Category: Network-attached storage

WD now has a lineup of desktop NAS units to suit your needs

Article

WD MyCloud EX2 dual-disk NAS

WD MyCloud EX2 NAS

WD Expands My Cloud Line | SmallNetBuilder

From the horse’s mouth

Western Digital

Press Release

Product Pages (My Cloud EX4100, My Cloud DL4100)

My Comments

Previously, I reviewed the Western Digital My Cloud EX2 desktop NAS and found that this was a two-disk NAS in their range that offered a wide range of functionality. This unit and its 4-disk stablemate, the My Cloud EX4, have been positioned as “entry-level” or “foot-in-the-door” NAS units for people who crave a high level of functionality out of these devices.

WD MyCloud EX4, WD MyCloud EX2, WD Red 6Tb hard disk

WD MyCloud EX4 NAS

Now WD have released a mid-tier pair of NAS units that are based on more powerful specifications compared to the EX2 and EX4. These use Armada RISC horsepower and higher working RAM capacity (1Gb for the EX2100 and 2Gb for the EX4100) along with 2 Gigabit Ethernet ports for demanding networks or to serve 2 networks at once. They also even have a “walk-up” USB port on the front so you can quickly “dump” data from an SD card or memory key at the touch of a button.

They also released a business-focused pair of NAS units that are the most powerful of the bunch. These units, known as the My Cloud DL2100 and the My Cloud DL4100 implement Intel Atom processors similar to what would be expected in a Windows-powered entry-level tablet. Their working RAM also start with 1Gb for the DL2100 or 2Gb for the DL4100 but can be taken up to 5Gb or 6Gb respectively to match the machine’s workload.

WD MyCloud EX4100 NAS press image courtesy of Western Digital

WD MyCloud EX4100 NAS – the mid-tier variant

These NAS units will run on the WD My Cloud OS operating system which has a good supply of third-party applications for uses like UPnP / DLNA, integration in to large storage systems, and the like. As well, systems that come with hard disks will come with the WD Red drives and can mount the newer 6 Terabyte disks.

One way that WD could improve on these products would be to integrate BitTorrent Sync in to the NAS firmware in order to permit vendor-independent NAS-to-NAS syncing. This could then be about allowing for a second NAS to be about off-site backup storage or data replication.

Other directions that I would be seeing for WD’s MyCloud EX NAS units would be to provide audio and video transcoding or even “batch rendering” of audio / video / animation project files. Let alone pushing equipment of the WD MyCloud DL4100 ilk as a games server. I do see a lot of promise in WD’s MyCloud EX and DL lineup of expert and business NAS units not just as data storage but as secondary headless computing systems.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2015 – Part 4 – The Home Network

Over the past three days, I have covered some very interesting trends that were exhibited at the Consumer Electronics Show 2015 in Las Vegas. Part 1 covered the changes concerning personal computing including smartphones and tablets whereas Part 2 covered the increasingly-connected lifestyle which is brought on by the Internet Of Things. Part 3 has covered home entertainment especially as 4K UHDTV, wireless multroom audio and high-resolution file-based audio via the home network approach points of market maturity.

Now I am covering computer peripherals including USB 3.1 with the Type C either-way connection along with the “glue that holds it all together” – the home network. This is brought on with the arrival of Wave 2 802.11ac (AC2600 and AC3200) wireless networks and the highly-resilient HomePlug AV2 MIMO powerline network technology.

Computer Peripherals

A major innovation that is taking place with computer peripherals and accessories is the implementation of USB 3.1 with Type C connectors, something I have covered regularly on this site. Here, it is living up to the promise of high throughput with setups clocking a real-world throughput of 800Mbps on a demonstrator. Nokia’s N1 tablet is the first tablet device to be marketed with USB 3.1 technology and Type C connectivity. MSI are pitching the G772 gaming notebook and X998 Gaming 9 ACK motherboard with the USB 3.1 and Type C connectivity along with regular USB connectivity and they are intended to be available in March. Creative Technologies have not taken computer audio lying down. Rather they fielded a USB digital amplifier in the form of the X7 which you can connect to some decent speakers. It uses Sound Blaster chipsets for the computer interface and has enough connectivity to amplify line-level or digital sound sources or provide the Sound Blaster goodness to other amplifiers, digital recorders or digital-analogue converters. It also has on-board Dolby Digital decoding along with enhanced sound processing to get the best out of anything from compressed MP3s to high-grade FLAC files.

