More powerful and flexible than a NAS, this server is great value for small businesses that want to keep their options open
by : Kat Orphanides
There are plenty of options for small businesses in need of shared storage, from subscription-based cloud services to all manner of NAS devices. However, when it comes to versatility, ease of upgrading and the ability to add software features, your own server is often the best of all worlds. The Dell PowerEdge T20 is an entry-level model, aimed primarily at small businesses that want to organise and consolidate their data into a single storage location.
The T20 is priced and specified accordingly, and is currently available from as little as £219, excluding VAT and delivery. That’s a low price, but you must think about the components you choose, as the base specification doesn’t include hard disks.
Our review system is specified a little more highly. We specified two hard disks, for instance, so that we could create a RAID array and protect our data. If one drive fails the data will be preserved on the second. When you replace the damaged drive, its contents will be synchronised with the remaining disks in your array. If you're using a server for important data and projects, RAID is a vital element in protecting you against data loss through hardware failure. Our server’s two 1TB hard disks can be combined into a 1TB RAID volume.
We also opted for a quad-core 3.1GHz Intel Xeon E3-1225 processor. A faster processor often produces faster file transfer speeds, and the Xeon E3-1225 opens up a wide range of options for use and the operating systems you can run smoothly. A quad-core processor, for instance, is ideal for virtualisation. If you install VMware ESX on your server, you can then run one or more virtualised operating systems so that you can run multiple virtual servers from a single machine. The ease with which you can move and copy virtual servers, which are hardware independent by definition, has made them increasingly popular.
Our review server is equipped with just 4GB of RAM, though, and we’d prefer more as 4GB isn’t enough memory to run ESX or even Microsoft's Small Business Server comfortably. However, popular Linux server distributions such as Novell OpenSUSE and Ubuntu Server work well with 4GB. You can specify your server at the time of purchase with 4GB or 8GB of ECC RAM, and it can take a maximum of 32GB. Unlike regular desktop memory, ECC (Error Checking & Correction) memory can detect and correct single- and multi-bit errors that could potentially crash a server or corrupt data. ECC RAM is vital if you need your server to work as reliably as possible and stay working, so is probably worth the investment.
The T20's mini tower case looks very smart. It's a free-standing server of essentially the same kind of chassis design as you'd find in a desktop system, but its near-silent rear and CPU cooling fans make it very quiet during most operations. Even the fans' initial spin-up to full speed is just a muted whirr rather than the jet-turbine roar associated with many servers. The case echoes and magnifies the sounds of disk activity, but not to deafening a degree.
The interior is well laid out, but the finish on some of the case’s bare metal innards was a little rough. Instead of a couple of 5 1/4in drive bays at the top, there are two vacant 3 1/2in bays. There are another two 3 1/2in bays, each loaded with a 1TB hard disk, at the bottom. Optional mounting brackets are available if you specify 2 1/2in disks with your server, but not included by default. There's also space for a slimline disc drive at the very top of the front panel.