• United States
by James Gaskin, Network World Global Test Alliance

Procom server appliance ups the ante

Aug 18, 20035 mins

I love all-in-one server appliances for small businesses. The best provide the greatest benefit for most businesses for the smallest amount of configuration time.

The new Taurus from Procom Technology improves on the IT-100 from EmergeCore I tested in early July and was less than satisfied with. The Taurus includes wireless support, the print server worked, and it was easier to set up.

Procom should be further down the road than EmergeCore because it bought orphaned technology from Celestix. The company took that hardware and server framework and complemented it with an excellent manual (274 clearly written pages with lots of pictures and easy steps, and plenty of depth, if you want it).

The Taurus easily hurdles the first barrier for non-technical folks adding a server appliance: how to get the server network IP address to match that of the network. When you already have a network and add a server, you must tell the new server what IP address to use. The Catch-22: You must network the server to add the server to your network. That means you need to change your client’s static IP address, connect to the server, set the server’s static IP address, then change your client settings back. The Taurus’ front-panel LCD lets you set the server’s static IP address to match your network quickly and easily. This is a big benefit and speeds installation considerably.

Meant to fit between a small company’s internal network and an Internet connection, Taurus, like other all-in-one servers, requires you to use its internal file server as your external firewall and Web server. This design relies heavily on the included firewall to keep your file server safe. For that reason, I wanted more management detail about the firewall and more configuration flexibility than Taurus provided. The company could do better. This also means you will have to keep your Taurus software updates current to help maintain a strong barrier against outside hackers.

Once you configure the Taurus’ IP address, installation between your network and the world takes only seconds. In my lab, I placed the Taurus between the Comcast cable modem and my internal wiring hub. When I turned on the box it automatically grabbed the Internet information from Comcast and translated my internal IP addresses through network address translation to match the Comcast IP addresses. In less than one minute, internal clients were surfing the Web.

The browser-based administration pages are refined holdovers from Celestix and use a tabbed interface for easy navigation. Finding your way around is easy, but getting into fine details is impossible. Like with other all-in-one boxes, I yearned for an Advanced button to let me drill down another level for configuration flexibility. Other Linux server software (the Taurus is based on an unnamed Linux version) offers such administration control, but Procom has yet to add that to the Taurus.

Taurus ServerRATING 3.85 
Company: Procom, (949)852-1000 Cost: About $1,700 to $2,550. Pros: Easy installation; front-panel LCD for installation, status readouts and management; companion CD with Eudora e-mail client and FTP client software; Web, e-mail, file and print servers. Cons: Management split between server LCD and Web administration pages; too little management detail over server and operating system; only available through resellers.
Manageability 25%  3
Features 25%  4
Ease of setup 20%  5
Documentation 20%  4
Reporting tools 10%  3
Scoring Key: 5: Exceptional; 4: Very good; 3: Average; 2: Below average; 1: Consistently subpar

Setting up the Web server takes only seconds, and one click starts the server in the Administration pages. The Taurus includes FTP client software (WS_FTP LE, or Light Edition) for easy Web-content file transfers to post your information on your Web site. If you prefer not to use the public-access FTP directory, you can choose the directory to hold the Web server files. You also can host multiple Web servers on the Taurus (which makes it more complex to set up), so if Joe’s Hardware expands to include Joe’s Lumber, each could have its own Web site.

The e-mail server can be set up just as quickly (one click to start the server) and automatically integrates all users created on the system. Any POP3 e-mail client can access the mail server, and Procom includes an excellent Web-based mail client with an extensive manual for explanation.

An antenna to extend your wireless range is included with the 802.11b wireless access card (PC Card). The antenna helps, and using a PC Card plug-in for wireless will make it easy for Procom to upgrade to 802.11a or 802.11g in the future.

Procom doesn’t sell direct and doesn’t list e-commerce buying options. It has a reseller-based distribution plan, which seems contradictory to making the Taurus so easy to set up and administer, but the company is relying on the dealer network that sells its other storage products.

With a starting price of about $1,700, the Taurus system offers more for about the same money as Novell’s and Microsoft’s software-only products. The Taurus top-end unit, with 512M bytes of RAM and a 250G-byte hard disk, sells for about $2,550 and will handle all server functions for a business with several hundred users.

The Taurus isn’t the ultimate server appliance, but it’s getting closer. Lack of administrative controls lowers the high ratings gained by the easy-setup LCD control window and the clever inclusion of wireless support. Another software upgrade or two and this could be a real winner.