As for displays, most of the monitor manufacturers are running at least a few 4K ultra-high-resolution models. HP are running an new monitor lineup including some 4K models and even a 5K model. Two of these monitors have curved displays like the TVs shown at this show while there is a “virtual-reality”display that works with 3D glasses. Samsung joined the party by premiering 34” curved monitor with 21:9 aspect ratio and WQHD+ (3440×1440) resolution – their TV-display knowledge fits in here on the desktop.

There is a huge run of Bluetooth-capable audio devices at this show. Braven have premiered the Braven Bridge portable conference-call device. This uses a microphone array and noise-cancelling technology for clearer and understandable voices and can even come clear in loud environments. It has that deluxe leather look that appeals to travelling executives and can serve as a powerful Bluetooth speaker and mobile charge bank.

They also fielded a series of deluxe-look Bluetooth speakers with TruWireless stereo pairing. These are known as the 2200b and the 2300b with the latter having improved sound output. Braven also pitched a wireless audio mixer that mixes the sound from two Bluetooth A2DP sources and distributes it to two Bluetooth speakers.

Samsung cracked the storage capacity ceiling for solid-state storage by offering a 1 Tb external solid-state storage device that connects to the host via USB 3.0. Ultra fast, Ultra large! SanDisk had come to the party by offering a “memory-key-type” external storage device that connects to “open-frame” smartphones via their microSD card slots or a regular computer (or other device) via its USB 3.0 socket. These are available at capacities up to 64Gb.

The very fast no-new-wires home network

D-Link DIR-895L AC5300 6 stream wireless router press picture courtesy of D-Link America

D-Link DIR-895L AC5300 6 stream wireless router – an example of what Wave 2 802.11ac is all about

One major technology that is being premiered at CES 2015 is the 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless segment, especially the faster variants that implement at least three input and output streams and use MU-MIMO technology. This has a theoretical media-level throughput of 2.6 Gbps or 3.2 Gbps. This technology has been “cemented” courtesy of IEEE releasing the Wave 2 set of specifications for the 802.11ac wireless network along with Qualcomm, Quantenna and Broadcomm releasing the chipsets for this specification.

MU-MIMO is a high-throughput variant of MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) wireless technology that can allow an access point to concurrently serve data to multiple client devices with best-case performance and reduced network congestion. The benefits that this provides also extend to non-MU-MIMO client devices because the higher-throughput devices aren’t taking up the lion’s share of the traffic.

It was also run alongside the Wi-Fi Aware proximity-based service discovery mechanism for the Wi-FI wireless network standard which is to come later this year. Working in the background, this setup allows a device to discover other Wi-Fi devices and what they offer before actually connecting to them. It is being pitched to be like what Bluetooth was known for where you could spontaneously discover a person to share a namecard or picture with in the same room or set up a multi-machine multi-player game with friends on the couch. It also would serve a similar function to the Bluetooth Beacons and orthodox Bluetooth “push” advertising as a way to reach mobile users..

All of the major home-network hardware vendors are releasing at least one premium-level router with this technology. This has also pushed down the availability of AC1750 and lower-spec 802.11ac routers to prices that most of us can afford and allow carriers to supply such gear to their customers.

D-Link DHP701AV HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor press picture courtesy of D-Link America

D-Link DHP701AV HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor

As for HomePlug AV2 powerline networking, each of the major home-network companies is releasing a HomePlug AV2 MIMO-capable adaptor package that allows you to start setting up a robust powerline network segment with a theoretical throughput of around 1.5 Gigabits per second. It gives legs to this “wired now-new-wires” technology when being used in commercial premises or multi-building home networks.

Amped Wireless have released their 802.11ac range with AC750-compliant routers and range extenders that use touch-screens as their control surfaces. Sadly, these are their low-tier models for this specification. They are also running more 802.11ac range extenders with two desktop models having a Gigabit Ethernet switch to make them work as wireless client bridges for many devices along with two wall-plugged models that have a Gigabit Ethernet port for wireless-client-bridge functionality. In each form-factor, there is a two-stream variant along with a three-stream variant.

