The storage crisis may not be quite such a problem at the small business level but that hasn’t stopped NEC dipping its toes into the NAS (network attached storage) appliance market with the budget priced Storage NS160. These standalone units are a good choice for administrators looking for a quick storage fix but who don’t want the hassle of a server upgrade, as they can be plugged into the network whenever and wherever convenient. Installation is indeed a swift affair as the (supplied) configuration utility checks the network for NEC appliances and displays them ready for selection. Remote browser management can be started direct from here and, with Windows 2000 Server and Microsoft’s SAK (Server Appliance Kit) 2.0 behind the scenes you’ll find the interface is particularly easy to use. An at-a-glance general status indicator sits at the top of the interface and alerts can be linked to warning messages although only one e-mail address is supported. Tools such as Windows Backup require a Terminal Services link to the appliance but this is fired up automatically on selection. The NS160 is not designed to be used for workstation backup so you don’t get any tools bundled such as the DataKeeper utility supplied with Snap Appliances NAS products. However, local backup is available with the Persistent Storage Manager tool which takes snapshot images of selected volumes on the appliance and can also be automated using the Windows scheduler. Volumes and shares are simple to create while active and passive disk quotas can be used at the file and directory level to either enforce space limitations or to monitor usage. File screening adds another level of control over storage usage as it allows you to implement policies that determine which file types can be saved to the appliance. Good security is also on offer as local user, domain authentication and access control lists can be implemented. If you want a slimline rack-mountable appliance then look elsewhere as NEC has cuts costs to the bone by borrowing the chassis from its entry-level TM600 server so all you get is a standard mini-tower box. The system is built around a Gigabyte GA-8IEXW motherboard fitted with a single 2.0GHz Pentium 4 processor and 512MB of DDR266 memory. A key feature is the integrated Promise ATA133 RAID controller chip which supports RAID-0 striping or RAID-1 mirroring. The pair of 120GB Seagate Barracuda hard disks came configured as a mirrored array but there is room for two more drives and software RAID-5 can be implemented via the operating system. An integrated Intel 10/100BaseTX chipset and PRO/1000 MT Gigabit card make up the network connection and these were placed in a team for a single Fast Ethernet load-balanced link. For the price, the Storage NS160 looks to offer a reasonable proposition which compares well with the competition at this level. The PC chassis is its biggest drawback but the appliance does provide RAID fault tolerance, can be expanded further and is easy to set up and manage.