The 3X Systems Remote Backup Appliance (RBA) is a backup workhorse that lets you store—and restore—multiple versions of backed-up files. In addition, the RBA lets you configure exclusions so that users don’t, for example, fill up backup storage space with personal MP3 files or videos. The device allows for quota management and supports all the major Windows clients in use today. As an additional benefit—for small businesses and SOHO installations—the RBA can perform online backups of Exchange Server storage groups and SQL Server databases, making it a complete backup system for the average SMB.

I tested the 500 Series RBA, which offers up to 500GB RAID1 storage, a 1Gb Ethernet NIC, availability in either a 10.5" × 13" × 8" portable cube or a 1U rack-mountable chassis, and recommended support for as many as 50 users per unit and as many as five units. Upon opening the package, I was happy find an included USB flash drive containing everything I needed to configure the RBA. After connecting the RBA to Ethernet and power, I walked over to my desktop computer to begin the configuration. I inserted the USB flash drive in my Windows 7 computer, and the admintool.exe file ran automatically.

I was presented with a firewall notification for javaw.exe and approved communications for the executable. After the system detected the RBA, I right-clicked it and selected Launch Manager, as the included Quick Start Guide instructed me to do. Because the IP address wasn't properly configured on the RBA, the connection didn't succeed. (I don't use DHCP on my test network.) I followed the instructions included for configuring a static IP address and was able to connect to the device easily to perform the initial configuration.

The initial configuration wizard is browser-based and simple to follow. It asks you to configure several items, a system name for the appliance (I used "RBA1"), the Admin account password, and primary and secondary contact information. You also need to configure the time zone and network settings. 3X Systems provides a complimentary SMTP server for notifications so that you don't have to configure the SMTP server if you don't want to use your internal services.

Once the initial configuration is complete, you can configure the backup agent on the client computers. The backup agent performs scheduled backups to the RBA nightly or even throughout the day. The scheduling engine is flexible in this aspect. Figure 1 shows the administrative interface. As you can see, you can perform several functions from the start page, including appliance administration and client provisioning.

More complex features take this device from a consumer NAS solution to a business-class backup solution. The proprietary deduplication algorithm does an excellent job of ensuring that only one copy of a unique file is placed on the device. You can adjust the utilized network ports to work with your existing network environment and services. Also, you can maintain multiple versions of backed-up files that users or support personnel can restore.

While performing backups, I noticed some intermittent lags in performance. Overall, however, the machine boasts NAS-level performance while implementing the aforementioned deduplication, encryption, and file versioning. Impressive! I backed up more than 1.2GB of data, and the process completed in less than 15 minutes across a busy, wired LAN. The second backup of the same data set took less than 60 seconds after intentionally changing about 50MB of data to represent a few days’ work.

Be sure to configure each RBA on a management port that's separate from any other device. (The default is port 443 for SSL.) If you’re already using SSL, you’ll need to change the TCP port number in the RBA and possibly in your port forwarders at the network perimeter. With the proper configuration, you can push restores to remote clients across the Internet so that the user needn't master the file-restoration process. This push restore feature is my favorite feature in the entire system.

 While the RBA is effectively a computer with a standard gigabit Ethernet connection, it's so much more than a simple computer with basic backup software installed. The RBA is a true backup appliance that should provide sufficient backup solutions for SMBs or departments requiring centralized backup of client computers. The price-to-feature comparison results in a good investment for your data backup and recovery needs. (The company also provides a Tera Series and an Enterprise Series—the more powerful series models provide for more storage space, more computing power, and greater network bandwidth capabilities.)