Cyclades Corporation is a new name to many. They are entering the competitive field of multiport serial systems with an interesting product, the expandable Cyclades Ze. What makes this unit so interesting is that the first drivers for the Cyclades Ze are designed for Linux and Windows NT. SCO OpenServer 5 and freeBSD drivers have recently beed released, too. Since there are few companies that still take Linux seriously, Cyclades may be able to carve out a solid niche for itself. The Cyclades Z series is a family of intelligent multiport card systems designed for high throughput. The system can be employed as a remote access server, an external multiport serial card, and as a controller for a bank of modems.

Physically, the Cyclades Z system is a metal box about 2 inches tall, seventeen inches wide, and 9 inches deep (it can be rack mounted). The front of the box has a Cyclades logo and not much else. The back has sixteen RJ45 connectors, two bus connectors, and a power socket. A PCI host card sits in the server and connects to the external box through an umbilical. If an extender box is purchased to give another 16 ports, an umbilical from the first to second unit connects the expansion to the system. Further expansions to a total of 64 ports can be added. The Cyclades Ze that we tested comprises the internal PCI card, the main external box, and one expansion box for a total of 32 ports. The Cyclades 8Zo model has a more traditional octopus cable with eight ports on the end.

Installation of the Cyclades Ze is simple. Install the PCI card in any unused slot and connect the umbilicals between the external units and the card. If only one or two external boxes are used, no external power supply is necessary. If a third unit is connected, an external power connection is necessary to ensure enough juice to the system. A diagnostic diskette that runs under DOS only can be used to verify everything is working properly. The system is supplied with both Linux and Windows NT drivers. We installed the Cyclades Ze on both a Caldera OpenLinux Base system and an older Slackware release, and the drivers worked fine on both. The Linux driver for the Cyclades Ze sets the serial ports on the external units as standard tty devices.

The speed of the Cyclades Ze system is surprising compared to many other external serial port systems. The speed is due directly to the design of the unit, which employs a 32-bit MIPS R3000 processor, and the use of the PCI bus. The system is plug-and-play compatible for devices added to the serial ports (assuming the operating system supports plug-and-play, of course). The serial ports can be configured for speeds up to 921.6kbps, which is faster than most of us will ever need.

To test the Cyclades Ze we used the Caldera Linux release on an ALR Revolution 2XL with 64MB RAM. The Cyclades Ze was installed with two ISDN modems, four 38.8 modems, and four direct connect cable on the primary unit. These looped to the same set-up on the second expansion unit. Using scripts, we had each unit call its counterpart on the expansion. The ISDN modems ran at full 2-channel speed, the four analog modems each ran at 38.8kbps, and the direct-connect cables were running at 128kbps. Running scripts to transfer files back and forth, we monitored the overall system performance. While the Cyclades Ze did have some impact on the ALR’s two processors, the effect was small even when all the configured ports were blazing away. The real limiting factor on the server was disk access, even though we were using a DPT SmartRAID IV with 4MB cache, configured to use 4 9.1GB SCSI hard drives set for striping. The Cyclades Ze’s on-board CPU obviously worked well and helped offload the server CPU dramatically.

We were impressed by the solidity of the Cyclades Ze construction, the stable drivers, and the performance of the system as a whole. Under Windows NT 4.0 Server, the system performed as well as under Linux, making it a flexible choice for system managers. We tested the SCO OpenServer 5 drivers only briefly on our test server, and they seemed to perform up to par with the Linux drivers, too. The Cyclades Ze system is fast and solves the need for those wanting better throughput from multiple serial ports, especially for Linux servers.