We live in a culture that delights in multipurpose technology--from the Caped Crusader's utility belt to fully loaded SUVs. Some products providing several technologies are greater than the sum of their parts, and Procom Technology's Taurus server appliance is among them. The Taurus combines simplified storage and wireless connectivity with networking tools normally associated with server-class systems.
Procom describes the Taurus as a wireless multifunction networking appliance with storage; in reality, it's a Linux standalone server/storage device with a surprising array of built-in software tools and connectivity options. It's targeted primarily at small businesses and corporations with branch offices seeking a simple turnkey solution to handle shared storage, printing, wireless access, FTP, VPN, e-mail hosting and Web publishing for any type of client. Whether it's attached to your network or connected to an analog, cable or DSL modem, the Taurus can provide shared storage, self-hosted Web pages or act as a hotspot in a café or motel.
Couldn't you just buy a cheap PC and do the same thing? Yes and no. You could buy all the components necessary to accomplish the same functions and keep your application costs down by using open-source software (see our recent review of low-cost servers at www.nwc.com/1415/1415f3.html). But your costs probably would be equal to the Taurus' or greater after you added similar features and invested in the hi-tech manual labor necessary to get the applications to cooperate.
click to enlarge
I tested a preproduction, entry-level system based on a 900-MHz Intel Celeron processor and configured with 256 MB of RAM and a single 40-GB ATA-100 hard disk. Procom said that all retail versions, at minimum, will sport a 1.2-GHz Celeron processor, and the company will offer six versions that will increase the RAM to 512 MB and up the storage to 125 GB or 250 GB.
Initially, the device must be configured via four soft-touch keys and an X-Y navigation pad that surround a backlit, 128x64 graphic LCD display located on the front panel. Above the display are five status LEDs for power, disk, LAN-0&1 and PCMCIA, a configuration that allows virtually all the Taurus' functions to be controlled and monitored through the front panel.
The back of the machine is loaded with I/O ports: serial, parallel, dual-USB, dual-10/100 Ethernet; and for expert users there are VGA, PS/2 and line-out ports to access core appliance functions. The Taurus has a single PCMCIA interface port and one available PCI slot, and is powered by a laptop-style, external 19 VDC power supply. Wireless connectivity is available in both access-point and station modes. The Taurus uses a Samsung MagicLAN PCMCIA card, which comes complete with an external antenna (required) to boost gain and improve wireless coverage.
Initial setup was easy, and though most of the Taurus' functions can be configured using the front panel, it's faster to use the internal Web configuration utility from another networked computer after setting up the initial IP connections. Once you're logged on as an administrator, creating file shares is quick and painless: Name the server, add an optional workgroup and create a few folders in the setup utility. From there you have network shares available on any platform, including AppleTalk.
Configuring anonymous FTP download services requires nothing more than enabling the service through the firewall and adding files to the FTP folder already set on the Taurus, provided you have a static IP address. You can also allow uploads from registered users by adding the privilege to their accounts. For print support,
I enabled the print-sharing service, attached a serial or parallel printer to the Taurus, and assigned the appropriate printer drivers on my local computer to the shared print queue on the Taurus.
The mail system supports POP3, IMAP4, SMTP, POP/SSL, IMAP/SSL and POP-before-SMTP services to an unlimited number of mail accounts and aliases. The Taurus allows for external mail relay, queuing, synchronization, filtering, spam control, autoreply, and fetchmail to multidrop mailboxes, and as a bonus hosts a Web Mail Client that lets users manage their e-mail from any Web browser. Configuring basic options such as fetchmail, filtering and spam controls is relatively simple for the average user, but setting up mail hosting requires more experience.
Compact and self-contained
Loads of connection options
Substantial integrated software features
Simple Web configuration
From a security standpoint, the Taurus offers Linux user access control, 128-bit SSH and SSL, NAPT (Network Address Port Translation) and 128-bit PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol) for virtual private networking. Wireless is protected by either 40- or 128-bit WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) encryption, and there are easy-to-use firewall, proxy-authentication, URL-blocking and content-filtering options built into the system that let you limit Internet activities. A Java-based utility offers both full and incremental scheduled backups to FTP or shared network folders. An emergency system disk is available from Procom online.
Some upgrade options, such as memory, are available to the advanced user. Also, an unused PCI slot is on the system board, but you would be limited to using PCI cards with drivers that are supported by the installed version of Linux. Of particular interest are the PS/2 and VGA ports in back, which let you access the system BIOS and Linux shell. These open up a variety of opportunities given that the system operates on open-source CeLinuX under a GNU General Public License and could run a variety of third-party applications. Although this capability is referenced in Procom's documentation, it presents an interesting support issue because modifying the operating environment is contrary to Taurus' appliance model.
The Taurus occupies a curious new niche in the evolving server and storage environment. It offers the simplicity of an appliance interface, but can do substantially more than a device that's hard-coded to accomplish predefined functions.
Steven Hill owns and operates ToneCurve Technology, a digital imaging consulting company. Write to him at [email protected].