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First Look: A new all-in-one server

First Look: A new all-in-one server

Almost exactly seven years ago, I reviewed four different "All-in-One" Internet appliances that included file, e-mail and Web servers and some other workgroup type utilities. A purple cube, eight inches on each side, called the Qube 3 from Cobalt (purchased by Sun) won the comparison. The review is here, but alas, none of the products are. The All-in-One market is tough, and many small businesses go with the flow and buy Microsoft's Small Business Server, which includes most of the All-in-One features.

Jumping into the fray is a new product from a fairly young company near Vancouver called Sutus. The system includes basic file server, e-mail server, Web server, and routing and firewall functions. Being modern, Wi-Fi adds to the network options along with Power over Ethernet (PoE) connections. Being very modern, Sutus also includes a small company phone system, running VoIP along with a gateway supporting three lines to the traditional telephone system. Any Polycom IP telephone, from the high-priced ones down to the affordable ones, will automatically work with the system.

Security issues make me wary of small businesses supporting their own e-mail and Web servers, especially when Microsoft servers are used since they attract so many attacks. Sutus avoids these issues by using a hardened version of Gentoo Linux with all non-essential services stripped out.

Sutus uses a managed service model, with all server functions managed by the Sutus reseller or other managed service provider, which also aids security. The level of support will be critical because Sutus aims its products at the 25 employees and under business market, and darn few of those companies have any full time technical support on the payroll. Of course, if the box crashes, phone service, e-mail, Web and Internet access all disappear.

Officially, I tested the Sutus Business Central 200 which came largely preconfigured, the way almost all units will arrive at their new homes. While this level of hand holding isn't always the norm in file servers, it is in telephone systems, and that's the primary foundation for the Sutus box. Functionally, you can't tell if it's a phone system with file services built on, or a file server with phone support added, but the Sutus folks have telephone backgrounds. More than that, the feature list leans toward more phone goodies than network and server goodies, although the goodies list is fairly even.

Pricing makes sense for this market: US$3,995 for nine and fewer users, and $5445 for 10 or more. There are no user license fees like with Microsoft. Phones are not included in the base price.

My test system arrived with 250GBs of disk space configured as RAID 1 (two redundant disks to protect against disk failure), eight 10/100 PoE ports, one 10/100/1000 GigE port, and 802.11b/g wireless, the most common Wi-Fi option today. The router and firewall came configured intelligently, meaning insecure network access is blocked while allowing normal connections. Client connections worked flawlessly from Windows XP, Windows 2000, Apple OS X and Ubuntu 8.04 Linux.

Biggest surprise? The router function automatically configured my AT&T DSL connection. No router I've tested has done that; usually I have to provide name, password and other details. Clients connected immediately through the BC 200 to the Internet.

The browser-based administration screens are all done in Flash and take longer to load and change than any other comparable admin utilities on similar systems. Sutus Executive VP Shawn Chute admitted the laggard screens, and said internal discussions were long and detailed, but the company decided to use Flash because of workflow and usability. The company will soon move to the newer Flex architecture to speed things up.

Private workspace folders, created for departments and users, aren't the most refined structure, but at least they give companies a workable folder system to start with. Public workspaces support different departments, and include features such as group addressed e-mails and phone services.

The world can find your server by routing through Sutus using an address like YourCompany.SutusCentral.com, or you can work with your reseller to point your own domain name to the Web and e-mail servers. The Web server works well enough for basic Web sites, but e-commerce players will need more.

One sales outlet for Sutus will be large telephone companies and ISPs that want to serve more small businesses but can't afford to send techs out for initial installation and support. Sutus handles those issues by shipping preconfigured models and by making the administration wizards simple enough for any power user. Remote management capabilities should carry remote support the rest of the way, meaning only hardware failures require personal visits by technicians.

While computer support calls have a reputation for high fees, phone vendors tend to be worse. Moving, adding or changing extension phones and numbers within companies can cost well over a hundred bucks per phone. The intelligent VoIP system included with the Sutus BC200 makes all of that disappear. Want to move your extension? Unplug it from the Ethernet connection, then plug it in at your new location. Done.

The Sutus Business Central 200 looks to include just about everything a small company needs, supplying both computer and telephone services. And if you look at it just the right way, you get a free file server system with your new telephones, or free telephones with your server system. Either way, you get more services than with just about any other product around today.


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