Linksys launched their fastest 802.11ac home-network router which uses four streams with MU-MIMO(AC2600) and has Snapdragon horsepower, a four-port Gigabit Ethernet switch and USB and eSATA sockets to allow it to serve as a NAS. They also released the “AC1200” variant of their WRT1900AC “son of WRT54G” router along with the styled-alike WRT Network Storage Bay which is a dual-bay NAS enclosure with eSATA and USB external-disk connectivity. Oh year, it has DLNA network media server functionality.

D-Link have shown off their out-of-this-world 8-antenna MU-MIMO AC2600 router and also launched the AC1900 USB wireless network adaptor. This is so you can gain the benefits of a Wi-Fi wireless segment running to the latest 802.11ac wireless specification with your existing laptops or desktop computers. They have launched their HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor (DHP701AV) and HomePlug AV2 SISO adaptor (DHP601AV), both having Gigabit Ethernet connections.

TRENDNet TPL-421E2K HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor (US variant) with AC socket plugged in to typical US AC outlet - press picture courtesy of TRENDNet USA

TRENDNet TPL-421E2K HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor (US variant) with AC socket

TRENDNet are also running one of the first “travel routers” to have 802.11ac technology. This unit implements AC750 single-stream technology along with the ability to be a USB file server as well as having Gigabit Ethernet connectivity. They also launched an AC3200 “tri-band” (all 5GHz band and 2.4GHz band) six-stream router with six antennas along with their AC2600 four-stream router, both having Gigabit Ethernet for WAN and LAN, USB file serving and IPv6.They haven’t forgotten about the HomePlug AV2 MIMO powerline network and are re-exhibiting their HomePlug AV2 adaptors and exhibiting a variant with an integrated power outlet.

TP-Link launched their Archer 2600 router with 4 x 4 AC Qualcomm Wi-Fi and Archer C3200 with 2 3-stream 5GHz front-ends and 1 3-stream 2.4GHz front-end and Broadcomm chipset. They also have launched a 3-stream AC1750 range extender and an AC750 range extender. As well they have contributed HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor which is the first of this product class to have a 3-port Gigabit Ethernet switch

Netgear have launched a lineup of range extenders including an AC1900 model, AC1200 model, AC750 model. These devices can use one band for their wireless backhaul while the other serves the downstream devices and can be set up to be access points with Ethernet (or HomePlug AV2 MIMO) wired backbones. They are the  EX7000 which is the AC1900 3 stream variant with a 5 port Gigabit Ethernet switch and a USB 3.0 file server, along with the EX6150 which is a 2-stream AC1200 wall plug that has a Gigabit Ethernet connection, and the EX3700 Essentials Edition which is a 1-stream AC750 wall plug.

NetGear GS108E 8-port Gigabit Ethernet "Click" swithch with power supply bracket press picture courtesy of NETGEAR America

NetGear GS108E 8-port Gigabit Ethernet “Click” swithch with power supply bracket

They also launched their PL1200 HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptors – the PL1200 and the PLP1200 which has an integrated AC outlet. Let’s not forget their value-priced unmanaged desktop Ethernet switches which Netgear have been well known for and is something I would specify, and they have shown up with a new device in this class. Here, they have launched a pair of these Gigabit switches which dock in to a power-supply bracket thus eliminating the need to use a wall-wart that falls out too easily. They have a 16-port variant along with an 8-port variant which comes with two USB gadget-charging ports.

NETGEAR ReadyNAS RN1040 NAS press picture courtesy of NETGEAR America

Latest generation of the Netgear ReadyNAS family

Netgear also launched the latest iteration of their ReadyNAS multi-function NAS units as the 100 and 200 Series ReadyNAS series. The 2-bay and 4-bay NAS units have improved processors for quicker throughput along with using ReadyNAS OS 8.2 as their operating system.

Around Town launched a 4G LTE 802.11g/n Mi-Fi router with a “boosting cradle”. This is a charging dock that has an Ethernet LAN socket, and 2 better MIMO antennas for 4G. This reminds me of some consumer-electronics devices released through the early 1980s like a portable VHS video cassette recorder setup that Hitachi implemented where the video recorder docked in to a large L-shaped tuner-timer base which had a full-function infra-red remote control, or some “ghetto-blaster” setups that had a tape unit that could be removed to become a Walkman.

