Alcatel-Lucent Eye-Box Premium edition review

Price when reviewed

The multifunction office server appliance has always seemed a great idea. Yet over the years, few vendors have managed to get it quite right. Alcatel’s Eye-Box aims to remedy this, as this slimline appliance brings together a complete office in a box, with ease-of-use high on its agenda.

The Eye-Box is a result of Alcatel’s acquisition of French company Right Vision a few years ago. Its main focus has been on mainland Europe, and it’s only recently turned its gaze on the UK market. In its base form, the Eye-Box is designed to provide everything a small business could need. It incorporates SPI firewall, web-content filtering, intranet and email services, site-to-site and mobile VPNs, anti-virus, anti-spam and shared storage. IP telephony is also an option, and the appliance is designed to communicate with Alcatel’s OmniPCX Office solution, which runs on a separate Linux server. The Premium edition on review comes with three 160GB hard disks. Two are mirrored and the third is on hot standby. You also get three Gigabit ports for LAN, WAN and DMZ duties.

One of the biggest problems with these products is their feeble attempts to hide the Linux kernel. Fortunately, Alcatel hasn’t made this mistake, as its web interface is well designed, making it very accessible to Windows users. General network parameters are easy to set up, and you have options for activating FTP and web server services using the built-in PostgreSQL and MySQL databases. Initially, we found user account configuration tedious due to the strict naming conventions required, but you can go back in and modify each one to suit. A useful feature is an option for each user to access the appliance’s SMTP and POP3/IMAP servers, and also contact an external ISP to download mail to their Eye-Box account.

To reduce costs, open-source utilities are employed; so, for anti-virus duties you have ClamAV, while spam is handled by SpamAssassin – both well-respected utilities. Options for handling dodgy messages are limited, as you can only quarantine them on the appliance, send them to the administrator or just let them through. You can’t tag email subject lines, and the option for advising the sender seems rather pointless, although you can also filter by file-attachment type.

The appliance can act as a web proxy, and optional web-content filtering comes courtesy of OpteNet, although the yearly subscription is expensive. The Eye-Box virtual Desktop has some nice touches. The web interface provides easy access to a smart webmail client, shared calendars and contacts, plus quick access to favourite sites and company news. A page is provided for using shared storage on the appliance, and you can apply quotas to individuals to control use.

We did find on occasion that the management interface would hang, requiring us to log back in again to clear it. We also encountered a problem where the appliance would keep forgetting the domain name we’d manually configured, and reverted back to the default taken from the WAN interface. We’ve yet to see the perfect all-in-one office appliance, and although Alcatel’s Eye-Box isn’t quite there yet, it’s one of the better examples of this type of solution.

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