A compact, well-built automatic networked backup and media streaming server that's well worth investigating for use in a small office or workgroup.
Easy to setup and maintain; easily expandable; quiet; secure remote access.
Needs an extra disk to enable full drive failure protection; no Linux support; multimedia features might be overkill for corporate users.
Windows Home Server Power Pack 3; Intel Celeron 2.2GHz CPU; 2GB DDR2 RAM; 1TB 7,200rpm SATA hard disk; 4 SATA drive bays (3 free) 4 USB2 ports; 1 e-SATA port Dimensions (W x D x H) 140 x 251 x 248mm; weight 5kg; power consumption (typical, measured) 40W Client support: Windows XP onwards; Mac OS X 10.5 onwards
As soon as you start delving into the capabilities of the Windows Home Server OS (WHS) that the HP MediaSmart EX490 runs, you start to realise why Microsoft has had such difficulty marketing it successfully. Based on Windows Server 2003 SP2, WHS offers more than most networked attached storage boxes, but less than a standard file server.
For instance, it can simultaneously operate as an iTunes and TwonkyMedia server for streaming media, automatically transcode videos to MP4 format, allow secure remote data access and run automated cluster-level single-instance data backups of up to 10 PCs or unlimited Macs (Linux isn't supported). Its prime purpose is automated client backup, but as WHS is designed to allow third-party add-on applications, HP has taken full advantage of this to offer a multimedia-rich feature set.
It's identical to HP's StorageWorks Data Vault X510 but with one fewer hard disks and a lower price. The MediaSmart brand is aimed at consumers, but there are many reasons why it's an option worth considering for branch offices or isolated workgroups.
The main attractions are the backup, remote access and remote control capabilities. Designed specifically for non-technical users, it's easy to install and run without the need for an IT department. Setup is simply a matter of plugging it in via the Gigabit Ethernet port (wireless connections aren't supported) to a DHCP router, waiting a minute for it to boot and then installing the Windows Home Server Connector software on each client PC.
Daily backups are automatically configured for each PC by default. Three daily, weekly and monthly backups are retained at any time, but this can be changed at any time via the remote Console application on each client. This Console is the main configuration utility for the EX490, as it's a headless system with no graphics card. Here you can manage user accounts, disk storage, shared folders and any installed add-ins such as the bundled McAfee anti-virus trial and the HP power management utility.
As the single-instance backup works at the cluster level, if you have clients running the same OS, only one copy needs to be stored, making it exceptionally efficient. Only modified clusters are backed up daily. If the clients support it, they can be woken up automatically from sleep mode to be backed up before being allowed to sleep again.
Restoring a PC is straightforward. A boot CD is supplied that connects the client to the EX490 to download and restore the chosen backup set. If the network card isn't supported you can put drivers on a USB stick or floppy disk. Individual files and folders can be restored at any time via the Console, and backup sets are mounted as volumes allowing you to copy and paste files.
Drive Extender redundancy system
Shared folders for photos, videos, music and documents are set up automatically, plus private folders for each user account. The EX490 appears as a network volume, with no drive letter mapping needed. A great feature is the proprietary Drive Extender redundancy system. If more than one disk is installed, the system can recover fully from single disk failure, including the system disk. New disks - internal or external - are added to the central storage pool and data automatically balanced across them, with no need to mess around with drive letters. Any size or type of drive can be added or removed at any time, although there's no hot-swap facility.
Shared folders aren't backed up and there's no Recycle Bin, but you can optionally duplicate the contents across the available drives for a degree of protection. Alternatively, an external drive can be used as backup for these folders.
The EX490 also runs a web server, with a secure (SSL) web site used for remote access to shared folders and remote control of client PCs. You can assign a personalised domain name using the free Windows Live Domains service, or a selection of other paid-for Dynamic DNS services. Setup uses UPnP to configure the router.
It's a powerful yet easy-to-use backup solution suitable for a small office with limited technical support. The media streaming capabilities are comprehensive, but the core functions of backup and remote access are likely to be the main attraction for business users, and it handles these very well indeed.