Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/1389
ArmorLink Post Genie: Network Convergence in a Little Green boxby Brian Ng on July 13, 2004 12:05 AM EST
- Posted in
IntroductionOver the last seven years, AnandTech has grown from a small motherboard review website to an entire community and cornerstone of the computer industry. For the millions who read AnandTech each month, we are pleased to announce our newest contributing writer, Brian Ng. Brian has over 10 years of experience in academic networks and we are very excited to call him our new networking expert. And here, we present the first of many upcoming networking reviews.
The old adage, "don't judge a book by its cover", holds especially true for the Post Genie. It looks like a very early prototype of an IPod that, for some reason, the designers painted with mid-80s faded green paint. But what is the Post Genie? Armor Link's Post Genie is an all-in-one router, web/email server, and print server appliance. It is targeted at small businesses and home offices that may not want the hassle or even have the expertise of running a Linux box with qmail or Windows with Exchange. Our Post Genie is running Linux with kernel 2.4.18, with Apache for the web server and qmail.
- AMD Geode NS GX1 300 MHz
- Flash Memory 32MB
- DRAM 128MB
- IDE HDD Up to 2 x 3.5" IDE Hard Disk
- LAN Ports8 x 10/100Mbps Auto-sensing Fast Ethernet Port (RJ-45)
- WAN Ports1 x 10/100Mbps Auto-sensing Fast Ethernet Port (RJ-45)
Print Server Support
- USB/Parallel Printer
- WAN: PPPoE / DHCP / Fixed IP Address
- LAN: NAT, DHCP
- DNS Service
Support RAID Functions (Dual Disks Model):
- RAID 1 ( Mirroring Disk Volume )
- RAID 0 ( Striping Disk Volume )
- Up to two IDE Hard Disks, 400 GB Maximum
Design/ConstructionAs mentioned earlier, the color and the shape of the Post Genie is a little confusing. The front of the Post Genie consists of a backlit LED, an IPod inspired menu navigation wheel with an Enter button in the center, an Escape button, and 1 WAN and 8 LAN activity indicators. The back consists of 1 WAN and 8 LAN ports, USB and parallel ports for a printer, two fans, a power connector, and a dual purpose power and reset button. The power connector is nicely designed as a coaxial connector with a twist screw to lock the cable in place - a nice feature to keep the power cord from being pulled out accidentally.
The construction of the enclosure makes it impossible for it to be placed in a standard 2U server rack. The system itself is not wide enough nor does it offer any method of attaching drive rails. However, one has to note that the market segment targeted by the Post Genie is for small SOHOs and businesses that might not have server racks. Expect this unit to sit behind a desk rather than snug in a server room.
System InternalsOpening the Post Genie was quite simple. There are two screws on the back and four on the bottom. Pulling out the chassis reveals a tray for two hard drives sitting above the motherboard. The hard drive(s) is connected by PC standard power and IDE cables. Our evaluation version came with a 40 GB hard drive instead of the standard 200 GB. The 200 GB capacity should be more than enough for the Post Genie's targeted audience. From a performance standpoint, using SCSI drives would make the read and write speeds faster. However, we feel that the slight performance benefit would not justify the additional costs. Removing the tray exposes what looks like a modified laptop motherboard with standard components.
Taking a detailed look at the motherboard reveals two IDE and one floppy controller, an empty PCI slot, a Phoenix BIOS, and Promise Technology PDC20265 IDE controller chips. The PDC20265 is an ATA100 controller that supports software RAID and is widely used by motherboard manufacturers such as Asus. Beneath the two heatsinks sits the AMD Geode GX1 CPU and the Micrel's KS8999 Ethernet integrated switch IC. The Geode is an x86 CPU that is designed for appliances with a low average power consumption of 1.2W. For its Ethernet ports, the Post Genie is powered by dual Realtek 810L chips. One of the chips is used for the WAN port, while the other is used for the LAN ports with the KS8999 switch IC between them.
Below is a picture of the motherboard with the two heatsinks removed.
