Review: The FileEngine FE1025

Monday Apr 28th 2008 by Joseph Moran
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This file server appliance is heavy on file sharing and data redundancy, and light on cost and complexity.

Savvy businesspeople know that in order to calculate the cost of technology you need to consider not just the purchase price, but also the ongoing money and time spent on maintenance and updates. That's why many small organizations with limited IT budgets and know-how approach the purchase of a much-needed server with some reluctance.

The FileEngine from Server Partners aims to remedy this problem by minimizing the cost and the complexity of server ownership and operation for small firms. This specialized, streamlined file server puts a decided emphasis on the things most small businesses care most about — namely, data storage, sharing and protection.

Hardware Features

A quick glance at the FileEngine suggests it’s something other than a garden-variety small business server. Aside from the aluminum case and bright red paint job, there’s a four-line LCD display with a quartet of accompanying buttons on the unit’s front bezel.

Our evaluation unit was an entry-level FE1025 model, powered by a Pentium 4 CPU, 256 MB of RAM, Gigabit Ethernet, dual-layer DVD-RW drive, and pair of swappable 160 GB hard drives in a RAID 1 mirror configuration.  While the FileEngine’s processor and memory specs seem unimpressive, they’re more than sufficient to run the FileEngine’s, Novell SuSE Enterprise Linux operating system.


FileEngine
FileEngine handles data storage, sharing and protection while minimizing the cost and complexity of owning a server.

But you really don’t need to know or care what the server’s underlying operating system (OS) is, because to maximize reliability and make administration as painless as possible, most of the FileEngine’s operations take place invisibly, with only a few of key tasks left exposed to the customer.

For example, the FileEngine ships without the usual input/output peripherals like a keyboard, monitor and mouse. Instead, you use the LCD control panel to perform basic operations like initiating manual backups to DVD and performing a diagnostic to verify the FileEngine’s network connectivity.

Server Administration

The FileEngine ships with features such as user accounts, group memberships, and shared folders already pre-configured. These and other customer-specific configuration details are specified in advance when a FileEngine order is placed, either directly by the customer or a reseller.

A Windows utility called the FileEngine Administration Tool (FEAT) lets you add, edit or delete user, group, or folder information once the FileEngine’s up and running. The FEAT utility is easy to use and only capable of the aforementioned basic administrative tasks, which keeps critical server settings from being inadvertently modified.

Use of the FEAT, as well as operation of the FileEngine’s front-panel controls (via a PIN code), is reserved for what Server Partners calls the Key Operator, a specially trained person, typically the small business owner or his or her designee.

The FileEngine supports either Windows or Mac clients, and one of the nice things about the SuSE Linux OS is unlike Windows server, it doesn’t require client licenses, so adding users is easy and doesn't cost extra.

Data Redundancy

The FileEngine’s primary task is keeping company data safe and available. That means a significant portion its storage capacity is dedicated to various kinds of data redundancy, so that only 25 GB out of the original 160 GB is available to users.

While the FileEngine retains a significant percentage of potential storage, it does put the capacity to good use. In addition to the protection you get from mirrored hard drives, each shared folder on the FileEngine gets a server-based Recycle Bin capable of retaining 30 days worth of deleted files. The FileEngine also maintains a protected 14-day file archive, which makes it easy for the Key Operator to recover files that haven’t necessarily been deleted, but may have been accidentally modified and overwritten.

The FileEngine also conducts daily backups to DVD, provided that you put blank media in the drive. Depending on whether you use single-layer or dual-layer media and the compressibility of your data, anywhere from just over 4 GB to around 12 GB will fit on one DVD. (The FileEngine doesn’t span backups across multiple discs, but then someone would need to be there to feed the machine anyway).

The FileEngine also includes remote offsite storage, which provides an additional layer of security in the event that a flood, fire or other disaster destroys the server or your on-site backup disks. The Key Operator can use the FEAT utility to specify folders for remote backup.

Pricing

So what does all this cost? Well, you can’t actually buy a FileEngine server—instead it’s offered as more like a lease. A three-year service agreement includes the hardware and runs $235 per month for the FE1025 model we looked at, which comes out to a total of $8,460 -- or less than $8 per day -- over the 36 month term. (You can get yourself a discount and ante up $7,199 in advance if you prefer). Either way, the price includes an uninterruptible power supply and 100 blank dual-layer DVD discs which, unlike standard writeable DVDs, are actually quite pricey at $1-$2 each.

Beefier FileEngine models provide more storage and carry commensurately higher monthly charges ($299 and $349 for 100 GB or 200 GB of storage, respectively – they also substitute the DVD writer for a DLT tape drive.

Installation and Support

The price you pay for a FileEngine includes installation by a reseller partner or an authorized contractor. The installation process also includes six hours spent on Key Operator(s) training and integration tasks such as migrating user data and profiles from individual Windows PCs or an existing server to the FileEngine. (Since network configurations vary in complexity, some may involve an extra charge.)

Server Partners monitors all FileEngine servers remotely to make sure they’re working properly. If problems are detected, solutions can involve anything from remote remediation to overnight parts replacement coupled with an on-site visit if needed.

The catch with the FileEngine, if you can call it that, is that you can’t use it to run your own applications, like an e-mail or Web server. This is the price you pay for the FileEngine’s simplicity. However, it’s not really a weakness since most small firms prefer to outsource these services to hosting companies anyway.

Small businesses that need a reliable and uncomplicated file server aren’t likely to find a lower-cost, lower-hassle solution than the FileEngine.

Joe Moran spent six years as an editor and analyst with Ziff-Davis Publishing and several more as a freelance product reviewer. He's also worked in technology public relations and as a corporate IT manager, and he's currently principal of Neighborhood Techs, a technology service firm in Naples, Fla. He holds several industry certifications, including Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA).

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