Originally Published: Tuesday, 31 July 2001 Author: M@leficent
Published to: enhance_articles_hardware/Hardware News Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Review of a Stellar Server: Celestix Aries

Take a look at an addictive "server appliance" running Linux from the Linux.com hardware section.

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When this diminutive little item appeared in the mail a few months ago my first thoughts were "THIS is a server?!". It was hardly the size of a decorative bookend. As I opened it up and read the small instruction booklet I soon realized that this tiny computer really is a Linux server that even my dad could use without too much of a problem. The Aries arrived in the basic version with 10 GB of drive space and 64 MBytes of RAM. I doubt many small businesses (for which the Aries is designed) would need more than that, but it also comes in bigger sizes to accommodate different needs of the more demanding small businessperson as well. You can look over the specs for the Aries here:


The Aries rings in on the expensive side for a PC at just under $1000 retail, but I honestly think in this case the expense is justified. Celestix's engineers have installed a front panel control pad and screen so it's not even necessary to bother with any file tweaking or annoying linuxconf GUIs. As advertised, you really can have the server up and running properly in under 15 minutes, even if you need web serving, NFS, or SMB file services! The functions on the front panel are all menu driven including setting up IP addresses, file serving, and anything else you would come to expect from a small business server. Celestix has also added a web interface of their own to simplify remote monitoring and configuration. What you can't do on the front panel display is easily done with the web interface GUI that can be run from any computer with a graphical web browser. This expands the usability of the device well beyond the PC world, which has been the traditional bastion of Linux. MAC addicts and PC people can use this little server. The little server can serve up both Microsoft shares and UNIX NFS shares to the entire gambit of modern and not so modern computers today.

The other big thumbs up for the Aries, as I mentioned, is its size. It is tiny! This little computer can happily sit on a bookcase completely unnoticed once it's configured and only needs occasional dusting. Or daily dusting if, like myself, you live in Florida. This computer is barely the size of three medium sized paperbacks and as such the footprint is small enough it can be placed anywhere in the office. The Aries also lacks a fan since one: the power supply is not inside the case and two: the Cyrix MediaGX chip is purposely designed for low power, low heat applications such as laptops and handheld devices.

Indeed, perhaps the only drawback to the Aries is the CPU. The Cyrix MediaGX is underpowered if you wish to actually run any applications on the server itself other than a low demand database server perhaps. MySQL and PostGRES come to mind. As long as the load is light on the CPU, most small businesses aren't generally CPU intensive organizations, and then this really isn't a problem.

For those business owners that are more computer savvy than average, the Aries is loaded with an updated version of RedHat 6.2 and kernel version 2.2.16. As such, it takes RedHat RPMs. If there is something you want on the server, but it does not initially have it, upgrades and package management are a simple issue. Should you also need to directly tweak the config files yourself, that is also easily possible via remote login giving you full access to the directories and files allowing you to tweak and prod and pull until your heart is content.

This last option is in my opinion going to be seldom used, however, unless you have specific needs such as CVS repositories or specialized databases, but it is VERY nice to know the option exists should you ever need it. The fact that Celestix assumes it's average user doesn't want to spend the time and energy to configure and/or wrestle with scattered config files leaves very little that would actually need to be manually configured. Most small business people don't have the time to wrestle with a server otherwise since the business and customers are more important, and rightly so!

You are probably thinking this is all well and nice. But why not just run to the nearest trade show and buy an ancient 486 or Pentium class desktop to do the same job for peanuts? Well, number one is convenience. Not everyone that needs a router knows how to tweak 15 (or more) different config files for the various networking services that most Linux distributions have scattered all over the place, nor do they have the time to learn. Remember time is money, and the amount of man hours needed to learn all that and set everything up could be better spent with clients or doing the omnipresent paperwork. Fifteen minutes versus hours or days doing it all "manually" even with nice GUIs. Secondly there are important size and space limitations to consider in many small businesses. Not every one has the room for a second computer on their desk or shelves. Bookshelves fill up rather quickly as do desks and storage closets. Monitors and keyboards add to extra headaches for the space and additional cables they add to the equation. It's so much simpler to have a tiny laptop type computer sitting unobtrusively on a shelf, or even in a drawer, than a bulky second (or third or fourth) tower taking up additional space.

Which brings up another point on the cost factor. The Aries uses laptop miniaturization technologies in the form of integrated circuitry, PCMCIA ports and similar. Such miniaturization always comes with a trade off in the price of the items. A laptop of the same functionality and power of an equal desktop is always two to three times the price of the much larger and less portable desktop. Leaves the broom closet open for what it's really needed for! This is a point that is seldom considered it seems: space is also money!

My hat is off to Celestix for realizing what small businesses want and need: easy to use, time and space saving (and therefore money saving!), stable and commercially supported servers that can keep up with the business for years to come!

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