ioSafe releases x86 server for the 'we don't have a geek with a screwdriver' crowd

Fireproof, waterproof... open to new ideas

Review ioSafe, which you may remember from a delightful prior experiment in which I set one of its storage units on fire has launched a new product. This delightful new device, the BDR 515, is based on a dual core Intel i5 platform with 16GB of RAM and runs a full version of Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard.

BDR in this case can be taken to stand for "Backup and Data Recovery". The backup software in question is StorageCraft's ShadowProtect SPX. It is tied into a cloud service run by ioSafe. Robb Moore, CEO of ioSafe, took some time to answer a few questions I had.

Register: Are software and/or services to back up from the cloud to the BDR included, or is it BDR --> cloud only?

Moore: It’s generally BDR to cloud. The cloud component is a dedicated second physical BDR target. The customer has admin access to cloud BDR and can pull data back down as required or install any software on the remote system.

Register: The webpage says monthly fees are attached. What are they? How much does it cost up front?

Moore: Unlike our other products, the BDR 515 doesn’t have a set retail price. The dealer pricing for both upfront and monthly fees are available to dealers only. The actual end user pricing is set by the dealers and not controlled by us. For pricing, end users are required to call a local dealer and get a quote. A big part of our sales strategy is to give 100% loyalty to our dealer network. As this is a product that requires an extra measure of support and configuration, the BDR 515 is not something that ultimately would be successful without the proper support.

Register: As per your answer to 1), The BDR uses Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard. Do you enable deduplication and compression out of the box, or is this left to the customer to enable?

Moore: It’s not enabled by default but the customer has full access to enable it at their discretion. We don’t recommend you enable deduplication as it can cause issues with Exchange Servers, SQL Servers, files over 1TB and Hyper-V.

Register: Do the units have video out, so that they can serve as HTPCs (home theater PCs)? As an x86 system, it looks like a great "house server" for those folks who want an all-in-one NAS and media box and don't want to have to invest in disaster recovery.

Moore: The systems do have video out but the systems are not designed for home theatre. A better solution might be to pair a dedicated HTPC near the projection location with a 1515+ NAS (on the network away from the quiet zone) or 214 NAS in the same room (if noise is an issue). The sound levels on the BDR 515 are meant for server room deployments not for movie theatres unless you’re looking for white noise to drown out the city noise!

Register: Do you plan to offer a more general purpose version without the backup software so that we can deploy self-contained fireproof/waterproof servers for use in extreme or unmanaged locations?

Moore: The ioSafe Cloud feature is optional and there are no long term agreements to lock you in. Dropping the monthly service of course impacts many aspects including software, warranty, data recovery service, etc. I would encourage dealers to call us with any requested configurations. We’d love to hear ideas from our partners about possible use cases and we’re open minded about custom configurations.

Register: Can I get one of these with 32GB of RAM? How about with a 1P Broadwell Xeon instead of an i5 so that I can have 128GB of RAM?

Moore: The motherboard itself is limited to 16GB and the only processor at this time is the i5.

Register: The website mentions remote replication to the ioSafe cloud. ioSafe has a cloud? Who runs it and what does it do?

Moore: Yes. We run it. With every deployment of a BDR 515, we set up the exact configuration in our facilities on a dedicated IP address. Then we work with the partner and end user to set up the BDR 515 correctly to stream, store and manage the data on the target location.

The data is not co-mingled (either virtually or physically) with any other systems. The partner can exercise extreme control over their data to the extent of locking everyone out (including ioSafe technical staff!). With this configuration we’re putting the power in control of the partner and not shipping your data to Zimbabwe.

There are no third parties involved. In the event of a disaster, you can either boot your server from the ioSafe Cloud or request the entire RAID be sent to any location you wish: 100 per cent control by the partner. If you’d like us to replicate the data again at the ioSafe Cloud, we can but this is generally not included in the standard service.

Register: Previous ioSafe storage units could be expanded by adding eSATA expansion modules. Can the BDR be so expanded?

Moore: The BDR can only be expanded within the five standard 3.5 drive slots by increasing the capacity of the drives themselves. Additional data storage would have to be obtained by purchasing more BDR systems.

Parting thoughts

In its designed-for role, I find the BDR 515 quite interesting. To my knowledge, this makes the ioSafe BDR515 the only unit available that solves a very real backup vulnerability gap experienced by small and medium businesses that backup their data offsite over the internet.

Many SMBs back up to a local "cloud gateway" that will then slowly send that data to its offsite destination over the course of days or weeks. Until that data is copied off of the cloud gateway device it is still vulnerable to whatever local disasters might affect the local data centre. The ioSafe BDR 515 would be immune to that, ensuring that as soon as the backups are completed the data is protected. This is something I've been waiting for a long time.

That said, is the possibilities of the unit which are not addressed by the current use case that intrigue me. Previous ioSafes were either USB-attached storage devices or ARM-powered, Synology-based Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices. For several years, ioSafe has been fireproof, waterproof storage designed to survive disasters. Useful, but limited.

I believe that there is a market for disaster-proof x86 servers. I have encountered plenty of situations in which I have needed to use x86 servers in some pretty hostile environments. Sand, dust, cold, heat, rain, snow: you name it, I've had to cope with it. A lot of these systems are deployed out in the middle of nowhere. The nearest geek with a screwdriver is hours away, and yet the systems themselves serve critical functions. ioSafe's technology would seem ideal for this task.

Similarly, there are plenty of communities – especially in Canada's north – where there is demand for quality servers that are disaster proof and resilient. ioSafe's current setup can survive a disk failure, but not loss of a node (unless you use the cloud backup service, which is questionable when satellite internet is your only means of communication.)

Fortunately, Moore was not lying when he said ioSafe is open to new uses for their technology. Before I had even had this article typed up, I had connected Moore with the CTO of a hyperconvergence company specialising in niche needs and who knows what may one day come of that. Multi-node fireproof, waterproof highly available hyperconverged solution, anyone?

The BDR 515 may be a backup and disaster recovery unit today, but for my money the use cases for this technology have only begun to be explored. ®

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