The NAS is being seen by some vendors as being a “personal cloud”. But some of these vendors are taking an integrated approach with interlinking with existing online storage services like Dropbox along with acceptiance of the new BitTorrent Sync technology. This is being pushed more so by Seagate with their home NAS units.

QNAP had launched some AMD Steppe Eagle x86 powered NAS units which came in 4 bay, 6 bay and 8 bay variants. They had 4 gigabit Ethernet connections for throughput-bonding or serving multiple networks, a 10 Gigablt Ethernet upgrade option for small businesses and ran QTS 4.2 OS. This operating system provided various “connected-home” functions along with various business-focused snapshot backup options.

Conclusion

What I have seen of the Consumer Electronics Show 2015 is that certain technologies like 4K UHDTV, HomePlug AV2 MIMO, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and lightweight highly-capable personal computing have hit points of maturity in the marketplace or are close to achieving that goal.

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Product Review-Western Digital MyPassport Wireless mobile network-attached storage

Introduction

I am reviewing the Western Digital MyPassport Wireless mobile network-attached storage which I have found to be “above the ordinary” when it comes to this class of device.

Typically, most of these devices are to work as their own network to allow users to pick up or drop off files normally held on their mobile devices and, in most cases, that is all when it comes to functionality. If you intended to transfer files to or from a regular computer that runs Windows, Mac OS X or Linux, you have to tether these devices to the computer via USB. Read on about how this can do more for you compared to most of these devices.

Capacity Price
1 Terabytes AUD$249
2 Terabytes AUD$299

WD MyPassport Wireless mobile NAS

Class Portable Network Attached Storage
Storage
Capacity 1 Terabyte
2 Terabytes
Disks 1 x 2.5” hard disk
Removable Storage SDHC card reader
Connection
Network Connection 802.11g/n Wi-Fi (access point / network client)
Host Connection USB 3.0
Device Discovery
UPnP Yes
Bonjour No
UPnP Internet Gateway Control No
Features and Protocols
SMB / CIFS
DLNA Media Server Yes
General Web Server
Remote Access WD MyCloud
Remote NAS Sync
Cloud-Storage Client
Download Manager
Other functions

 

The Network-Attached Storage System itself

WD MyPassport Wireless mobile NAS front - ower and WPS / SD Card transfer buttons, Charge / Sync connector

Power and WPS / SD Card transfer buttons, Charge / Sync connector

The WD MyPassport Wireless’s battery is charged through a USB “sync-and-charge” cable that works with a proprietary connection on one end and USB plug on other end. This also is used to copy data to and from the hard disk as if it is a portable USB hard disk.

Setup Experience

You can set the WD MyPassport Wireless mobile NAS without the need for client software by linking your regular or mobile computer to the device’s “MyPassport” ESSID and logging in to the “MyPassport” Webpage to configure it.  iOS and Android users can configure it using the WD MyCloud mobile-platform app and this also serves as a way of transferring data between the mobile device and the NAS.

When you plug this device in to your computer, it shows up on Windows as a single hard disk like most of the small external hard disks. It can even be plugged in to a computer’s USB 3.0 port and take advantage of the high bandwidth that it offers. It most likely won’t work well with devices like printers, routers or smart TVs that have a USB port for connecting an external hard disk due to the power requirement that it has.

Here, you have the ability to create a user-defined ESSID or device name or have it work as a bridge between an existing Wi-Fi network and the mobile device. This latter functionality can be set up in a “private manner” if the other network is a public-access Wi-Fi hotspot like what your hotel provides.

Capabilities

WD MyPassport Wireless mobile NAS with SD card

Quickly transfer your camera card contents to this mobile NAS

I see the WD MyPassport Wireless as a highly-capable mobile NAS in its own right.

It can be a network bridge between another Wi-Fi network like home network or Wi-Fi hotspot. This even includes the ability to clone a device’s MAC address so you can share hotel-based Wi-Fi Internet which is regulated or accounted by device amongst multiple devices.

As well, when it works as a bridge, you can set it to serve files to both the local and remote Wi-Fi segments which would earn its keep with your home or small-business network.

WD MyPassport Wireless mobile NAS beside Samsung Galaxy Note 2 smartphone

Same size as one of the latest smartphones

There is an SD card slot so you can transfer data from SD cards to the NAS at the touch of a button. The classic scenario would be to copy pictures from your camera or camcorder to this mobile NAS to “clear space” for more photography and back up the images and footage you have taken. This is a bonus with the ability to view the images or video “rushes” on a DLNA-capable TV that exists on the network or “work on” what you have taken using your laptop computer.

