With no muss, no fuss, Millenia 700 distributes CD information

Tired of playing Frisbee with your office's CD-ROMs to distribute information? Worried
about security on your World Wide Web server? The Millenia 700 CD-ROM tower might have
some answers.


This CD-ROM subsystem sports several connectivity options and can act as a Web server
itself. If the seven SCSI drives aren't enough to distribute CD information to everyone on
the LAN, you can add CD-ROM changers for a total of 49 disks. You can even choose from
four-speed, 6X, 8X or CD-recordable drives.


The Millenia 700 will attach to a standalone workstation, a network server or the
network directly. Drive cells are housed in a towerlike chassis, and towers can be
rack-mounted. The 700 will work with another 700 tower or in a stack of three.


At the top of the case is a slot for connectivity modules. For this review, I looked at
two supplied by SMS: the Compact Devices Inc. TopSpin module and the Axis Communications
Inc. Axis Connectivity Module for Microsoft Windows NT. In the future, I'll review the
Microtest Inc. DiscPort Module for Novell networks.


I connected the test unit, equipped with seven SCSI-2 Sony 4X drives, to GCN's 39-node
10/100-megabit/sec test network via the built-in 10-megabit/sec network interfaces on both
modules. The individual CD-ROM drives produced throughput of 684 kilobytes/sec, or 2.28 on
our GCNdex32 benchmark. That result is roughly midway between a 2X and a 4X drive.


The chassis was well-designed, with optional redundant cooling fans and dual in-line
power supplies. A lockable front panel provided security for disks. The power switch even
had a removable cover to prevent accidental power-downs.


Although the two connection modules had status lights, the lights weren't labeled,
which diminished their usefulness. The documentation told which light meant what, but that
was about all.


Part of the confusion is that these modules also are sold in standalone versions, and
the manuals are slanted toward the standalone products. SMS technicians told me their
company is amending the manuals.


I had a few problems setting up the test system. For example, with the TopSpin module I
could see the server via TCP/IP and a browser, but not with the Explorer in Windows NT 4.0
or Windows 95. SMS' technical support team gave some help, including module upgrades to
get me up and running.


TopSpin was one of the most interesting approaches to a Web server I've seen. You can
use it to share CD-ROMs on a Windows NT or Novell NetWare network, publish data on CDs
across your intranet, or put your entire Web site on CD-ROM and never worry about hackers
corrupting it.


To NetWare users, the SMS 700 and TopSpin module appear as a NetWare 3.12 server. To
Network File System clients, TopSpin looks and acts like a remote Unix server with its
file systems exported. The module has a 10Base-T network connection and a serial
connection. The serial connection can be used to configure the CD server by issuing
commands via Telnet and a null-modem cable.


When I had the correct IP address set up, the TopSpin became available via TCP/IP. I
then could restrict access just to GCN's own intranet or make TopSpin available over the
Web. This would be great for accessing static data in an intranet or Web environment.


Using the SMS Millenia 700 with the TopSpin module as a CD-ROM file server was more
difficult. After much fiddling, I finally was able to see and access the drive under
Windows NT and 95, but performance was slow.


The updated Axis Connectivity Module for Windows NT worked well. All I had to do was
map the network drives--either to a root directory for all seven CD-ROM drives, or by
assigning a letter to each drive. Because the TopSpin and the Axis modules can be put
anywhere on a network, server resources aren't taken away by the CD-ROM server.


The Axis module had 10Base-T connections but no serial port, so configuration had to be
done through the network. This is a problem when the module isn't working, whereas the
TopSpin's serial connection permitted easier troubleshooting.


When I ran the GCNdex32 disk I/O benchmark from a Windows 95 client and a Windows NT
4.0 Workstation client, I got a surprise. Under Win95, performance was in line with
expectations for 4X CD-ROMs over a small network. The Axis module provided somewhat faster
throughput, but not by much.


The shocker came when I ran the benchmark on a Windows NT 4.0 client. The Axis module's
speed fell to about half of that seen on the Win95 machine, and the NT client accessing
the TopSpin module was nearly six times slower than the Win95 client.


In the case of the TopSpin, both clients used TCP/IP to connect to the CD-ROM server,
which explains the slow file transfers on the NT side but doesn't explain such a large
performance gap compared with the Win95 client.


With the Axis module, two different Server Message Block protocols were involved: SMB
over NetBIOS and NetBEUI, and SMB over NetBIOS and TCP/IP. It looks as if the Axis and
TopSpin modules default to SMB over TCP/IP when they're accessed by an NT client machine.
SMS technical support wasn't able to give me a solution or explanation for this by press
time.


This performance issue must be considered for NT clients, but the modules did perform
well once they were working. The TopSpin is a great Web server solution, though less than
stellar as a CD-ROM server across a network. The Axis module has fewer options but for the
most part does what it promises in ease of use and delivery of CD-ROM data and programs.


The Millenia 700 CD-ROM subsystem by itself is a great piece of hardware. If SMS can
iron out the wrinkles with the modules, this device could solve a number of problems for
network administrators.


Test Drive


Millenia 700


SMS Data Products Group Inc., McLean, Va.; tel. 703-709-9898


http://www.sms.com 


Price: $2,382 up


Overall grade: C


CD subsystem: B+


+ Seven SCSI-2 drives with good physical security


[-] Status lights unlabeled


TopSpin module: C-


[+] Secure Web server with many configuration options


[-] Slow and buggy under NT


Axis module: C-


[+] Adequate CD server with easy setup and administration


[-] Can't be accessed until a drive is mapped


[-] Slow and buggy under NT



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