The Post Genie uses a 128 MB SODIMM for its main memory with an additional slot for more RAM. While 128 MB of RAM might seem limited in today's systems with half a gigabyte or more, our benchmark tests showed that the Post Genie was more than able to keep up with the traffic even for a busy small business. Moreover, it is unclear if more RAM can be added or if there will be any performance increase by simply replacing the 128 SODIMM with a higher capacity one. Finally, two SanDisk SDTNFAH-128 16 MB chips are used for the Post Genie's embedded OS.
With some ingenuity, it should be possible to convert the Post Genie to a full fledge headless Linux box. However, the current $1000 price tag puts the Post Genie at a very expensive toy for would-be hackers. Perhaps as the price comes down on the Post Genie, there will be more interest in its other potential.
InterfaceThe initial setup and configuration of the Post Genie is done with the navigation wheel and the two buttons. The default screen shows the name of your Post Genie, date and time, and the WAN IP. The first turn of the button gives you the LAN Information screen where your IP, subnet mask, and gateway are displayed.
The next turn gives you the Disk Information screen where for each disk, you get a screen; our evaluation unit just came with one disk. It lists the disk number, total amount of space in MBs, free space, type, and its status. Next is the System Information, where the model number and the version of the OS are displayed. By holding down the Enter button for two seconds, a menu with the following option is listed: Network settings, Power Down, Reboot System, and Exit. Under network settings, you have a choice to configure either static or dynamic IP.
Configuring a static IP of the Post Genie with the wheel and button for the most part is easy and straightforward. However, it does take a while to enter all the network information and there is no easy way of going to the previous field without cycling through everything again. To configure DHCP, go to the Network settings, navigate to DHCP, hit enter, and in the Use DHCP screen, either press Yes, No, or the Escape button. The other two buttons, Power Down and Reboot System, are pretty much self explanatory. It would have been nice if there was a warning message to confirm the action before shutting down the system. It is fairly easy to hit the wrong buttons while navigating the menus, and inadvertently shutting down the system. The last option, Exit, is really not needed, since this is the only area where an Exit option is available, and the Escape keys works the same way.
Initial SetupSetting up the Post Genie was easy - plug in an Ethernet cable to the WAN (Wide Area Network) port, twist the power connector in place and turn the system on. After about five minutes (the length of time for the system's initial initializing process), we were presented with the default information screen. Five minutes seems a bit long, but the delayed boot time only occurs during the preliminary setup. After the first initialization process, the Post Genie's boot up time takes about two minutes. At this point, the Post Genie defaults its WAN adaptor to DHCP where it will obtain any available IP. Since this will be used as a server, it is highly recommended to use a static IP. We used the configuration method on the previous page to set the server for a static IP instead. Then, opening an IE Window and pointing it to the IP of the Post Genie, we get a login and start the seven-step setup wizard.
Step 1: The very fist step is to change the default administrator password.
Step 2: We then enter the server name and a brief description.
Step 3: Set the time, date, and time zone.
Step 4: Modify hard drive information. We will talk more about this later.
Step 5: Next is to configure the IP of the Post Genie, either via PPoE, DHCP, or static assignment.
Step 6: This screen is to choose the DNS options.
Step 7: Finally, add the appropriate users and administrators to the system.
AdministrationAfter the initial setup of the Post Genie, we are presented with the default administrator screen. From here, we can go through the quick setup wizard again, configure system and network settings, user and mail system management, system tools, and statistics and logs.
In the system settings, we can configure the server name and description, date and time, and disk configuration. The Post Genie can accommodate up to two 200 GB HD for maximum of 400 GB of total space. Unless the email size is of total unimportance, the recommended option would be to use the two 200 GB HD in a RAID 1 (mirror) configuration. Two hundred gigabytes of storage space for email should be more than enough for most SOHOs. Even with attachments and assuming 200 users on a Post Genie, that would equal to almost a gigabyte for each user.
The network settings allow you to configure your basic network configuration, network printer and DDNS service, and advance firewall and router rules. In addition to creating firewall and router rules, you can also create static routing tables, configure virtual servers, one-to-one NAT address mapping, and web/content filters.
