If the eServer xSeries 225 is any kind of gauge, IBM clearly feels the small-business market is worth some attention. In addition to its well-respected nameplate, the xSeries 225 is an extremely capable product at a surprisingly reasonable price. Given its inclusion of the 2.8GHz Xeon (instead of the 2.4GHz P4 we requested), we expected the tested system to cost more. To be sure, it has only one hard drive, so the system would need some backup hardware--preferably a second hard drive and a RAID controller--before we'd trust it with our company's data. But this is still an extremely good starter machine for a small business, a branch office, or a department.
As with many other Windows-based servers, initial setup of the xSeries 225 has more to do with Windows than with IBM. Simply put, it's a tedious process with unexpected problems. IBM does provide an excellent 83-page installation guide to the server itself but leaves the details of setting up Windows Small Business Server to the documentation Microsoft provides. We recommend that all server vendors aiming at the small-office market provide guides that step first-time buyers through the process of setting up the Windows OS. Even the reasonably well-designed wizards in Server 2003 (Standard and Small Business versions) don't cut it from a first-timer's perspective. Hardware vendors, including IBM, could make this a whole lot easier.
The xSeries 225 gets major points for its physical design. It's the only low-end server we've seen with a carrying handle--hardly a must-have but unquestionably a worthwhile convenience. Long and slim, the box can be maneuvered easily into small spaces. When it comes time to add a second server, even two of these will prove easy on real estate.
More importantly, the xSeries 225 provides easy access to all the important hardware. The front panel is covered by a door that swings open, revealing the six hot-swappable drive bays, with each removable drive held in by a solid plastic connector. Getting inside the case is equally easy; use the key to unlock the side panel, then lift the latch and slide the panel away. The entire physical system is evidence of the experienced design you'd expect from IBM.
Unfortunately, the xSeries 225 provides only a single Ethernet port; any office using a cable or DSL broadband Internet connection in conjunction with a separate switch for its PCs could definitely use two in order to set up the server as a gateway for the entire LAN.
Our only major complaint from a usability standpoint: The xSeries 225 is noisy--not surprising, given its five cooling fans. But in a small office, that could prove unpleasant.
The xSeries 225 ships with an integrated 8MB ATI Rage XL video adapter, a floppy drive, a 48X CD-ROM drive for removable storage, a Dual Channel Ultra320 SCSI controller and RAID-1 support for the internal drives, and a Broadcom NetXtreme Gigabit Ethernet adapter. You can purchase an optional card if you require a RAID-5 configuration, but having RAID-1 built in your system from scratch is a clear plus. Unfortunately, our system shipped with only one drive, so this feature didn't come into play. If you purchase an xSeries 225, order a second drive.
You'll have lots of space for two drives. The xSeries 225 gives you six hot-swappable SCSI drive bays along with four standard bays. With a maximum hard drive capacity of 880GB, you won't run out of room anytime soon. Also inside the server, you'll find an AGP slot (unnecessary, given the integrated graphics) as well as four PCI-X slots and one standard PCI slot.
Management software comes in the form of the powerful IBM Director, a suite of utilities that lets you manage the server and its clients. With it, you can manage RAID configuration, system and network monitoring, remote control, system inventory, and more. The suite includes Remote Deployment Manager, allowing you to dig into remote clients and update, control, or image them. Ideally, you won't need much of this capability in a small-office setting, but imagine the benefits if you start expanding.
Our xSeries 225 test unit shipped with a powerful 2.8GHz Xeon. (All 225 servers ship with Xeons; the company's less expensive xSeries 205 line runs on P4s.) Then again, a Xeon may be overkill for a small office, but at this price, who cares? Xeon systems do, however, require more cooling than P4s, hence those noisy fans.
The xSeries 225 proved the fastest server we've tested yet at transferring our 1.5GB folder, both from a single client and from multiple clients. It was also the fastest at downloading that same folder from the server to the client, only 20 seconds slower than it took to upload it (a better margin than most). Having the server simultaneously download large files while all five clients performed combinations of uploads and downloads slowed the transfer less than 10 percent--effectively insignificant. As always, the number of actual files involved in the transfer makes a huge difference on performance, but that's a Windows issue, not a server problem.
Logging on to the domain from any client took roughly 10 seconds and connecting to the Outlook 2003 Web client about 20 seconds--scores almost identical to those of other servers in this class.
The eServer xSeries 225 comes with a one-year limited warranty (parts and labor) and onsite repair and replacement. In addition, you can tap into IBM's worldwide support system, its extremely well-developed online support resources, and (depending on your product) a series of toll-free support lines.