Thin server is strong on convenience

Box Score C-

Meridian Data Inc., Scotts Valley, Calif.; tel. 888-343-7627

Price: $1,795 with 12G drive as tested, $995 with 4G drive

Pros and cons:
+    Easy to set up and manage
+    Web-based administration and access
–    Poor performance

GCNdex32 scores
(on 100-Mbps network):

Snap Server 0.13
File server 1.01
NT client 3.60
Two 6G EIDE drives 0.10
12G SCSI drive 0.84
8G EIDE drive 2.80
Small-file access 2.80
Large-file access 1.0

Every network administrator struggles to equalize the age-old triangle of price vs.
performance vs. convenience. The Snap Server from Meridian Data Inc. has a strong
convenience angle.

It provides extra network storage without the cost and headaches of supporting
additional file servers. As a thin server, or network-attached storage device, the Snap
Server installs in minutes and needs almost no administration or management afterward.

The model tested in the GCN Lab had two 6G Enhanced IDE hard drives housed in a small,
8-pound case. Its only inputs were for power and a network cable.

Having set up many network-attached storage devices before, I was skeptical about the
company’s claims of easy installation. But after plugging in the power cord and
network cable and turning the unit on, I could immediately access the server from any
client on the network.

True, I also had to configure the device’s IP address and make the Snap Server
part of the lab’s Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 domain, but the setup was easy.

The Snap Server works with various network and desktop operating systems through
TCP/IP, IPX and NetBEUI protocols. I tested it under NT Server 4.0 using TCP/IP and
NetBEUI. The Snap Server’s autosensing 10/100-Mbps network interface proved useful in
connecting to a 100Base-T hub.

The Web-based administration tools are excellent. Configuring security also is
easy—and vital, considering that the device gives Web access to its drive contents.

The administration tools took care of the Snap Server’s date, time, server name,
protocol types and network operating system settings. They could also reboot it remotely,
which is a great help in working with a remote device.

The only software installation required was a utility that sets the IP address. It only
had to be installed on one machine as part of the initial setup—no need to run the
utility if the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol or automatic IP addressing is enabled.

So far, the Snap Server had fulfilled its marketing claims, but first impressions
changed when I ran the GCNdex327™ benchmarks.

I tested disk input-output by writing files from a client PC running Windows NT 4.0
Workstation to the Snap Server, reading files from the Snap Server to the client, and
copying data from one file to another on the Snap Server.

For a comparison, I conducted the same tests on a shared drive of a file server running
Windows NT Server. I also tested the client’s hard drive.

The Snap Server performed only marginally better than an Axis StorPoint HD/4 for Jaz
tower tested earlier this year [GCN, April 6, Page 25].
Considering how much faster hard drives are than Jaz cartridges, the Snap Server’s
performance was surprisingly slow.

On the plus side, the Snap Server costs about $1,000 less than the StorPoint from Axis
Communications Inc., of Woburn, Mass., and provides 12G of space compared with the
StorPoint’s 4G.

But the Snap Server’s review guide and marketing material clearly position it as
an alternative to full-fledged file servers, not to other network storage devices.

In comparison with the file server scores, the Snap Server’s throughput shortfall
became more apparent. The server’s scores were easily eight to 10 times better.

As a storage upgrade for users, the Snap Server looks even less compelling. You could
buy 10 6G drives for the price of one Snap Server.

So, on the price-performance-convenience triangle, the Snap Server is a breeze to set
up, manage and use, and its price is attractive compared with that of a new file server.
On the other hand, it falls short on performance, and most administrators could simply add
a new drive to an existing server for a fraction of the Snap Server’s cost.

The decision comes down to which of the three factors in the equation matters most.
Depending on how the costs are figured, the Snap Server could be either a bargain or a bad

There are no other network storage alternatives as easy to use as the Snap Server. In
the performance area, however, the Snap Server cannot equal simply adding another server
hard drive or replacing the server.

The idea of a thin file server is great, but the technology obviously still has a ways
to go to equalize all three corners of the triangle.  

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