Meridian's Snap! Server makes network-attached storage simple

Testing by Chip Pettirossi


Network storage is a hot commodity these days. With more data circulating on networks, servers are often overloaded and simply run out of space. In some cases, agencies just need a storage boost and don't want to fork over the money— or take the time— to install new servers or extra hard drives.

Meridian Data Inc. has come up with an inexpensive, easy-to-use solution with its Snap! Server network-attached storage device. It's a workgroup-class storage server that can accommodate up to 16G of data. The unit is extremely versatile and goes just about anywhere. You can use it with all major operating systems, and its small size makes it perfect for transport. To top it off, Snap! Server requires almost no setup; simply plug it in, assign an Internet Protocol (IP) address, and you're ready to go.

Bill MacDonald, a physical scientist at the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, bought three Snap! Servers and praised their cost-effectiveness and convenience. "I'm replacing a $300,000 Sun workstation with a $1,500 Snap! Server and a PC," he said. MacDonald said his agency has 6,000 CDs of geographic information system mapping applications, and he formerly was buying expensive Unix machines to store the data. Now, with the help of the Snap! Server, he is using a PC instead. MacDonald explained that this setup is in the prototype phase, but it's going well, and he plans eventually to rotate Snap! Servers in and out as applications change.

Portability is one feature of Snap! Server that Capt. Wes Forgey likes. Forgey is the chief of information systems for the Air International Guard Center for Excellence, which is part of the Air Force. His team is bringing Snap! Servers and a portable network to meetings across the country to improve data sharing. Meeting participants connect notebook computers to the network, and everyone can share the information. The alternative would be to use Microsoft Corp. Windows NT servers, "which would cost four to five times as much," Forgey estimated. "The Snap! Server is smaller, lighter, cheaper to ship, and there's less to break," he said. He also likes Snap! Server's performance.

We were intrigued by Snap! Server's unusual approach, so we set one up in the FCW Test Center to see how well it performed. We found the product simple to install and easy to use. Its versatility is a great asset, and World Wide Web browser management makes administration a breeze. Transferring files is a quick drag-and-drop process. Overall, we really liked this convenient storage device and awarded it a very good score.

Our Test Results

Snap! Server really is a snap to set up. After plugging the unit into an AC outlet and into our 10Base-T test network (Snap! Server also supports 100Base-T), we assigned an IP address using the handy Snap! IP utility. We were able to quickly see the three default shares on the server after double-clicking on Microsoft's Network Neighborhood from our workstation. A useful quick-start guide and complete administrator's manual are bundled with the server. The unit contains four LED status indicators for monitoring server condition, network connectivity and disk activity.

Network administrators can manage Snap! Server from a Web browser: either Netscape Communications Corp.'s Navigator or Microsoft's Internet Explorer 2.0 or higher. We used Internet Explorer to access the administration utilities for the server. We ran through the quick-configure applet, which allowed us to reset the administrator password, set up a domain, create users and groups, define network shares and define additional security parameters. Although this utility is very easy to use and provides good management functionality, it is proprietary. We would have preferred to use Windows' or NetWare's standard user administration and file sharing tools.

Within the browser administration applet, there are several handy disk utilities for formatting drives and fixing common hard disk errors; these utilities are similar to running ScanDisk. In addition, network administrators can reboot the server, restore factory settings, update the server's firmware and view a system log— all from within the browser management program.

Users can access data and applications on Snap! Server by browsing the network from Microsoft's Network Neighborhood or Internet Explorer. For those who prefer a Web browser, Snap! Server folder resources can be accessed easily from a client browser. Copying files from our client workstation to Snap! Server was a breeze using drag-and-drop techniques within Internet Explorer. Opening, saving and transferring files to and from Snap! Server was no different from performing these tasks from a standard Windows NT file server.

Meridian's security scheme for Snap! Server is based on user-level security, whereby users can access network shares according to the permission granted in the access control list. User access cannot be controlled at the file level. In addition, access rights can only be granted to groups, not individual users.

By default, all authenticated users are granted full access to the Snap! Server root shares as members of the "Everyone" group. Network administrators should delete or deny access to the Guest account because unauthorized users can freely gain access to Snap! Server shares.

Finally, Snap! Server can be configured to have a Windows domain controller authenticate users who need to access data and applications on the system.

As all network administrators know, backing up file server data is one of the key tenets of good server management. We were disappointed that Meridian did not bundle backup software for Snap! Server. However, the file server supports such third-party backup software programs as ArcServe from Computer Associates International Inc. and BackUp Exec from Seagate Software.

Snap! Server emulates file sharing protocols for Windows NT 4.0, Novell Inc.'s NetWare, NFS 2.0 and HTTP 1.0.

It supports long file names for Windows and NetWare environments, and configurations come in 4G, 8G, 12G and 16G of storage capacity.

Meridian offers good support policies, with a 30-day money-back guarantee and toll-free technical support from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. (EST) Monday through Friday. In addition, the unit comes with a three-year warranty.

Snap! Server is available though GE Capital IT Solutions on its General Services Administration schedule (GS-35F-3013D). The 8G configuration costs $884, and the 16G configuration costs $1,596.


Report Card

Snap! ServerMeridian Data Inc.(831)

Price and Availability: Available on GE Capital IT Solutions' GSA schedule contract for $884 for 8G of storage capacity and $1,596 for 16G.

Remarks: This handy little device is a breeze to install and extremely easy to use. It's versatile, easy to manage and easy to use. The price is a lot more affordable than many other storage solutions, and the unit offers portability as well.

Final Score: Very Good


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