FileEngine changes the server rules

* Pay for services and get the server for free

The server question used to be about how much you'd pay for your hardware. Now the question is whether your data files, including backup, are worth $8 per day? If so, FileEngine has a deal for you.

FileEngine, a small company grown out of Server Partners in Indianapolis, turned the way to evaluate file servers upside down. CEO Kim Brand realized his small business customers didn't want file servers per se, they wanted a reliable, secure place to store their files and have them backed up without worrying. The company’s advertising slogans are "no worries" and "It's more than a server. It's a promise."

Big words from a little company you never heard of, right? But for $235 per month (the $8 per day), FileEngine the company will put a physical FileEngine the server and a 620 VA Uninterrupted Power Supply at your location, configure it for your network and storage requirements, and manage it remotely. This includes automatic backups to dual-layer DVDs. Optional services (more $$ per month) include offsite backups over the Internet, licenses for more than 10 users, and more fault tolerant disk space.

FileEngines are custom servers using PC hardware (2.4 GHz Pentium P4 CPU) running a specialized version of Linux that's completely hidden from users. An LCD panel on the front with four pushbuttons provides server information and some maintenance operations like shutdowns, reboots, and creating a special disk image DVD for easy disaster recovery. Hard disks are mirrored, so one disk failure won't lose any of your data. The server doesn't have dual power supplies because that jumps the case price considerably, but does have an extra fan to keep things cool. Even with the extra fan the server is quiet aurally but loud visually: it's fire engine (or FileEngine) red.

Windows software utilities allow a local administrator (called a Key Operator) to add, modify or delete local users and handle a few other housekeeping chores. All other management functions are performed remotely by FileEngine. Data backups run automatically. When a new backup DVD is needed, the FileEngine "sticks out its tongue" by ejecting the DVD. FileEngine sends 100 blank DVDs with the system, and the backups can be read by any Windows computer with a dual layer DVD player.

A local reseller installs and configures your system, including tying it into existing Windows server domains if necessary. User folders like My Documents can be redirected to private storage areas on the server so user files get backed up automatically, too. You can use the box as a print server as well.

What FileEngine doesn't do is provide a full Microsoft Windows 2003 Server feature set with Exchange e-mail server, IIS Web server, SharePoint server and shared Outlook e-mail calendars and task lists. All of these functions are available with Linux server operating systems, but FileEngine decided not to provide them, focusing instead on guaranteed file service. Microsoft Exchange is overkill for most small companies, but if you want to use both servers you can certainly do so.

Comparing the two shows where FileEngine's new approach differs from every other server option. Maintenance and support fees for Windows server software and name brand server hardware will likely be more than $235 per month. This doesn't include the finance cost of the initial server hardware and Windows software. Yet the $235 per month does include the FileEngine hardware and software, as well as software upgrades, overnight hardware replacement and remote administration.

Yes, you can buy a network-attached storage (NAS) unit with more disk storage for less money. Several of the NAS units I reviewed in May cost $1000 or less for 1TB (1,000GBs) of data storage. But none of those come with backup drive and media built in, none have a companion UPS, none have remote management, and none have complete hardware replacement for free. After three years, you get new hardware if you renew your contract.

The $235 per month is essentially a lease for the FileEngine hardware and software, but that's not the beauty of the system. For less cost than software and hardware support alone from Microsoft, Dell and HP, you get a guarantee: your files will be saved to redundant disks and backed up automatically. If your FileEngine fails, it will be repaired or replaced within one day. Typically, FileEngine sends a new unit out overnight and the company’s support people walk you through putting the disk image backup DVD into the drive and restoring all your files, users and configuration details. Local resellers will appear if needed.

One small monthly fee, all data headaches relieved. The question no longer is how much is that server in the window, but whether your data, and peace of mind, is worth $8 per day.

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.