this can be expanded massively. The 520 has a PCI expansion slot which accepts an optional SAS controller card allowing up to four external S50 SAS or SATA expansion units to be added for a top capacity of 26TB.

Power fault tolerance is also on the menu as the server comes with a single supply but can be upgraded to dual hot-plug supplies.

A feature that makes the entire Snap Server family stand out from the crowd is they all run the Linux-based GuardianOS. At a time when the majority of vendors are settling on Windows Storage Server 2003 (WSS2003) this makes the Snap Servers almost unique at this level of the NAS market.

Nevertheless, there are advantages to be had as the combination of OS and processor means 64-bit computing is the order of the day, which can bring performance benefits.

The downside is that all RAID arrays are managed in software so some of the speed bonuses could be lost. If you add extra S50 expansion units these will appear simply as JBODs which are then configured as separate RAID arrays allowing any existing volumes to be expanded on the fly into the new storage space.

The Snap Servers are all designed to be completely headless so all management is remotely via the well designed web interface. The home page opens with a status check on all components and each function is accessible from a neat row of tabbed folders.

RAID is managed from here with support for RAID-0, -1 and -5 arrays with global hot-standby and once an array has been created it can be split up into multiple volumes. The 520 supports Windows, UNIX, Linux and Macintosh clients and can also function as FTP and web server.

Security is tight as the appliance supports NT and Active Directory domains and you can decide on share access based on local users and group memberships. Quotas stop greedy users from consuming too much space and these can be applied at the directory level and for individual users as well.

Backup options are particularly good as the appliance supports snapshots for point-in-time copies of selected volumes and these can be run regularly to a schedule. Even better is the fact that it comes as standard with BakBone NetVault Workgroup Edition preinstalled and ready to go with five client licenses and a 100GB virtual tape library as well.

If you add an internal SCSI card you can also connect physical tape drives and libraries although you will need to purchase extra NetVault licenses for these.

To be honest NetVault isn’t one of our favourite backup products due to its complexity, and configuration for the 520 could be better documented. Although the 520 functions as a NetVault server it can only be managed remotely from another system which must also be running the server component and not the client.

Note also that you can’t log in to the NetVault server using the default administrator password which must be changed before this can occur. However, once these hurdles are crossed you can view the 520 as just another NetVault client, select its shares and back them up via schedules to attached tape drives or the virtual library.

Computer Associates also gets a look in as its eTrust anti-virus scanner is included on the appliance. It’s easy enough to configure but it doesn’t provide real-time scanning and can only run scans on selected folders on demand or at scheduled intervals.

The GuardianOS also supports iSCSI targets and setup is simple as you select a volume, enter a capacity and activate CHAP authentication if required. Performance is quite respectable as we logged on over Gigabit Ethernet using Microsoft’s initiator software and watched Iometer reporting a raw read throughput of 105MB/sec.

Be careful when creating iSCSI targets as you should use separate volumes for them as they cannot be included in snapshots or be backed up locally by NetVault.

It’s been a long time coming but the new 500 Series is a welcome addition to the Snap Server family. The biggest competition to the 520 comes from low-profile Windows-based appliances but it is offering a lot of very useful features and its expansion capabilities are extremely impressive.

OUR VERDICT

If you’re not insistent of having Windows driving your NAS appliances then the Snap Servers are some of the most affordable Linux-based alternatives currently available for SMBs and mid-range businesses. The 520 could be better endowed with capacity for the price but it does offer a lot of extra features including good security and backup options