Data Centers

Aries: Stellar server appliance for small and remote offices

SMEs or larger organizations with a remote office may want to consider Celestrix Aries if they need a simple and stable server appliance. Here's a look at what the Aries, with its small size and price, can do for you.

Server appliances are typically designed with ease of setup and installation in mind, and they should be simple to maintain without requiring constant monitoring by IT professionals. The Celestix Aries certainly meets these specs. Aries is a multiuse server that can be quickly configured and put to work. In fact, if it takes you more than 10 minutes to set up the Aries on your network, you are probably one horribly distracted individual. In this review, we will look at the setup process in some detail and discuss what the Aries can do for your organization.

What is this thing?
The Aries has a very small footprint and a price tag of about $1,000. The dimensions of the server are 6.8 in. (172 mm) by 4.3 in. (109 mm) by 5.8 in. (147 mm), and it weighs 33.5 oz. (950 g). Figure A shows just how diminutive this powerful little server is.

Figure A
The Celestix Aries packs a lot of functionality into a small footprint.

The Aries we tested uses a custom-built Linux operating system based on the 2.2 kernel. This model has a 200-MHz Geode GX1 processor, 64 MB SDRAM, a 10-GB IDE hard drive, two PCMCIA slots, and a multitude of ports for IrDA infrared, a printer, USB, VGA display, PS/2 keyboard and mouse, and two RJ-45 ports for 10/100 BaseT and 10 BaseT Ethernet. For another $300, you can double the RAM and hard drive.

Among the features built into this little box are:
  • Internet gateway/router functionality
  • Firewall
  • NAT
  • Web serving and caching using the Apache Web server
  • Interoffice and Internet e-mail server
  • File and print server
  • DHCP server
  • DNS server
  • VPN server

Setup and maintenance
Although the Aries comes with a wall-chart setup guide, the task is so simple that most people will do it without looking at the chart. A little common sense will see you through and possibly shorten the setup time from 10 minutes to five.

Here’s what you do:
  1. Pull the Aries and the power supply out of the box.
  2. Plug the Cat. 5 network cable into the Aries’ primary RJ-45 jack and then into your wall jack (or equivalent).
  3. Plug the power cable into the back of the Aries and then into your power strip.
  4. Push the power button on top.

You have to wait a few minutes for the server to do a self-check and initialize. Once the box is powered up, an image will appear in the little LCD screen on the front of the machine. There's a little button at each corner of the LCD; the one in the top-left corner is the Menu button.
  1. Push the Menu button (backlighting will come on to help you read the following screens).
  2. Push the Config button (the same button that was used for Menu).
  3. Network will be highlighted in a list, so push the Select button (lower right).
  4. Use the lower-left button to scroll through the next list until you get to Configure Address and then press the Select button.
  5. Follow the on-screen directions to set the IP address or to use a DHCP server to get the address for the server appliance.

Once the server knows its address on the network, you’re ready to start the configuration. Fortunately, you can use a Web browser to connect to the Aries and set up the services you want it to offer on your network. The Web interface also provides access to the online help files.

After you set up the services you want to run on the Aries using the Web interface, your client computers can immediately start using the machine. It supports Windows, Macintosh, and Linux/UNIX clients.

In fact, even though it’s based on Linux, the Aries is a model citizen in a Windows network. If you open up My Network Places (or Network Neighborhood) on a Windows machine in the same workgroup or domain as the Aries, you should find the Aries machine listed in there. This happens because Samba is built into the Aries and it is automatically set up for use as soon as you connect the Aries to the network.

Above and beyond
The depth of capabilities of the Aries server is certain to suck you in, particularly if you have some familiarity with the Linux operating system. Celestix provides a reasonable level of support as well.

Essentially, Celestix states in its literature that it will support the default programs and capabilities of the machine as shipped. The company also mentions that if you want to install other programs, such as a database like MySQL, you can install them as you would on any other Linux system. The Aries can even handle RPM installations. Celestix obviously does not offer technical support for such configurations.

A few administrative functions on the server should make maintenance even easier for network administrators who deploy an Aries. Through the Web browser administration tool, you can update the server's system software after downloading it from the Celestix support site. Backing up the data and configuration and restoring the configuration and data is a one-button operation. The backup information is easily saved on another machine.

As far as stability is concerned, we've had the Aries in continuous operation for more than a month and it has not gone down for any reason.

Advertising and documentation for the Aries state that it is completely quiet because there is no fan. That may be the case, but our unit isn't totally quiet, as the hard drive apparently never stops spinning. Still, the noise is not intrusive, although it is at a higher pitch than the other computers in the room.

If you are searching for a quick server solution for a small to midsize business or remote office, the Aries could be an excellent investment.

Do you use server appliances?
Have you been using a server appliance at your organization? What brand? What do you think of it? Send us a note or post a comment in the discussion below.


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