Monday, January 19, 2009

Cheap Green Servers Suitable for Small Business

I recently completed an analysis of servers, inspecting the newest generation for a cost effective solution to this problem. The results were pleasantly surprising. There is a new classification of simple and easy-to-use servers that are suitable for personal and small business use. They also are inexpensive and environmentally friendly.

These devices are known as network attached storage (NAS). The new NAS devices are inexpensive and easy to use. Simply buy the device from your favorite retailer, and also purchase one or more hard drives and slide them in the back. Thereafter, you attach it to your network, do a 10 minute setup exercise and begin use. There is no need to load any software because it's built-in.

I selected two models with which to experiment from Linksys and Netgear. One I purchased refurbished off of eBay for $34.90 and the other new from Circuit City (which, unfortunately, just announced its liquidation), for $150. Both appear to be a great value. The rest of this article relates to server model NAS200 from Linksys.

The device is very small, about seven inches by eight inches and five inches high. It has room for two internal hard drives, and USB plugs for two additional external drives. In my case I purchased two 500 GB hard drives from Western Digital. These drives are from the Green Power product line, which is designed to use less electricity. The device is physically plugged into the network with a standard Ethernet cable.


The performance is very good and it can stream high definition video without problems. I have measured the read/streaming performance at 30 MB per second, which is normally more than enough for multiple staff simultaneously accessing it in a small office setting. I have configured the hard drives to mirror each other so the data is simultaneously written onto both drives (providing a safety net in case one drive fails). Even with this mirroring overhead, the device is able to write with sustained rates of 20 MBPS. These performance figures are outstanding, considering the total price of $350.


Since servers run 7x24, it's important that they consume minimal electricity. The measured power consumption for the NAS200 is tiny and is enhanced by the sleep mode; when the device is not used for a while, it goes into a low-power idled setting and automatically wakes itself up when accessed. The actual measured electricity consumption is one-tenth that of a similar server in this office!

Results are as follows:

* Maximum while writing to 2 drives = 16 Watts (29kva).
* Minimum at idle = 6 Watts (11kva).
* Estimated monthly usage and cost = 6.4 kwh or about $0.64/mo.


No discussion about servers would be complete without considering security. These NAS devices are designed for easy access. While access can be protected with passwords it is not as robust of a Security System; you would get with a full-fledged, expensive server running UNIX or Windows Server. A hacker, once inside your networks, would most likely have access to the devices and their contents.

However, it seems that this risk is no greater than with any other PC in your network. With the peer-to-peer network features built into Windows, the risk is similar to any PC on your internal network. Just make sure this server is installed inside your firewall/perimeter security systems.

There is one aspect of these devices which may give a security advantage compared to traditional servers. In the case of the Linksys, the server software runs from firmware. It's more difficult for hackers to install rogue software, and there is no additional susceptibility to SQL injections or Trojans installed in the server software. Certainly someone could place viruses onto the device like on any hard drive; however there is no operating system software that can be manipulated from the outside.


If you are looking for a low-cost way to share files in a small office or your home, then I recommend evaluating these devices. They are inexpensive, quiet, easy to install, and friendlier on the environment than traditional servers because of their low energy consumption.