Another feature that I so love is the fact that the WD MyPassport Wireless is a capable DLNA Media Server which is something that one of Sony’s mobile NAS units can do. The server software indexes all folders on the hard disk for media and can serve this media to its own access point or the network it is a client of in the case of a home network. I have tried this for myself by “fronting” it to the home network and pulling up WD’s demo videos that were on the hard disk on the household’s Samsung DLNA-capable Smart TV. These clips played through in a very stable manner. This makes the WD MyPassport Wireless as a device to “BYO” video content to show on a smart TV or play the latest tunes on your friend’s DLNA-capable music system for that party.

System performance

WD MyPassport Wireless mobile NAS in my shirt pocket

Call this pocketable

I performed a file-by-file transfer of the music I have on my smartphone in order to set it up for a DLNA network media test. There was very little noise through file transfer and the unit wasn’t demanding much of its battery power through this transfer when both devices were close together and working with its own access point.

As for DLNA, it streamed the demo video clips smoothly without dropping out when I had it connected to the above-mentioned Smart TV via the home network. Here, the NAS was part of the home network’s Wi-Fi segment and the TV was connected to the router via a HomePlug AV segment and this yielded the smooth performance. I tried it with music when using an Internet radio that had UPnP AV functionality and having the system with both devices on the same Wi-Fi segment with the radio located at the fringe of the segment. Here, there were some jitter issues coming about when playing the content. It works as best as the network would allow as long as you have the NAS able to pick up a strong signal.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

WD could use a standard microUSB connection with full On-The-Go abilities similar to what newer Android phones are equipped with for the device’s power and data transfer. This could let WD provide an accessory Ethernet adaptor for “walk-up” Ethernet connectivity or to provide an expansion module with a built-in power supply and Gigabit Ethernet socket for connection to existing home and business networks.

Another feature that could augment this device would be to have a micro-HDMI socket with HDMI-CEC functionality. This could allow you to show images and footage on a large-screen TV using its remote control or a smartphone running a control app to select the content.

The Wi-Fi functionality could be improved with the ability to set up multiple network profiles so you can choose how this device behaves when connected with particular networks you have used. These could be saved by a user-defined name with the network’s ESSID as the default identifier. Here, each network could have settings like “request to clone MAC”, “share files to network” amongst other options.

Like a lot of wireless NAS units on the market, the WD MyPassport Wireless could benefit from SMB/CIFS-based file sharing so as to allow the same kind of file navigation that you could do with most desktop NAS units when you use most regular-computer operating systems.

Conclusion

From my experience with the WD MyPassport Wireless mobile NAS, I do see it as a very capable portable NAS unit. This is more so for those of us who do a lot of digital photography and video work, or want to use this to take our favourite media with us, including play it at a friend’s house. It is due to use of an SD card slot for quick transfer of digital images, the ability to be set up to serve files to a home network or its own access point as well as being a DLNA-compliant media server.

These features would play in to the hands of someone like a wedding or news photographer who may want to take a lot of pictures during their shoot and “dump” them to this device. Then they would be able to show the pictures to the lucky couple for them to choose for the wedding album or to show to the participants of a news story to, for example, elicit more commentary.

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QNAP launches a 4-disk slimline NAS

QNAP logo courtesy of QNAPArticle

QNAP Adds Four Bay Skinny NAS | SmallNetBuilder

My Comments

QNAP 2-disk NAS

QNAP to release a 4-bay 2.5″ NAS which will be as big as this NAS

A trend that is showing up with QNAP and some other NAS vendors is to release NAS units that implement 2.5” hard disks or solid-state drives rather than the regular 3.5” variety.

Here, QNAP’s latest 4-disk 2.5” variety known as the TS-451S is able to have the same footprint as a 2-disk unit that uses 3.5” disks. It may be about being able to implement a disk cluster that has some hard disks and solid-state drives or simply being able to gain more shelf space. It is very similar to an earlier Thecus NAS that could run 2 of the 2.5” disks, effectively being a “pocket rocket”.

