A Kinder, Gentler Linux Server?

By Lauren Simonds | Posted December 21, 2005

Technology is so entwined with our lives that today it's hard to imagine running a successful business without it. In fact, it's nearly as immutable as death and taxes. While small companies understand that fact, many don't want to deal with complex and confusing technologies, so they outsource the responsibility to a value-added reseller, or VAR, with the following mandate: Just make it work.

Kim Brand, the principal of Computer Experts, an Indianapolis-based VAR, saw plenty of his small business customers face the frustration, confusion and high cost of installing and maintaining what he calls complex and overly capable file servers — and decided to do something about it. What he did was develop the FileEngineSystem.

A More Simple Proposition
The FileEngine System is a file server appliance that Brand claims meets the four basic needs of the majority of small businesses and that those needs drive 90 percent of purchase decisions when IT consultants tell small business owners they need to move up to a file server.


The FileEngine System
Click here for a larger image.

"Unlike the incumbent providers [read: Microsoft], we don't equate expanding feature sets and added complexity with delivering value to the typical small business. FileEngine is simple and simply delivers what most small businesses want: It reliably stores files; it allows sharing files and databases; it centralizes file storage for backup, and it keeps private files private."

More complex server solutions drive up management costs Brand said, and with most vendors selling Microsoft's Window's 2003 Small Business Server, it's getting harder to find a solution that handles the basic needs of small business.

He said believes that the constant churning of bigger, better, faster products, and the drive to complexity have served the interests of the current monopolies, not the small business. "FileEngine is what I call service-rich, not feature-rich. It's a retreat to a simpler, more focused feature set that small businesses are telling us they need."

Brand also said that most small businesses want predictable IT costs, which is why you don't buy this server, you lease it for a three-year period. "The lease for the FileEngine's base model (FE120-1) costs $235 per month. It covers everything: hardware, configuration, integration, monitoring and maintenance."

That price covers up to 10 PCs, and then Brand charges a one-time $50 fee for each additional PC. The server's built around the Linux operating system, which means, says Brand, "There aren't any per-user licenses fees and no license audit threats."

Each FileEngine System consists of the following:

  • Custom, all-aluminum red box
  • Progeny Debian Linux operating system
  • DVD+RW or DVD-R-DL drive (for backup)
  • Mirrored (RAID-1) SATA hard drives (RAID-5 in model FE640-5)
  • 2.4 GHz Pentium 4 processor
  • 400-watt power supply
  • APC Smart-UPS
  • 100 backup media (DVD+RWs or DVD-R DLs)
  • Backlit four-line LCD control panel

See the chart below for specific model details and pricing.

Monitoring and Security
His years spent setting up technology systems for small businesses taught Brand the one thing his customers fear most: losing data. As a result, he developed FileEngine with four levels of data protection:

  • Redundant hard drives using RAID
  • Integrated backup to DVD
  • SelfServe Restore SnapShots — store up to two weeks of read-only copies of every file stored on the server
  • Optional, integrated off-site data storage capability —additional fee of $5 per GB per month

Monitoring and maintaining a server can increase a small business owner's costs and blood pressure, which is why Brand makes both a part of the FileEngine System. In fact, the system doesn't even come with a monitor, keyboard or a mouse. "We have developed an innovative Remote Administration system that let's us remotely administer FileEngines without exposing them to hacking exploits or unauthorized access," he said.

In addition to the server's data storage area, File Engine also comes with three standard file storage areas (FSA) that are reserved for special purposes, including the SelfServe Restore feature mentioned above.

The second area, Backup/Restore, is designed as a read-only space where you can make an on-the-fly backup or restore using the DVD burner.

The third area, called Take-Out, is designed for when you need a quick copy of a certain file to take out of the office or for archiving older data. Use the "Make Takeout DVD or CD" option on the FileEngine's control panel to burn the file to the disc.

FileEngine Systems: Models, Specs and Pricing
  FE120-1 FE320-1 FE640-5
RAID Level & Hard Drives RAID-1, 2x120 GB SATA RAID-1, 2x320 GB SATA RAID-5, 3x320 GB SATA
Net Usable Storage 25 GB 100 GB 200 GB
SelfServe Restore Snapshots 2 weeks, 48 GB 2 weeks, 174 GB 2 weeks, 394 GB
Restore/Backup 20 GB 20 GB 20 GB
Take-Out CD or DVD 4 GB 4 GB 4 GB
Number of Users 2-25 15-30 25-50
Price $235 x 36 months $299 x 36 months $349 x 36 months

Meanwhile, Back in the Real World
Linda Walker is a CPA and the vice president of the Firefighter's Credit Union in Indianapolis. The 25-employee company has been outsourcing its IT needs to Kim Brand's company, Computer Experts, for the past four years.

"We have a lot of nontechnical employees — including me — and no one on staff to handle IT," said Walker. "The Computer Experts people are like a one-stop shop. They work with all of our third-party software vendors and take care of all our IT requirements."

For nearly two years, Walker and the other credit union employees have been using a FileEngine server without any crashes or down time. "We don't want to be bothered with it. It's like a car — we just want it to work. And it does," she said.

Walker said that the $317 a month they spend for the server fits well within the company's budget. "It's very affordable, and the service that comes with it is just great. They have good business ethics. You just feel good when you're working with them."

Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!


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