VIA M'SERV: the Perfect Little Linux Box?
Pick a Distro, Any Distro
Last year about this time we reviewed the VIA ARTiGO A2000 and found it to be a great hardware complement to the FreeNAS distribution. This time around we take a look at the latest incarnation of the small server box from VIA named the M'Serv S2100. We had to look pretty close to see the differences in the two from the outside. On the front panel they're virtually identical with the exception of one LED. On the back panel the two audio ports have been replaced with a second Ethernet port.
Internally the two models look very similar. There is the easy release front panel revealing two slide-in slots for SATA disk drives. The CompactFlash slot is still there giving the same option as before to build a FreeNAS server booting from an image on a CompactFlash disk. New to this model is a second memory slot supporting up to 4GB of DDR2 RAM. The processor also supports hardware virtualization for running the latest Linux kernels with KVM.
Like the previous version, the M'Serv S2100 runs FreeNAS well. We were able to move the SATA disks and CompactFlash, and it picked back up right where it left off on the A2000 box. The extra memory, additional Ethernet port and hardware virtualization support open up a whole lot of new options for this box. The only issue we had was the speed of the Ethernet ports which always came up at 100MB.
One potentially good option is a distribution like openSUSE for Schools(or Linux for education aka Li-f-e). This little box would work great in a classroom situation and could probably handle a pretty hefty load if you used it as a host for a number of Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP) clients. The openSUSE for Schools distro supports that as well.
Other possibilities include a security tool running something like the Endian Unified Threat Management (UTM) distribution. Two Ethernet ports make the M'Serv an ideal choice for a security application, and the dual disk drives could provide a ton of storage for Ethernet traffic logs. M0n0Wall is another distribution worth consideration for the network security task. It will fit on a CompactFlash disk, making it another ideal candidate for the M'Serv S2100.
It's a Server
The most logical choice, since the product has "Serv" in its name, is to install a server distribution. Multiple options abound here as well, but for this review we settled on Ubuntu 9.10. The latest version of Ubuntu Server Edition will work just fine since the M'Serv S2100 has a 64-bit processor. It also supports hardware virtualization meaning we'll be able to run KVM if we choose. We could even run one of the security distributions mentioned earlier in a virtual machine.
Installing Ubuntu 9.10 Server Edition is pretty similar to a normal Ubuntu install with a few additional screens. The main difference is a screen presenting options of various server roles to install. Choices include things like DNS, LAMP, Mail, Samba, SSH and Virtual Host. For our purposes we chose Samba and Virtual Host. We used a USB-attached CD-ROM drive for the install since we had a drive and the distribution CD readily available.