A One-Box Upgrade for Small Business IT

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The DS6100 is a compact file server system from Western Digital (WD), one of the two primary disk drive manufacturers in the world today. This product and the DS5100 are new additions to WD’s Sentinel line of network-attached storage (NAS) solutions designed for the small- to medium-sized business. In this test drive we’ll explore the features and functionality of this product and see what it can offer a small business that certainly has a lot of NAS options to choose from.

The DS5100/6100 shares the same chassis as the previous generation DX-4000, but features more CPU, more RAM, more connectivity, more RAID options and a host of other enhancements. Its operating system is the upgraded Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials, a full-fledged server OS that can actually run local applications as well as connect to Microsoft’s cloud-based services such as Office 365 and Azure. This makes the DS5100/6100 a good ‘first server’ for the Small and Medium-sized Business (SMB), a theme we’ll come back to frequently during the course of this test drive.

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DS6100 Small Business Server

Hardware

Like the previous Sentinel products, this four-drive pedestal configuration fits easily into cramped quarters, like the ‘closet datacenter’ that’s common in small businesses, and with 4TB disk drives it provides 16TB of raw capacity. Data drives (3.5” SATA) are hot-swappable and don’t require drive trays. WD upgraded to an Intel Xeon processor (dual-core 2.3GHz for the DS51000 and quad-core 2.5GHz for the DS6100) and increased memory to 8GB/16GB respectively – both upgradeable to 32GB. It also has dual power supplies (DS6100), dual Gbit NICs which can be teamed for faster performance, and redundant system drives (2.5” internal).

This added horsepower and these redundancy features are proof that WD is serious about using this box as a ‘real’ server, not just network storage and backup. You can also connect a keyboard and monitor, although the Windows Server 2012 Essentials dashboard that runs on any connected computer is designed to handle most day-to-day administration tasks. The box we used in this test drive has four 4TB 7200RPM SATA drives and 8GB of RAM.

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Fig 2 – Back Panel Connectivity

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Fig 3 – Tray-less Drives

Connectivity

WD put six USB connections on this storage server as well, four of which are USB 3.0 (Fig 2). The twin USB 2.0 connectors can be used to support a monitor and keyboard leaving lots of high-speed connectivity (USB 3.0 is capable of 5Gb/s) for external disk drives or an external storage array. I see this as a way for a business to consolidate the collection of storage devices they’ve accumulated over time and simplify their overall storage infrastructure. In the video for part 3 of this report we’ll show an example of this consolidation.

Initial Configuration

Hardware

The unit arrived with two 4TB disk drives and I later added two more. As mentioned above, the drives slide in without requiring any drive trays (Fig 3). This is a simpler process than requiring drives be screwed into carriers with the little drive screws that are difficult to handle (and easy to lose). After initial boot and reboot (about 15 minutes), we got to the Set up Screen for Windows Server Essentials (Fig 4). This is the OS that WD has chosen for their storage server, compared with some of the others small business NAS products on the market that use a Linux variant. Much of the feature/functionality of the product is attributable to this decision.

Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials

I’ve seen Windows Server 2012 Essentials described as the consolidation of Windows Small Business Server, Windows Home Server and Windows Storage Server Essentials into a single product. I can’t speak for all Microsoft users but I think a little consolidation was in order in this segment and, with the end of Small Business Server, the field was clear for Windows Server 2012 Essentials. It’s designed to work for the SMB owner or manager who doesn’t have much, if any, IT experience. But it’s also a full-fledged Windows Server OS that the SMB IT person, often a part time consultant or VAR/Reseller, can leverage.

WD launched the Sentinel DS-Series with the R2 version of Windows Server 2012 Essentials.  This version has some significant enhancements, including easier virtualization of users’ environments and the ability to provide much simpler access to the cloud through deep integration with Office 365 and Windows Azure.

AD Domain

I chose the “Clean Install” which sets the DS5100/6100 up as an Active Directory domain controller, which I assume most SMB customers would be doing if this is their first server. You can also join the system to an existing domain. This process required several reboots but was certainly simple enough for a non-IT professional to do. However, you do have to stick with the domain name and computer name that you choose.

After that, we bring up the Dashboard, the primary configuration, monitoring and management tool that users will interface with. Again, since this is a full-fledged Windows Server, admins who are familiar with Server Manager and similar tools can still access them, as they would to manage traditional software applications that are run on the server.

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Fig 4 – Windows Server 2012 Essentials Dashboard

Dashboard

The “Getting Started” tab shows a fairly long list of set up tasks that can be undertaken before the server is used for the first time – although users can skip most of these tasks initially and go back to them as they need to use these features. In the next installment we’ll add users and their computers, back up some of those systems and examine the restore options.

In the third report we’ll focus on creating storage volumes, setting up server folders and doing some consolidation of existing desktop storage. Then we’ll look at some of the other features the product has, including a little deeper dive into Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials.

Storage Swiss Take

WD has really ‘souped up’ this small business NAS to create a comprehensive IT appliance for SMBs. More than just file services and desktop backup it can provide a centerpiece for IT management in the environment, a one-box IT upgrade for small companies. Clearly designed to support the server-class features that Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials now includes, the DS6100 is a good fit for multiple IT environments, whether that’s an employee who wears the IT hat part-time or a full-time IT professional.

Western Digital is a client of Storage Switzerland

Eric is an Analyst with Storage Switzerland and has over 25 years experience in high-technology industries. He’s held technical, management and marketing positions in the computer storage, instrumentation, digital imaging and test equipment fields. He has spent the past 15 years in the data storage field, with storage hardware manufacturers and as a national storage integrator, designing and implementing open systems storage solutions for companies in the Western United States.  Eric earned degrees in electrical/computer engineering from the University of Colorado and marketing from California State University, Humboldt.  He and his wife live in Colorado and have twins in college.

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Posted in Lab Report
3 comments on “A One-Box Upgrade for Small Business IT
  1. […] Another review on the WD DS6100 and this one is from Storage Swiss – Storage Switzerland. […]

  2. […] this, the second installment of our test drive report, we’ll look at setting up users and their computers and performing basic monitoring and system […]

  3. […] Click here to check out Eric's test drive of the WD DS6100. […]

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