Dell Raises Storage Stakes

PowerVault taps hardware raid; redundancy limited.

Dell Inc.s PowerVault 725N NAS Server offers massive storage capacity in a compact form factor with a hard-to-beat price. Combining the performance of hardware RAID and Microsoft Corp.s Server Appliance Kit, the 725N provides affordable storage for small and midsize workgroup environments.

PowerVault 725N

Dells entry-level PowerVault 725N harnesses hardware RAID to offer better performance for small shops that need a high-capacity NAS system for handling the file storage needs of Windows workgroups. The 725N starts at less than $1,800, and the fully loaded system we tested, with hardware RAID support, costs as much as $5,500. More information is at
















  • PRO: Large storage capacity in a compact form factor; hardware RAID support; easy integration with Windows environments.
  • CON: Lacks redundant power; no TOE option.

• HPs StorageWorks NAS 1000s • IBMs TotalStorage NAS 100 • Iomega NAS A205m/A305m

The 725N, the entry-level system in Dells PowerVault NAS (network-attached storage) lineup, now features a 1-terabyte maximum storage capacity, with four ATA hard drives with optional hardware RAID support. Most entry-level NAS devices on the market, such as Iomega Corp.s A205m, offer only software RAID support to keep costs down; vendors often reserve hardware RAID controllers for higher-end systems.

However, Iomega does offer a TOE (TCP/IP Offload Engine) option to increase the overall file serving throughput of the NAS device. Dell has no plans to offer TOE options in the PowerVault line at this time.

Dell offers the factory-installed CERC (Cost-Effective RAID Controller) ATA100 RAID controller as an optional add-on for the 725N system. The CERC has four IDE channels with a total of 16MB of cache. The $2,399 controller option should be a good addition for sites that support more users or have more demanding file server needs.

The CERC RAID controller supports RAID Levels 0 and 5 only. For sites that must use RAID Level 1 (mirroring), software RAID is the only option.

The compact 1U (1.75-inch) 725N eWEEK Labs tested is priced at $5,500 and comes with a 2.6GHz Intel Corp. Pentium 4 processor; 1GB of Double Data Rate 200 RAM; and a CERC RAID controller that supports as many as four 250GB, 7,200-rpm IDE hard drives. The system also has dual embedded Gigabit Ethernet ports and two PCI slots, one of which is enabled for PCI-X.

The system doesnt offer a redundant power supply. For added data protection, IT managers should connect a tape backup system to the 725N. Dell offers an optional Adaptec Inc. Ultra 160 SCSI controller card for supporting external tape systems.

The 725N uses Microsofts Windows 2000 Server Appliance Kit 2.01 as the operating platform. SAK is a stripped-down version of Windows 2000 Server thats optimized for file sharing. Microsoft is on track to release the Storage Server 2003 operating system for storage devices this fall (see review, Page 44).

The 725N is available now, and the hardware RAID add-on will be available this week.

The 725N competes with entry-level ATA-based NAS boxes from vendors such as Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM and Iomega. These vendors also offer low-end NAS devices that run the Windows SAK software. Dell has priced the base version of the 725N aggressively, at $1,800. The entry-level system has an Intel 2GHz Celeron processor, 384MB of memory and four 40GB hard drives.

The 725N can be outfitted with a 2GHz Celeron or Pentium 4 processor running at 2.4GHz or 2.6GHz. (We tested the 2.6GHz edition.) By comparison, HPs StorageWorks NAS 1000s has similar components, can provide 1 terabyte of storage and offers a 2.8GHz Pentium 4 processor, but it doesnt offer hardware RAID. The 320GB HP StorageWorks NAS 1000s is priced at $2,999.

The 725N also competes with Iomegas A205m and A305m devices, which start at $1,399, and IBMs TotalStorage NAS 100 entry-level system. TotalStorage NAS 100 with 480GB of storage costs $4,400.

In tests, the 725N was easy to set up; users familiar with Windows can quickly configure the system like any Windows 2000 file server with a monitor, keyboard and mouse.

We used the Web user interface (provided by SAK) to manage the system in tests. The latest SAK provides enhanced management capabilities such as MDM (Multiple Device Management). As the name implies, MDM provides a means to manage multiple server appliances from a central console. MDMs capabilities are a good addition, but they work only on SAK devices. For sites that employ multiple SAK appliances, MDM can provide automatic hardware discovery, alert viewing, scripting and remote operations for a group of appliances.

When we tested other new features provided by the SAK interface, we found the reporting and performance monitoring capabilities useful. Improved system logs allowed us to obtain more low-level information about the Dell PowerVault appliance.

Dell also provides customers with optional storage management software for the 725N. For $99, IT managers can purchase the add-on StorageCentral SRM (Storage Resource Manager), which is a light version of Veritas Software Corp.s StorageCentral ES 5.0. The SRM is integrated in the SAK user interface and provides advanced storage management capabilities such as directory quota, storage reports and file screening.

In tests, we used the SRM to control storage quota by directory. Instead of limiting the amount of storage space users are allotted based on a disk volume, we could delegate space based on file directories, a much more granular approach. The file screening feature allowed us to control what types of files could be stored on the appliance.

Dell offers a trial version of NOD32 Antivirus System from Eset Software LLC as a plug-in for the 725N. NOD32 Version 2.0 provides integrated anti-virus capabilities that we could upgrade out of the box. NOD32 provides some stateful anti-virus capabilities that will have minimal impact on performance. The software is integrated with the SAK management interface, so we could easily schedule scans and update the virus database.

Technical Analyst Francis Chu can be reached at