Despite the obvious need for a server-specific system in a business network environment it’s surprising how many small companies are still relying on a standard PC for these functions. IBM’s latest xSeries 100 Express is aimed directly as these users as it’s designed to provide an entry-level server solution at price they can afford. The system is offered in either Pentium 4 or D processor variants with prices starting as low as £360 (ex VAT).
These very same companies won’t want any hassle when installing the server and the 100 comes with plenty of help to get it up and running straight from the box. With IBM’s ServerGuide at the helm operating system (OS) installation couldn’t be easier as this bootable CD-ROM takes you through the entire process and helps set up the hard disks, create a system partition, install drivers and load your chosen OS. It’s a smooth process that can be left largely unattended after all the questions have been answered and if you have an IBM ServeRAID installed as we had, then the utility will also update its firmware and offer access to the ServeRAID Manager utility allowing you to set up arrays during this phase as well. Alternatively, if this is too much hassle IBM also offers an option with Windows Small Business Server 2003 preinstalled.
At this level of the server market you wouldn’t expect any server management tools but IBM includes its Director software suite. This is IBM’s standard management tool for all its servers, blade servers, workstations and laptops and it requires an agent loaded locally for the system to be remotely managed. For storing inventory details on the selected management system it can use existing DB2, SQL Server and Oracle databases or will install its own copy of Apache Derby. The main interface is reasonably well designed and provides plenty of information about monitored servers and details on critical system components such as processors, memory and cooling fans. You can link errors or failures to an impressive selection of event actions including email, network broadcast and SNMP traps.
Graphically, Director has always looked a tad unsophisticated when compared with the likes of HP’s Insight Manager and Dell’s OpenManage but the new v5.1 addresses this to some degree and also provides more alerting facilities. One feature we did like was the option to expand the main interface to include two more windows showing the various groups of managed systems and available tasks. From the centre pane you select a server and drag and drop its icon on a task which will automatically fire it up. It’s true that many SMBs won’t need this level of server management but Director is optional and available as a free download.