The SilverSTOR 3120 stands out from the current crop of NAS (network attached storage) appliances not only as one of the first to deliver Serial ATA (SATA) storage but also because it combines it with Microsoft’s brand new storage OS. The move to SATA was inevitable as it offers a number of significant advantages over current disk interface technologies, not least in terms of cost. The SilverSTOR highlights this eminently as it delivers 3TB of storage for under five grand. The launch of Windows Storage Server 2003 (SS2003) also underlines Microsoft’s designs on the NAS appliance market, as this puts it head-to-head with the majority of Linux based appliances. With Windows Server 2003 at the core it delivers a range of new features allowing it to scale from the small and medium business right up to the enterprise. Installation of the SilverSTOR adheres firmly to the NAS philosophy - you simply point a web browser at it for secure remote access over SSL. Prepare to be disappointed if you’re expecting a brand new interface as the SS2003 doesn’t look any different to its predecessor. Vendors can introduce their own design touches but the main differentiators will be the number and type of third-party applications they will offer. Along with an inability to function as a domain controller, SS2003 is not capable of running large applications, such as e-mail servers, but it can handle local backup and anti-virus utilities. Lurking under the Disks tab, the new Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) takes up to 512 snapshots of selected volumes and provides fast data restoration in the event of a failure. The VSS for Shared Folders extends this security to users as 64 snapshots are reserved for this feature. Windows XP systems require the Previous Versions client whilst Windows 2000 and 98 systems need the Shadow Copy client but with these installed users can access the snapshots and view and restore earlier versions of their files. Note that the snapshots are taken at scheduled intervals, normally twice a day. When the maximum number have been created older snapshots will be automatically deleted. Storage management tools have been improved as you can apply a range of passive or active quotas at the volume and directory level, and all access is controlled with local or domain users and groups. Although not provided on the SilverSTOR, the new Data Replication allows one SS2003 appliance to be duplicated to another for greater fault tolerance. There’s plenty here for the enterprise with support for 8-way server clustering, Virtual Disk Services, iSCSI support and multi-path I/O which allows vendors to implement up to 32 redundant paths to the appliance. Moving over to the SilverSTOR hardware finds a sturdy, well-built chassis equipped with a triplet of hot-swap power supplies. Twelve drive bays are spread in three rows across the front panel and each carrier is occupied by a 250GB Western Digital WD2500JD Caviar drive. The system is built around an Intel entry-level server motherboard equipped with a single Pentium 4 2.4GHz processor and 512MB of memory. A pair of 40GB WD400 IDE hard disk located above the drive bay looks after the OS and is managed as a RAID-1 mirror by the embedded Promise controller chipset. This leaves the SATA drives free for general storage duties and these are managed by a 3Ware Escalade 8500 twelve-port controller card which delivers all the RAID features you’d expect to see with an equivalent SCSI card. Even with twelve separate connections to the backplane the benefits of SATA are easy to see as the slim-line cables make for a much tidier interior. Redundancy also extends to the network connection as along with the embedded dual 10/100BaseTX ports you get a dual port Intel PRO 1000/MT Gigabit adapter included. However, the lack of 64-bit PCI slots on the motherboard may have an impact on performance of the Intel and 3Ware cards. With so much storage on offer the SilverSTOR 3120 looks particularly good value as equivalent IDE or SCSI products cost substantially more. Fault tolerance across storage, power and network is extremely good and bringing Windows Storage Server 2003 into the picture so early will undoubtedly have caught a few larger storage vendors snoozing.

OUR VERDICT

NAS appliances have a reputation for being expensive alternatives to server-based storage but Evesham shows this doesn’t have to be the case. Storage Server 2003 also has significant advantages over Linux systems and the majority of businesses, large or small, will gain some benefits from the new features.