Hot Gadget

by Wayne M. Krakau - Chicago Computer Guide, April, 2000
I’m a certified gadget freak. I love it when I find a new, useful gadget. Now, the people at Microtest ( have delivered a gadget fix that will keep me flying for quite some time. It is their DiscZerver VT, a Virtual CD Tower.

This device is virtual in that it simulates a CD tower in the same way that a virtual reality program simulates the real world (minus the aliens and monsters, of course). From the point of view of an individual workstation, it looks just like a separate file server with an attached CD tower. It is, however, easier to manage and way faster.

Not only can the DiscZerver VT look like a server, but it can look like whatever kind of server your client workstation wants, and, will, if desired, adapt to the appropriate native security system. For workstations running a NetWare client, it can look like a NetWare 3.x or 4.x server tapping into either the bindery or NDS, and talking via either IPX or IP. It can also support Microsoft clients (mimicking an NT server and using Domains), OS/2 clients (as an IBM LAN Server), UNIX or Linux clients (using UNIX NFS), and even Macintosh computers (using AFP over EtherTalk). If you want to really get generic, you can also access the DiscZerver VT’s virtual CDs directly from your Web browser. Most of the time you will probably use Map or Net Use commands to access the CDs.

The DiscZerver VT is a little box with a blue faceplate equipped with various status lights. It is obviously based on the size of an external drive enclosure for a single 5.25" hard disk drive. Rack mountable and drive-bay mountable versions are also available.

It contains an IDE hard disk drive for storing 7, 14, 28, or 49 full CDs, depending upon which model you purchase. Since it supports compression, and most CDs don’t actually use the full 650MB available, you will probably be able to fit more CDs than advertised. It has RAM for caching and the appropriate CPU and logic chips to run a stripped-down, embedded version of Linux. This means that your current file server won’t have to control or cache CDs. In addition, it has a SCSI-2 port in the back so you can attach and control a real CD Tower, a single CD-ROM drive, or a CD burner (to create your own CDs).

The DiscZerver VT comes with four types of workstation software. The first is called ZerverView . (Points lost for overuse of cutesy, contrived names!) It allows monitoring and limited management of the device.

EazyImage allows uploading and optionally compressing images of CDs loaded in the workstation‘s CD-ROM drive. This is the method that my clients are using to put CD images on the DiscZerver VT. I tend to place servers, especially tiny, easily moved ones, in protected locations that make it very inconvenient to accessing an attached CD-ROM drive.

EazyImage Builder (a separate program with a confusingly similar name) allows you to build a CD image from individual files and directories. This can be used with an attached (to the DiscZerver VT) CD burner to create CDs or to upload a 2GB max pseudo CD image (my term) directly to the DiscZerver.

The main program is actually an internal Web site accessed via your Web browser. I usually teach my clients to get to it via a menu item ("Manage Via Browser") within ZerverView, though you can create a shortcut within the Favorites section of your browser if you prefer. Using ZerverView first allows you to confirm the status of the DiscZerver VT prior to managing it.

It has the same disadvantage of many real Web sites in that it was obviously created by technical gurus, and its overall ease of use suffers a bit from it. The people with the greatest technical skills aren’t always the ones who can design the best interface. Luckily, the interface is good enough that I can, with some effort, train civilians (non-geeks) to do the most common day-to-day management tasks, such as adding and deleting CD images.

This Web-based software is the main configuration and administration tool for the DiscZerver VT. It is here that you can set the IP address manually, set it to get an address from a DHCP server, or set it to be the DHCP server to allocate addresses to other devices on the network.

You can also set it to ignore the built-in security system of the file servers on the network and use its own groups and users that you define for security. If your CD’s are essentially self-restricting in that you can’t use their databases without the appropriate application software, or, you have a site license for them, you can leave the DiscZerver VT’s user security wide open. This is what most of my clients are doing. Naturally, you will want to be a lot pickier about administrator security.

Note that licensing issues are potentially the biggest problem with either the DiscZerver VT or real CD Towers. You have to contact all of your software vendors and find out if shared licenses are available and exactly how they are handled. Vendors are constantly coming up with new, and sometimes confusing, ways to arrange and enforce licenses, so don’t assume that you can just load up a CD and share it.

The DiscZerver VT is actually one part of a whole family of existing and yet to be released products based on this little blue-faced box. (That’s why I keep using its complete name!) The WebZerver, for instance, is already out. Naturally enough, it’s a Web server (duh). Their FileZerver will be available soon. I’ll let you guess what that does. (Is that your final answer?) Actually it’s a bit more complicated than you expect. As well as its obvious use, its also being marketed as an alternative SAN (Storage Area Network) solution. They’re even coming out with a LinuxZerver which, naturally enough will run Linux applications.

Now all I need is a BugZerver that would automatically detect bugs in servers and workstations, download patches and fixes, and install them. Any news on that product, Microtest?

�2000, Wayne M. Krakau