New Western Digital Sentinel DX4000 NAS Brings Personal Clouds to Small Busines

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We caught a sneak peek of Western Digital’s Sentinel DX4000 a few weeks ago at IDF, where the company demoed it to developers in stealth mode. Now, the curtain has been unveiled, and WD is showing off the new device to the world. Powered by Windows Storage Server 2008 R2, the box promises to bring networked on-location cloud storage to small business owners with a minimum of fuss.

The Sentinel represents a new brand and a whole new market for Western Digital. When we were discussing the product, WD noted that they decided to get into this space largely because they looked and found no real dominant player in the area – meaning that the right product at the right price could stand to rapidly gain marketshare.

Inside of the box beats the heart of a dual-core Atom CPU. Atoms are known for their low power and generally middling performance, but the D525 inside of the DX4000 is clock at 1.8GHz, making it one of the faster modules. WD said that in their tests, the machine managed to pull an average sustained rate of 80-90 MB/s. That puts it on the high-end of bandwidth for this particular market space; there are faster boxes out there, but they tend to cost a lot of money.

\Speaking of hardware, the Sentinel can hold up to four 3.5-inch hard drives, in trayless slots that are plug and play – like most of these boxes, there aren’t any screws or other tools you need to worry about it. If you have to replace a drive, just pull one out and push the new one into its place. It’s really quite easy.

WD offers users the option of 1 or 2TB hard drives, meaning that in this first iteration, you’ll be able to pick up a DX4000 in either 4TB or 8TB versions. Either of those options can sync and backup up to 25 different computers, and just about any operating system – Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Mac OS X 10.5+ and many Unix- and Linux-based distributions.

WD designed the box to be useful and usable by small offices – that doesn’t preclude larger organizations from buying them, but big enterprise generally has other options at their disposal. What that means is that it was designed with simplicity and a lack of techsavviness in mind. Most small businesses have little to no IT support at their disposal, let alone whole departments – it is toward these companies that WD is aiming with the new Sentinel lineup.

Powering the servers is Microsoft’s Windows Storage Server 2008 R2. Built upon the successful Windows Server line of software, Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 is designed for scalability – you can implement solutions based on WSS whether you have 5 employees or 500. It’s especially beneficial for these small companies who can take advantage of specific Windows Server functionality without have to shell out for their own servers, rackspace and seat licenses.

WD is working carefully with companies like Intel (hence their presence at IDF2011) and Microsoft as well as the developer community at large. The interface and underlying software running on these servers is modular, a fact that WD kept stressing. It’s clear that they plan to increase the capabilities and functionality of these machines as time goes on, and it won’t require another hardware refresh – they’ll be able to just push the updates out.

“Built on Windows Storage Server, WD Sentinel gives small business customers the storage and file services capabilities of Windows Server, as well as a solution aimed specifically at the SMB segment,” said Thomas Pfenning, general manager, Storage, at Microsoft. “We are pleased to see WD Sentinel serve our mutual customers.”

The new Sentinels are configurable with RAID 1 and 5, letting customers choose whether redundancy or speed are more important while maintaining a certain level of data integrity. That redundancy is echoed throughout the rest of the product; WD offers built-in server-based backup and recovery, enterprise-class and warrantied drives, and even a redundant power supply option for the especially paranoiac small business user.

While the DX4000 is targeted at letting SMB groups create their own private clouds (and WD includes software to make sure data stored on the Sentinels is securely available anywhere you’ve got an Internet connection), there is also an option within the software to hook up to a so-called public cloud provider. That way the whole unit has a secure backup of its own available should catastrophic harm (think fire, flood, earthquake, hammer of god, etc.) strike the original unit.

With the introduction of the Sentinel DX4000 and this new small business target, WD has come up with a new level of service designed to cover the small business user as well. Known as WD Guardian, this warranty service comes in multiple tiers depending on the options you need:

WD Guardian Express: Next-day parts replacement service, including S&H

WD Guardian Pro: Grants users a one-year support contract with WD services, including express parts replaceent and priority access to tech support

WD Guardian Extended Care: Extended care does what it says on the tin – raises the WD standard 3-year warranty to a full 5-years

Going all out, the new products are also available as part of WD’s inaugural SelectWD SMB Partner Program, a channel offering that helps support larger IT departments or value-added resellers that support small businesses and their needs.

Western Digital rarely announces a product before it’s ready to ship, and the new Sentinal DX4000 is no exception. The new units are available at US stores and on WD’s online store at  4TB models carry a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $949.99, while the 8TB models run up to $1,499.99.



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