A New Breed of Server

Procom's Taurus is a small, multifunction server appliance that does a big job.

September 15, 2003

5 Min Read
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Couldn't you just buy a cheap PC and do the same thing? Yes and no. You could buy all the components necessary to accomplish the same functions and keep your application costs down by using open-source software (see our recent review of low-cost servers at www.nwc.com/1415/1415f3.html). But your costs probably would be equal to the Taurus' or greater after you added similar features and invested in the hi-tech manual labor necessary to get the applications to cooperate.

Procom Taurus

click to enlarge

The beauty of the Taurus is its simple elegance. The server fits in a briefcase, needs no keyboard or monitor and could, in just a few minutes, provide an entire lecture hall of wireless laptop users with the complete dataset, including images and video, for a lecture series. In about an hour, you could set up and configure one Taurus to support shared print, Web, mail and file services for a satellite office with dozens of wireless users, and still administer the appliance remotely from a central location through the Web or direct dial-up.

I tested a preproduction, entry-level system based on a 900-MHz Intel Celeron processor and configured with 256 MB of RAM and a single 40-GB ATA-100 hard disk. Procom said that all retail versions, at minimum, will sport a 1.2-GHz Celeron processor, and the company will offer six versions that will increase the RAM to 512 MB and up the storage to 125 GB or 250 GB.

Prep Time

Initially, the device must be configured via four soft-touch keys and an X-Y navigation pad that surround a backlit, 128x64 graphic LCD display located on the front panel. Above the display are five status LEDs for power, disk, LAN-0&1 and PCMCIA, a configuration that allows virtually all the Taurus' functions to be controlled and monitored through the front panel.The back of the machine is loaded with I/O ports: serial, parallel, dual-USB, dual-10/100 Ethernet; and for expert users there are VGA, PS/2 and line-out ports to access core appliance functions. The Taurus has a single PCMCIA interface port and one available PCI slot, and is powered by a laptop-style, external 19 VDC power supply. Wireless connectivity is available in both access-point and station modes. The Taurus uses a Samsung MagicLAN PCMCIA card, which comes complete with an external antenna (required) to boost gain and improve wireless coverage.

Initial setup was easy, and though most of the Taurus' functions can be configured using the front panel, it's faster to use the internal Web configuration utility from another networked computer after setting up the initial IP connections. Once you're logged on

as an administrator, creating file shares is quick and painless: Name the server, add an optional workgroup and create a few folders in the setup utility. From there you have network shares available on any platform, including AppleTalk.

Configuring anonymous FTP download services requires nothing more than enabling the service through the firewall and adding files to the FTP folder already set on the Taurus, provided you have a static IP address. You can also allow uploads from registered users by adding the privilege to their accounts. For print support,

I enabled the print-sharing service, attached a serial or parallel printer to the Taurus, and assigned the appropriate printer drivers on my local computer to the shared print queue on the Taurus.Features Lineup

The mail system supports POP3, IMAP4, SMTP, POP/SSL, IMAP/SSL and POP-before-SMTP services to an unlimited number of mail accounts and aliases. The Taurus allows for external mail relay, queuing, synchronization, filtering, spam control, autoreply, and fetchmail to multidrop mailboxes, and as a bonus hosts a Web Mail Client that lets users manage their e-mail from any Web browser. Configuring basic options such as fetchmail, filtering and spam controls is relatively simple for the average user, but setting up mail hosting requires more experience.

Taurus offers an Apache Web Server with SSL for Web hosting, and supports CGI, PERL and PHP scripting. Database support is provided by MySQL and PostgreSQL, so even complex sites could be supported by this simple little appliance. However, given that the Taurus is based on a 1.2-GHz Celeron chip, don't expect it to handle sites with heavy traffic.

From a security standpoint, the Taurus offers Linux user access control, 128-bit SSH and SSL, NAPT (Network Address Port Translation) and 128-bit PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol) for virtual private networking. Wireless is protected by either 40- or 128-bit WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) encryption, and there are easy-to-use firewall, proxy-authentication, URL-blocking and content-filtering options built into the system that let you limit Internet activities. A Java-based utility offers both full and incremental scheduled backups to FTP or shared network folders. An emergency system disk is available from Procom online.

Some upgrade options, such as memory, are available to the advanced user. Also, an unused PCI slot is on the system board, but you would be limited to using PCI cards with drivers that are supported by the installed version of Linux. Of particular interest are the PS/2 and VGA ports in back, which let you access the system BIOS and Linux shell. These open up a variety of opportunities given that the system operates on open-source CeLinuX under a GNU General Public License and could run a variety of third-party applications. Although this capability is referenced in Procom's documentation, it presents an interesting support issue because modifying the operating environment is contrary to Taurus' appliance model.

The Taurus occupies a curious new niche in the evolving server and storage environment. It offers the simplicity of an appliance interface, but can do substantially more than a device that's hard-coded to accomplish predefined functions.Steven Hill owns and operates ToneCurve Technology, a digital imaging consulting company. Write to him at [email protected].

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