But let’s not forget that this unit will run QNAP’s QTS 4.1 standard operating system with the ability to download extra function-specific apps. It could become a direction for the likes of WD and Seagate to offer 2.5” hard disks and solid-state drives pitched at these units and allow for the highly-compact units to court a huge range of applications where space is at a premium, including in-vehicle or portable use.

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A NAS could appeal as an alternative to the old XP-powered file server

Article

Replace Your Outdated Windows XP File Server With Network Attached Storage | Lifehacker

My Comments

ASUSTor AS-204TE 4-bay NAS with WD Red 6Tb hard disk

ASUSTor AS-204TE 4-bay NAS – “Data central” for a small business

Some of you who run small businesses may be trying to get that last bit of mileage out of that beige-coloured “white-box” computer that is running as a file server. Typically the old computer may be running Windows XP Professional as its operating system which is approaching end-of-life and you may find that many components, especially the mechanical ones, are starting to wear down.

Today’s small-business desktop NAS units are about the size of half a loaf of bread for small units or the size of a large toaster or a toaster-oven for the larger units, and are built from the ground up to work as data servers for a small workload. They are even engineered to be able to run reliably for a long time without issues concerning overheating or vibration. As well, most of today’s small-business NAS units are even optimised to run the fans and hard disks on an as-needed basis to allow for quiet operation and reduced energy needs.

Although the news article focuses on Synology equipment, it can hold true of similar devices offered by QNAP, WD, Seagate, NETGEAR ReadyNAS, ASUSTor and the like. Most of these are increasingly running multipurpose operating environments that the manufacturers build on Linux or, in some cases, licensing Windows Server 2012 Essentials Edition from Microsoft. As well, they have a lot of the essential server applications like database servers, Web servers and the like that you can install from the vendor along with the essential file servers and can even work with Microsoft ActiveDirectory setups. This can make for some small-business NAS systems that can be truly multifunctional like some properly set-up file servers.

Western Digital Sentinel DS5100 Windows Server NAS

Western Digital Sentinel DS-5100 Windows Server NAS

The advice about considering a NAS as an upgrade path for your small-business’s old “white-box” file-server computer may not apply to those of you who have a lot invested in this style of “regular-computer-based” server system, especially where an application server is concerned, and have kept it up to date with new hardware and software. But it can be of use for those of us who are heading towards a more efficient computer setup for the small office..

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Presentation Report – Western Digital RED Series NAS hard disks

On Tuesday 29 July, I had attended a Western Digital reseller presentation where WD were premiering their latest additions to the Red Series hard-disk range for NAS units. These are the WD Red Pro series that are pitched at heavy-duty applications centred around the many-bay units that can be mounted in a 19″ standard equipment rack as well as variants of the WD Red range that have 5 Terabyte and 6 Terabyte capacities.

The increasing relevance of the network-attached storage unit

D-Link DNS-320L 2-bay NAS

D-Link DNS-320L 2-bay NAS

A device that is appearing in more home and small-business networks is the network-attached-storage unit. This is a dedicated unit that shares data held on at least one hard disk across a network.

But increasingly these devices are being able to do more than this due to the vendors marketing their NAS units as a “platform” with a plethora of apps developed or ported by the vendor for these devices. This is augmented by an increasing number of manufacturers who are integrating the kind of processors used in regular-computing or enterprise-grade server applications in these devices, some of which you could describe as being like a compact desktop PC.

They are increasingly relevant in the small-business scene where they can serve as a backup location or central storage for that business’ computers. An increasing number of these units can implement “virtualization” where they can work as one or more different computer systems. As well, platform-based NAS units offer applications like video-surveillance recording, digital signage, and enterprise-grade “advanced-storage” setups like iSCSI or SAN. For that matter, some of the high-end desktop NAS units can be purposed as branch-level “on-ramps” for a full-blown enterprise-wide computing setup.

ASUSTor AS-204TE 4-bay NAS with WD Red 6Tb hard disk

ASUSTor AS-204TE 4-bay NAS – “Data central” for a small business

A few creative-skills professionals appeared at this presentation to demonstrate how the NAS fits in to their trade. In most of these cases, these users store only the data they need to work with at a given moment on their iMac’s main hard disk and keep the rest of the data on a NAS. As well, the units even serve as central content libraries for raw material or finished projects. This appeals very strongly to multi-person projects like film and video work where version-control is important.

