Review: Axentra OfficeSeries Server S-200

Axentra's OfficeSeries Servers address issues near and dear to SMBs by putting nearly everything needed to support a small office in a single PC case.

April 29, 2004

6 Min Read
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Many small offices struggle with configuring and maintaining the multitude of devices and services required to keep them digitally viable.

Connections from cable or DSL modems to PCs in the office can quickly become a confusing tangle of wires linking file servers, firewalls, network switches, web servers, wireless access points, and more. Many small business owners will tell you that once they've finally got their configuration working, they dread touching it for fear something may stop working. Then, not only will they be without their network, they'll also have to spend the day troubleshooting.

Axentra's OfficeSeries Servers address precisely these issues by putting nearly everything needed to support a small office in a single PC case. Small Business Pipeline reviewed Axentra's S-200 - priced at $749 -- which is their middle-of-the-line system. The lower-priced model S-100 doesn't include a wireless access point or blogging software, while the top-end S-500 includes more robust web hosting and e-mail facilities to better serve larger offices.

We found the S-200 to be a terrific combination that replaced four separate devices, three remote subscription services, and added several functions I had planned on spending more money on.

Plug and GoThe server is designed as an appliance, meaning it is managed from computers connected to it, rather than by directly attached monitor and keyboard.

Setup is simple if you take a leap of faith and start by unplugging any devices the server will be replacing, such as firewall and router, the simply attach the Axentra server in their place, plug it in and turn it on and reboot your PCs.

The four-page getting started guide made the setup process simple and quick. Diagrams show the most common network setups, and I selected the network diagram that matched my configuration, then attached the cables as shown.

I turned the server on, and I was then able to browse to the server's control panel from my main PC to perform the initial setup, which consisted of the wireless connection, internal network addresses, and firewall restrictions from a single browser window. The setup involves selecting menu options, and since there were only four items to configure this worked nicely.

Aside from getting rid of a tangle of cables, you now have a fairly complete set of tools and equipment. The main hardware components include a 120Gb hard drive, 802.11g wireless access point, router, firewall, and print server. Since these all exist in the same device, they all work together and are managed from the same interface.The OfficeSeries is actually a computer running a modified version of the Linux operating system. Axentra has done a great job integrating a set of features that make hosting your own web sites, e-mail system, and other web-based services simple.

Hosting a web server can be problematic on a low-cost DSL or cable account because the IP address assigned to your network may change frequently. Just like each home or building, each computer connected to the Internet is assigned a unique identifier called an Internet Protocol address, or IP address. Each time you visit a website, your computer is actually connecting to that computer by looking up its IP address. If the IP address has changed, you'll end up at a different web site, or not find one at all. Axentra has included programming to get around this problem and make the whole process simple, so that even though your address may change, visitors will still be able to connect to your web site.

With the server accessible from the Internet, the server will host your web site rather than paying a monthly charge to a hosting service. E-mail service becomes available under the same domain name also. This can eliminate the different e-mail addresses(.yahoo, .Hotmail, .Earthlink, etc.) and add a more professional look to correspondence. Your email client, like Outlook, can retrieve messages from the server, but it can also be accessed as web mail from a browser.

As part of the account setup, every user is assigned their own web site that they can modify using Axentra's web page editor. While it could be used as a "personal web site" the real value is when it is used as a collaboration utility to publish files and information to other users of the system, or even business partners.

Big League ConnectionsOne of the big advantages for people who work outside the office or travel is the ability to connect to the office server and their documents through a secure connection, or VPN. When the server's 120Gb hard drive is used to store their files, users can access their own directory or any other folders they have permission to use.

This effectively extends the office LAN, making it a WAN (wide area network) to wherever the user happens to be. Of course, modem connections will still be slow, but remote users using broadband connections should have a reasonably usable speed. Actual speeds will vary based on the type of connection (cable or DSL) in your office.

Remember that these typically provide faster download speeds than upload speeds. The effect of this is that users in the office will be able to download faster than users who are outside the office retrieving files from the server.

One application that's been getting a lot of attention lately is web journaling, or blogging. Blogging is being used increasingly in business as a way to keep coworkers updated on projects because of its informal structure. The OfficeSeries models S-200 and S-500 include a blog function similar to many blog systems like Movable Type, that allows readers to add their own comments to the author's entries.

The S-200 includes customized software to perform backups. It also lets you attach removable hard drives via the system's USB ports. Those drives can be used as additional storage and for backup. Overall, this is a great idea, but the backup software won't allow its backups to be directed to tape drives, or even to other hard drives attached elsewhere on the network. There should be more options for selecting the destination for backups. The server's operating system is based on Linux and is extremely stable, however there is always the possibility the server may suffer a software or hardware failure and not recover from a crash. Routers and firewalls are typically hardware-based devices, and except for events like lightning strikes, rarely fail completely. If you already have a router in place that you'll be replacing with an OfficeSeries, keep the router as a backup.There are lots more functions to explore in the OfficeSeries servers, including a spam filter, configurable portals, and a firewall. If you're adding any one of these components to your office, it's worth taking a look at one of Axentra's offerings. Even if you are only contemplating adding a file server, the OfficeSeries S-200 with its 120Gb drive is competitively priced with products like the Linksys EFG120 and IOGear's BOSS, both of which offer similar storage capabilities and far fewer software features.

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