A One-box Upgrade for Small Business IT – Part 2

The DS5100/6100 is a compact, network attached storage (NAS) system from Western Digital (WD), one of the two primary disk drive manufacturers in the world today. Although designed for the small- to medium-sized business, it features Windows Storage 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. The DS6100 has the horsepower and the feature set to handle much more than simple file sharing and a little backup. It can be an ideal ‘first server’ for a small business that’s looking for an IT upgrade.

In 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 management tasks on the inventory of client computers that a small business can accumulate. We’ll also look at back ups and restores of those devices to the DS6100, backing up the DS6100 server itself and ways to get that data off-site for a disaster recovery capability.

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Users

For most companies these are the employees, but users can also be suppliers or partners outside the company that need access to data stored on the company file server. Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials supports up to 25 users and 50 devices, making it a good fit for most SMBs. Adding users requires a few keystrokes and the dashboard lets you manage everything about their accounts including their File History settings (a granular backup feature for Windows 8 that enables users to roll back files to earlier versions) and their Microsoft Online account (used for Office 365 and other services). Admins can also control their permission levels and their ability to access the server remotely using Microsoft’s Anywhere Access feature.

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Fig 1 – Users tab on Dashboard

Anywhere Access

This is a powerful feature that enables file sharing by users over the internet and remote server access by the administrator. For a small company this means users can continue working from home, or anyplace they have internet connectivity, without the hassles of a VPN and the IT administrator can do their job while away from the office as well. Set up requires port forwarding, which can be done automatically using the pNp setting on the router or can be configured manually. Since this is also a domain server users can go through their domain service provider (I use GoDaddy) to register the domain name. But Microsoft actually provides a much easier (and free) alternative.

Using Microsoft’s domain name “<servername>.remotewebaccess.com”, a wizard steps you through a few screens and that’s it. When you’re done, you have access to the server from anywhere – even from the LAN. This local LAN access may seem like a little thing but with other NAS boxes I’ve tested you can’t get to them except from outside your network, prompting a trip down to Starbucks just to test the remote access feature.

Devices

Adding computers to the system is done from the client device itself using the Connector software that you can download from the server on the network (you don’t have to be connected to the internet). It’s pretty straight forward, requiring the client machine be part of the DS5100/6100 domain. The client install process is simple as well, requiring some basic configuration questions and the usual reboots.

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Fig 2 – Devices tab on Dashboard

Once installed the system shows up on the “Devices” tab where backups, updates, security and other monitoring can be set up. Aside from file sharing and backup, the system can also perform most of the day-to-day management that’s required for these client computers. Again, as a first server that may be administered by a part-time IT consultant or a VAR, the ability to monitor user computers from a single pane of glass is a nice capability.

Backup and Restore

Even though this product will undoubtedly fill a number of roles in most companies, the role of file server and backup appliance is one of its primary functions. WD’s prior offering, the DX4000, provided backup for all the computers on the network as well, but this box, with Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials, has taken that to the next level.

Server Backup

Backup for the DS5100/6100 itself includes the boot drives (already mirrored) and, essentially, all but the data volumes, although it does give you the option of including any folders on the server that you want to. You can use one of the data drives for this purpose or an external USB drive as I did and carry it off site for DR, a process that’s already familiar to most SMBs. You can also back up the server to the cloud with Microsoft Azure which is integrated into the dashboard.

This would be an ideal way for a small business to upgrade their backup process and eliminate the ‘backpack DR’ they’ve been doing. As part of the ‘first server’ role, providing a roadmap for upgrading IT processes like this is important and something the DS5100/6100 does very well.

Client Backup

After installing a new client you set up the included folders and you’re ready to go. The backup schedule is kept by the server and applied to all client computers, with client backups going to the default Server Folder “Client Computer Backups”. As mentioned earlier, you can actually include this data folder in the backup schedule for the server itself, which would allow you to create a ‘hybrid’ backup scheme for client computers with a local copy on the server for faster restores and another off-site for DR protection.

Mac Support

Several years ago Macs were an anomaly in the corporate environment, especially in small to medium-sized businesses, but not anymore. This fact, plus the trend towards bringing your own devices into work, has made Mac OSX support a requirement in companies of all sizes. Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials does a nice job of handling Mac computers and supporting Time Machine, the Mac backup application. Installation is essentially the same as with Windows, simply download the Connector software agent from the DS5100/6100 and follow the prompts. The only thing that’s different with Mac is that the dashboard doesn’t report the security or update statuses or the other client computer monitoring that it does with Windows machines. But that may change in the future.

Client Restore

For restoring client files, users log on to the dashboard from their machines (using the “Launchpad” app that comes with the Connector installation), locate the files they want, choose the recovery location and they’re done. Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials provides an option to create a USB recovery key that can be used for bare-metal restore of a client computer. And, there’s also a Client Restore Service that essentially creates a disk image for full restore over the LAN of a corrupted disk drive or simply a roll-back of the client to a known good state. Restores from the cloud would come first to the server and then be available to clients like a regular, local backup.

In the next installment of this test drive well look at storage on the DS6100. We’ll set up Server Folders and get into Storage Spaces, Microsoft’s powerful storage architecture that greatly simplifies the creation of storage volumes without limiting their functionality.

Storage Swiss Take

This product is designed to address many of the problems that SMBs have with file storage and data protection, but also with the management of their IT environment. As companies add employees and grow their computer inventories, keeping up with user accounts plus security and upgrades for a few dozen connected system can be overwhelming. In addition to providing comprehensive backup and restore the DS6100 can cut this monitoring and management job down to size, something that’s especially valuable for the IT admin that wears a lot of other hats.

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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