The user management section allows you to add, delete, and modify user properties such as passwords and quotas. One down side is: there is no method to batch load users from a file. This can be problematic if there is a migration of hundreds of users. The functionality of uploading and reading a file is already in place in the address book importing function and it wouldn't be that difficult to incorporate that feature in future revisions.
The mail system management screen allows you to configure mail service settings, inbound and outbound mail settings, mail queue management, search emails, modify system address book, and mail logger management. The Post Genie supports multiple domains, but in a limited capacity. The system does not allow for the creation of account names such as ATreviewer@anandtechtestlab.com and ATreviewer@anandtechmidwestlab.com. Usernames must be unique throughout the number of domains that you wish to host on the Post Genie.
In the system tools screen, you can configure SNMP, email alert notification, restart the server, configure miscellaneous hardware settings, update the system firmware, change the login screen logo, and backup/restore system configuration settings.
The final screen is the statistics and logs. Here, you are presented with simple logs and statistics for your Post Genie. The event logs show information, warnings and errors recorded by the system. The mail statistics track the number of outbound, inbound, and queued mail since the last restart of the SMTP service.
All in all, the administrative portion of the Post Genie is pretty detailed. The user interface, in some parts, is confusing. Instead of graphical buttons that are sometimes unclear, simple text buttons such as New, Delete, and Edit would be better. If it weren't for the mouse-over popup text, we wouldn't have been able to tell what some of the buttons meant.
Mail/Setup InstallConfiguration email clients, such as Microsoft Outlook XP (2002) and Eudora 5.2, were easy. In Outlook, just go to Tools, then E-mail Accounts, and select Add a new e-mail account. Select what type of server you are going to use and then enter some general account information, such as your username, server information and password.
The only snag that we encountered when using Outlook to send email via the Post Genie located in the test lab was when we had to configure our SMTP server to the local ISP's. The problem is that, by default, the Post Genie does not allow relaying of emails from clients outside its private LAN subnet. To work around this, enter the IP or subnet of the host(s) from which you will be sending email. The downside to this is if there are many users who wish to connect from multiple locations - managing the list of exceptions will be a chore.
Web mailThe Post Genie's web mail interface does have one annoying limitation: it only works with IE; Mozilla and Firefox don't work. This is unfortunate, since the web administration portion of the Post Genie works with both Mozilla 1.6 and Firefox. The first error that was encountered when going to the Post Genie's IP was the message, "You must enable the cookies to keep the language setting." If you are using a software-based firewall that blocks cookies, you may have to add the IP of the Post Genie manually to allow personalized cookies. The cookie that the Post Genie writes is a one-time instance; you can delete the exclusion after you have logged in successfully once.
An additional problem that we encountered was with IE's security configuration. For the web mail portion to function properly, you need to enable Active Scripting or the default login page won't load, and the login button won't work. The workaround to the default page not loading is to go directly to the language specific version of the login page (i.e. http://192.168.0.100/indexeng.html for the English version) instead of just the IP itself. However, the login button still does not work.
The first thing that stuck out while using the web mail client is the color scheme. The lime green and pastel yellow may not be to everyone's liking, and something more sedate and professional may have been a better choice. Unfortunately, there is no option to replace the default theme. The only graphical change that you can make is to the default login screen bitmap.
Another option that is also missing is the ability to turn off auto preview of the first message. The email could be inappropriate SPAM or other malicious email that you might not want to see.
Colors schemes and minor complaints aside, after using the Post Genie's web mail for a while, the experience was quite good. The features included are equal to those found in other web mail systems, such as address books, message search, and auto replies. The web mail options available are quite extensive:
- Language (English or either Simplified or Traditional Chinese)
- Change Password
- Customize Inbox display and information shown in outgoing mails
- Filter rules to sort incoming mails
- Retrieve up to 10 external POP3 mails
- Block Senders
- Auto Reply
- Forwarding Mails
- Import and export your address book via CSV files
- Create, edit, and delete categories
Print ServerAdding a print server functionality helps enhance the value of the Post Genie. The configuration is simple; first, you log onto the Post Genie with an account that has administrative access, and then go to Network Settings. Go to the Network Printer Service, click on the little box to enable the printer service, choose the printer connection type (either parallel or USB) and give a printer share name.
