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Chess SmartDAX Jukebox

David Doering

Chess SmartDAX Jukebox
synopsis: All in all, Chess' smartDAX is almost jukebox perfection for most archiving tasks. Such compelling features as its stunning chassis, solid performance, and integrated NAS appliance make smartDAX an easy choice for sites demanding significant archive space in the smallest footprint with the easiest management burden. This newest of jukeboxes should make a notable splash stateside now that it has successfully and promisingly crossed the Atlantic.

price: $13,200-$35,750

Chess Archiving Technology
26071 Merit Circle, Suite 108
Laguna Hills, CA 92653
800/722-7748, 949/348-8250
Fax 949/348-3947
info@smartdax.com
http://www.smartdax.com
http://www.ceti.com/smartdax.html

September 2000 | The newest kid on the jukebox block is the smartDAX from Netherlands-based Chess. This box wins the kudos for best-looking system hands down. Its gold and black exterior is sharp, and deserves to be placed in the front office and not in a server closet. The system also wins another award--for highest density in the smallest space. In less than a cubic yard (25" x 25" x 33"), it holds up to 700 discs of the ever-popular 120mm variety--either DVD or CD, writable or ROM. Compare that with the average 60"-high cabinet from most of Chess' competitors, and you can see how the smartDAX makes a great solution for a tight space and an unusually eye-pleasing one just about anywhere. What's more, the capacity punch it packs makes no compromises for space efficiency or aesthetics--at a fully loaded 700 discs, it allows for three-quarters of a terabyte of storage if populated with CD-Rs or up to a full three terabytes if stuffed with a full complement of 4.7 DVD-RAM discs.

We had a chance to tour the new system with Chess' U.S. distributor in California. The company's senior VP, Sonny Burkett, is a colorful character with a long history in the computer industry. There's no question in his mind that offering the smartDAX is a savvy choice for his company. He gave us a look at a CD-equipped unit, but explained that the smartDAX has now been upgraded to support DVD--both for DVD readers and DVD-RAM writers.

Although small, the unit is solidly constructed to support three smartDAX boxes vertically. (Each smartDAX box weighs about 200 pounds.) It has an onboard SUN server to connect directly to 10/100BaseT Ethernet using NFS or SMB protocols. (In essence, it is a NAS device but with much greater capabilities than you would expect to find in the typical network-attached read/write optical storage device.)

Inside, the box has four drives in combinations of three readers and one writer or two readers and two writers. The system handles either CD-ROM or DVD-ROM readers and CD-R or DVD-RAM writers. The unit we saw had Plextor PlexWriter 12/4/32 SCSI-2 CD-R/RW drives. Chess says that in the future it will offer support for Zen Research's TrueX CD-ROM drives as well.

here's the secret

The secret to the system's tiny size is that it stores the discs in a full circle around the robotics. The 700-discs are arrayed in a staggered pattern, allowing the dual-headed picker access to each disc in a minimum of space. Competitors use only a semicircular set of trays, and so must be taller in order to hold the same number of discs. Chess holds several patents for this design, which will prevent its quite ground-breaking approach to arranging robotically accessed optical drives from being imitated any time soon.

handling

Chess offers two tools for handling the smartDAX. The DAXmanager is a Web-based tool for administering the jukebox itself. DAXFS is a network server-based tool for managing the archive space. DAXFS supports multiple boxes and comes in two flavors--one for Windows NT and another for Unix.

The browser-based DAXmanager is pretty basic even compared with other NAS units. It does cover all the bases: IP addressing, drive configuration and status, password control, and log files. You'll have to have at least one early session with this tool to reset the default IP address to one your system will recognize.

Basic access to the smartDAX is managed through a telnet session to the onboard Sun server. Any Unix, Apple, NT, or Novell client supporting SMB or NFS can then use the jukebox. However, if you want more archiving services, you'll need to include the DAXFS service on your NT or Unix network server.

The NT version of the DAXFS, called the Explorer, offers additional caching for read requests (we recommend allocating 5GB for caching function). It also allows disc aggregation as well as volume spanning between multiple smart DA units.

ah, improvements

There are just a few things that might be improved with the system. First, having only four drives is inadequate in today's archiving environment where the faster access guaranteed by reduced robotic runaround is the norm. The four-drive limitation suffers particularly in comparison to the 14 drives available in competing units like the NSM box. (Chess says it is looking at upgrading this aspect of the unit for a future release.)

The smartDAX could also include a larger cache onboard. It currently supports just 700MB, which is just adequate for a single CD recording--particularly for today's increasingly common 700MB (80-minute discs). If two or more users wanted to record images, this cache would prove insufficient. Although this would also be adequate for DVD-RAM purposes in most cases--with rewritable media, as in most archiving chores, data is rarely sent to the recording device in such large clumps--it seems like an essential upgrade if you want to have two writers going simultaneously.

Finally, there could be an LCD screen on the box to display troubleshooting or status info. As it is, you have to go to a nearby workstation to review the status using the DAXmanager Web tool. This seems a bit awkward, especially for this kind of jukebox.

get smart

If 700 discs isn't on your required list, there's also a junior version of the box available with capacities for 100 or 200 discs in 20-disc magazines. For faster throughput, there are also upgrades available for Gigabit Ethernet and Fibre Channel connections. Finally, Chess was wise enough to offer Apple AFP support, recognizing perhaps the resurgence of Mac systems in authoring, advertising, and pre-press networked business environments, even if the feature is delivered only as an upgrade for an extra cost of $3,960. (Some NAS vendors have ignored the increasingly popular Apple platform completely, although other new contenders such as the FireWire-specific Escient are now pursuing it aggressively.)

All in all, Chess' smartDAX is almost jukebox perfection for most archiving tasks. Such compelling features as its stunning chassis, solid performance, and integrated NAS appliance make smartDAX an easy choice for sites demanding significant archive space in the smallest footprint with the easiest management burden. This newest of jukeboxes should make a notable splash stateside now that it has successfully and promisingly crossed the Atlantic.


NETWORKOBSERVER columnist David Doering (dave@techvoice.com), an EMedia contributing editor, is also senior analyst with TechVoice Inc., an Orem, Utah-based consultancy.

Comments? Email us at letters@onlineinc.com.


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