Cisco turns SMB storage into multipurpose platform

The new NSS 300 arrays include a Web server, e-mail server and other capabilities

Cisco Systems is turning its small-business storage platforms into multipurpose devices with several features that might make easy additions to an IT architecture on a budget.

In addition to hard drives and backup and encryption capabilities, the new NSS 300 Series Smart Storage systems introduced Wednesday can include a Web server, e-mail server, FTP server, RADIUS authentication server and other free features if customers choose to turn them on, Cisco said.

Cisco believes many small businesses with fewer than 100 employees don't have these types of servers and will welcome the ability to implement them without having to buy and deploy a separate hardware platform, according to David Tucker, vice president and general manager of Cisco's Small Business Technology Group.

The addition of these higher-level features to the network-attached storage systems echoes Cisco's ongoing drive to build more IT functions into networks and its own infrastructure offerings. Concentrating all these capabilities in the central storage hub of a small business could give the company a prominent place in the customer's IT infrastructure where another player, such as a server vendor, might otherwise reside.

Cisco has also beefed up the storage features in the new platforms, which follow an earlier set of devices for small businesses. All the NSS 300 systems, from two-bay to six-bay models, include two Gigabit Ethernet ports as well as three interfaces for connecting to PCs or other storage devices. Users can connect to the boxes via USB and eSATA (External Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) or use iSCSI (Internet Small Computer System Interface). Users can choose among several RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) systems -- RAID 0, 1, 5 and 6 -- for fast transfers, mirroring, disk-failure recovery and hot-swapping of drives.

The systems include a browser-based interface for setup and software and backup utility software. They can be used for file-sharing with all popular operating systems, Cisco said. All data stored on the devices can be automatically encrypted using 256-bit AES (Advanced Encryption Standard).

In addition to automatic backup from an organization's PCs, the NSS 300s can be used for disaster recovery in two ways, Tucker said. A user can pull data off the system to an external storage device and take that to another location, with the data remaining encrypted. (An NSS 300 is required to recover the data.) Alternatively, a Cisco channel partner can set up remote storage for its customers at its own location, with users periodically uploading data via FTP or another method. Later, Cisco plans to introduce a cloud-based alternative for disaster recovery, Tucker said.

Cisco believes the cloud is not the right place for small businesses to store the data they use on a regular basis, however. With the volume of data that can be stored on a dedicated platform such as the NSS 300s, ranging from roughly 2TB to 12TB depending on what drives are installed, access over a typical small-business broadband connection would be inconvenient, Tucker said.

The NSS 300 platforms come in versions with two, four or six bays for 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch hard drives. List prices range from US$913 for a two-bay unit without included drives to $5,625 for a six-bay system fully outfitted with 2TB drives. The products are available now globally.

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