This is probably one of the easiest network print server setups that we have seen. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work for us. The printer used in the test was a HP LaserJet 2300DN. We did not have any trouble browsing the Post Genie's IP, seeing the printer share, and installing the appropriate printer drivers. After installing the printer drivers and printing the test page, the print outs never came out. Windows XP did not give any error messages and the print queue was empty. An email was sent to their tech support, but a resolution was never achieved. We were informed that this was an isolated incident and the error was not reproducible in their test lab.
A nice feature would have been a way to view the list of print jobs in the Post Genie's queue. There will be times when numerous copies of the same print job will be sent, so an option to cancel duplicate or in-process jobs would have be nice.
SecurityA simple scan of the Port Genie with Nessus and nmap didn't reveal any ports that were not expected. Furthermore, looking at the results from both Nessus and nmap didn't reveal any vulnerability with the open ports. One option that would be nice would be the ability to turn off the port used by the print server if one decides not to use that feature.
One problem that was discovered is the authentication process while using both the web and email client. The security configuration of the authentication process of Apache is set to basic authentication. What this means is that the passwords are basically sent clear text through the network. Using dsniff, we were able to retrieve the passwords of accounts sent over the network without any problems.
This shouldn't be as critical of an issue for users who are using the Post Genie as a router, since the only threat of packet sniffing will only be internal. For users who are connecting to the Post Genie through the internet, that is another matter. The possibility of having your passwords sniffed is quite rare, but possible, particularly on fast networks (like universities and corporate businesses). Hopefully, Armor Link can change the authentication method used in a future update.
Software/Utility CDUnfortunately, the evaluation copy did not come shipped with the Software/Utility CD. This was a problem, since the default user name and password for the Post Genie is in the manual. Also, neither Armor Link nor ICP Electronics have the manual available for download from their website. However, the issue was resolved relatively quick, as we were provided a PDF version by Armor Link's support staff.
BenchmarkUsing basic shell commands, we were able to stress test the Post Genie with relative ease. Using a constant stream of 4,000 emails an hour, over the course of three hours, the response of the Post Genie was still quite good. There was a slight second delay in the web mail loading and the email clients downloading new headers, but that was to be expected.
Depending on the number of emails in your inbox, the load time can vary from near instantaneous to a couple of minutes. In our benchmark test, 12,000 emails were sent to one recipient address and it took approximately 15 minutes for the web mail client to display the headers. Using Email clients did not result in any difference in speed when using the same method of retrieval such as IMAP. The download times were reduced by half when on the same physical network as the Post Genie. Web mail and email client access to other accounts without the 12,000 email loaded the inbox without delay.
Next, we simulated 75 simultaneous connections with 10 transactions over a course of a minute to the web server using other simple Perl scripts. Response time with both the web email and email clients were almost identical when the server was idle.
ConclusionFor what it does, the Post Genie from Armor Link is an attractive, easy to manage and function convergance server. Those who will benefit from this server will be small businesses or entrepreneurs. The ability to have an email system without knowing anything about email routing, configuration, and security is pretty attractive. However, the system does require slightly more than basic knowledge of networking, albeit just more than your average Linksys router.
An additional feature that would enhance the value of the Post Genie would be file-sharing; with capabilities to hold 400GB of RAID striped hard drive space, the Post Genie would also make an excellent MP3 server. Hopefully, Armor Link will add some much needed features and security fixes.
The largest drawback of the Post Genie is the price tag. Although retail prices seem to vary dramatically, the configuration we reviewed today runs about $1000. This may seem a lot for a 300MHz Linux machine, but the addition of preconfigured mail, routing and firewall options make this a fairly unique hardware item. Building a similar machine to the Post Genie may only cost the Do-It-Yourselfer a few hundred dollars, but configuring the plethora of services and optimizing WAN/LAN capabilities are worth the extra cost to an increasingly large niche market.