But, in the home, they are appealing as systems to hold your audio, video or image content and make it available to network-capable AV devices. As well, most NAS vendors are pitching these systems as a “personal cloud” that is an alternative to services like Dropbox or OneDrive. As I have mentioned before, vendors are offering DVR abilities so that customers can connect the NAS to a USB digital-TV tuner module or broadcast-LAN unit to make it become the equivalent of a TiVo.

Making the NAS appeal to “Average Joe”

QNAP TS-251 2-bay NAS

QNAP TS-251 2-bay NAS

One of WD’s representatives found that there is a problem with selling a NAS in a “big-box” store like Harvey Norman or JB Hi-Fi. Here it is about identifying the value that these devices have for the average “Joe in the suburbs” who is content with using a USB external hard disk as a backup or offload tool for their home computer. Typically the home network is implemented by these users just to facilitate Internet access and, perhaps, share a printer.

What needs to happen to make the NAS appeal to “Joe in the suburbs” is that a NAS makes more sense as an always-available content library or data store, especially if you have or intend to buy another computer, a mobile device like an iPad or network-capable AV equipment including most recent games consoles or smart TVs. A good question to address is the number of digital pictures you take or hours of digital video footage you make and the number of CDs you rip or digital music files you buy from iTunes and similar services and how you can make them available around the home.

As well, one or more legitimate “download-to-own” video-content services that can allow you to store your movies that you downloaded to a NAS can legitimize the value prospect of these devices to “Average Joe”.

WD internal hard-disk lineup and the RED Series

What has happened over the last few years is that WD have re-factored their regular-duty computer hard disk lineup in to distinct ranges denoted by colour as shown below:

Colour Purpose
Blue Everyday-use hard disks that satisfy most computing tasks – the typical “system drive” for a computer which would be represented by C: in DOS/Windows
Green Capacity – this is where the user places importance on how much data the hard disk is to carryThese may represent external hard disk applications or the extra hard disks fitted inside desktop computers for user data
Black Performance – The V8 of the range.This is where quick response is required such as workstation applications or “gaming rigs”
Red NAS – optimized for single-bay or multi-bay network-attached-storage devices which are always on and having to handle data at a moment’s notice
Purple Surveillance – optimized for digital video recorders that are part of closed-circuit TV setups. Focused more on writing continuous streams of data but with occasional read needs

 

This kind of product lineup avoids the practice where most user-installable desktop hard disks are sold to users as a “jack of all trades” basis without awareness of disks that are optimized for particular data-storage needs. For example, a person who is running that “ultimate gaming rig” to impress others at the LAN party would be after something that is about performance whereas a NAS or server user is after something that is about consistent reliable operation for something that is always available.

What are the WD Red Series hard disks and what makes them special

One of the many business-class "pizza box" NAS units that works with the WD Red Pro hard disk

One of the many business-class “pizza box” NAS units that works with the WD Red Pro hard disk

WD were the first company to develop and launch a hard disk that is optimized for the operating conditions that a network-attached storage device will throw at it. Previously, a NAS used regular desktop hard disks as its storage and these disks were seen more as a “jack of all trades, master of none” when it came to network storage requirements.

The key features for this range include:

  • Compatibility with the different operating conditions that different vendors’ NAS units will throw at the system. This includes dealing with different power-supply conditions, the hardware interfaces used in the NAS units or how they present to the software that is used in these devices.
  • Always-on reliability. The typical network-attached storage system is expected to be on all the time, ready to serve data when needed and is often seen as being “Data Central” for the home or business network. Here, these hard disks are expected to be spinning. It includes the provision of NASAware firmware on the hard disks to deal with situations like power loss or power disruption that can affect system reliability.
  • RAID-friendly design. WD have factored in vibration-control measures in order to cope with the typical multi-bay RAID-capable NAS. This is because with many hard disks in close physical proximity to each other, there is increased vibration when the NAS is moving data to multiple disks at the same time such as “mirroring” data across multiple disks. The RED series implement software or hardware measures to counteract the effects of continued vibration that occurs in these setups.
    As well this design also is supported with hard-disk firmware that can assure proper error recovery in the many-disk RAID arrays used in these devices thus avoiding the risk of underperforming RAID setups.
  • Power flexibility and efficiency. The WD RED series of NAS hard drives are optimized for varying power conditions that can be thrown at them, such as when a multi-bay NAS is being started or for different NAS units that have different power-supply characteristics. This also includes being designed for power efficiency in an always-on environment, even though most recent desktop NAS units implement on-demand “spin-up / spin-down” measures to save energy.
WD MyCloud EX4, WD MyCloud EX2, WD Red 6Tb hard disk

