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Lightning 50 Server Brings CDs/DVDs Online

By Lowell Rapaport

The low price of hard disk storage has led to the development of all kinds of network attached devices. One example is the Lightning 50 from JES Hardware, which replaces CD towers and small CD jukeboxes with a hard drive cache and a pair each of Nakamichi 5 CD minichangers and 12 gigabyte Maxtor hard drives. You can also add DVD-ROM drives.

The Lightning 50 is a small tower with 8 drive bays behind a lockable glass door. In the back of the unit there are two cooling fans, an ethernet port (10/100 Base T) and SCSI ID switches for each of the internal drive bays. The actual CD or DVD caching and serving is accomplished by a Microtest DiscZerver, which occupies one of the drive bays. Two bays are occupied by the Nakamichi CD changers and two by 12-gigabyte hard disk drives.

The Lightning 50 comes with Microtest's EasyImage software. The software lets you take files or volumes on a workstation and convert them into a CD image that can be cached on the DiskZerver. You can record the disk images onto CD-Rs.

The only real difficulty we had getting the Lightning 50 to work was in putting it on our network. The Microtest manual is not clear on just how to do it. A "getting started" instruction sheet or a startup script file would have been helpful.

Once you get the device on your network, setup via its HTML interface was straightforward. You start by calling up a browser and entering the name of the Lightning 50 (as indicated by a label on the back of the unit) followed by the first number of your network's IP address.

As soon as the unit comes up on the browser, you are prompted for basic information such as date, time, IP address and other networking data. Other administrative functions include setting up users, workgroups and access privileges. The Lightning 50 can function as a DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) server if you don't already have one. This means it can automatically assign IPaddresses to computers on your network.

You can add hard drives, CD-ROM drives, CD recorders and/or DVD-ROM drives to the Lightning 50. There are two IDE ports and a SCSI port inside the unit. As configured, one IDE port holds the two hard drives and the SCSI port holds two CD changers. This leaves room for two additional IDE drives and four more SCSI drives (though only three slots were left available in the case in the configuration we tested). In addition, the back of the unit has a single narrow SCSI-2 port. If the internal bays are occupied, you can add devices such as RAID systems or DVD drives to the external SCSI port.

Whenever you insert a CD into a CD-ROM drive, the Lightning 50 makes it available online. From the administration screen you can instruct the unit to commit a volume to cache. This lets you remove the physical disc and install another while still accessing the cached volumes.

The Lightning 50 will also support CD recorders; they're automatically recognized when you attach them to either an IDE port or a SCSI port. To record a CD you create a disk image with Microtest's EasyImage software. Next, you place the disk image in a special recording volume in the Lightning 50 from which it can be migrated to a CD-R.

The Lightning can compress CD images kept on the hard disc. This increases the number of CDs you can cache, but you lose a little speed in the bargain. You can also increase the amount of storage by adding hard drives. The only limits on caching are a 14-gigabyte-per-volume limit (which is big enough to encompass even a full double-layer DVD-ROM) and a maximum of 225 cached volumes (though JES says this could be increased through firmware updates).

None of the components of the Lightning 50 are unique: the hard drives, CD-ROM drives and even the Microtest WebZerver are all available separately from their respective manufacturers. JES has put them together in a single, neat package that is likely to be more reliable (and certainly more professional looking) than a home-grown system.

The case on the model we tested was somewhat curious in that the front door locked but the large access doors on either side didn't (JEStold us their latest models are fully lockable). The access doors make it easy to install additional hard drives and disc drives. In addition to the two cooling fans on the back of the case, there is an extra fan on the power supply, which helps improve reliability.

The Lightning 50 brings a number of desirable devices together to create a complete network attached storage solution, and the price of the bundle is probably less than the components would cost you separately. It is expandable and easy to use. Overall, it is an excellent device for putting multiple CDs and DVDs online.


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