WD MyCloud EX Series NAS units able to benefit from the 6Tb WD Red

The newly-released 5Tb and 6Tb capacities appeal to all NAS designs in a lot of ways. For example, you could set up a 6Tb single-disk NAS or use two of the 6Tb hard disks in a dual-disk NAS configured for RAID 1 to have a fail-safe 6Tb data volume that can also handle higher data throughputs. You could even run up to 24Tb in a four-bay NAS or 30Tb in a five-bay NAS, including implementing various RAID data-replication setups for fail-safe or high-throughput operation.

Even the way the hard drives are designed have an efficiency and density advantage over the competition. For example, the 6Tb drives maintain 5 platters with 1.2Tb per platter rather than 6 platters with 1Tb per platter. This means that there isn’t much mechanical effort needed on the spindle motor to spin up the disk. As well, the drive housing can fit in to most NAS drive bays without being unnecessarily stout. They also maintain a 64Mb local hardware cache for improved operation efficiency.

The new WD Red Pro lineup

This lineup of NAS hard disks is optimized for the rack-mount large-business-class NAS system and is built towards higher performance and reliability in these many-bay systems. These would be able to handle a greater workload, which would be representative of a larger high-traffic business. Some people have put forward questions about using one of these hard disks in a small desktop NAS but it wasn’t found to be worth it for the kind of use that this class of NAS would typically be put to. But on the other hand, I would see them as being of use with the smaller units that serve branch-based “on-ramp” applications for enterprise data infrastructures.

Using the WD Red or the WD Purple disks for video-surveillance applications

QNAP TS-EC880U-RP pizza box NAS with WD Red Pro hard disk

QNAP TS-EC880U-RP business-class “pizza box” NAS that works with the WD Red Pro hard disk

Some questions were raised about implementing WD Purple hard disks in a regular NAS that was running one of the video-surveillance apps offered by the vendor as part of their application platform. The WD presenters recommended that the WD Purple disks go in dedicated DVR equipment that is optimized for the task rather than NAS units running these platform apps. Instead, they recommended the use of WD Red disks in these “NAS+software” setups, more likely because the NAS may be tasked to do other network-storage activities like being “Data Central”.

Can my NAS handle 6-Terabyte disks

A situation that one can easily run into with any computing equipment is that the equipment’s operating system or firmware can impose an arbitrary limit on the size of storage media. Here, if you supply storage media that is greater than this maximum allowed in this software, the software could throw up errors or simply fail because it can’t address all of the storage media’s useable capacity. This problem shows up when storage-media manufacturers release higher-capacity media after the software was “set in stone”.

For example, the older versions of MS-DOS and some other desktop operating systems couldn’t handle large capacity hard disks as a single logical volume. So computer users had to partition larger-capacity hard disks in to multiple logical volumes in order to make use of this space. As well, I had used an older digital camera that worked with SmartMemory cards and couldn’t use newer higher capacities of these cards. Here, I had to look around for cards of a particular capacity to keep as “spare film” for the camera.

Most of the NAS platforms can support this capacity out of the box or may require you to wait on an interim update for the new capacities to be supported. WD have provided a compatibility list which allows you to find what of the WD Red range can be supported by your NAS box. This includes issues like maximum capacities that these systems have. It is also worth checking on the vendor’s Web site for newer or impending software updates.

Conclusion

If you are thinking of buying an enclosure-only NAS or “upsizing” your existing NAS, you can head towards the newer 5Tb or 6Tb disks that WD offers for increased capacity. As well, your heavy-duty many-bay business-grade NAS can be treated to the WD Red Pro disks that are appropriate to its usage nature and performance level.

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A network-attached storage could be the next PVR

Those of us who love particular TV shows are enamoured by the personal-video-recorder. They are a follow-on from the video cassette recorder as a tool for recording these shows for later viewing because they use a hard disk rather than tape to hold these shows.

What is the typical PVR nowadays

The TiVo set-top PVR - what we think of this class of device

The TiVo set-top PVR – what we think of this class of device

When we think of a PVR, we typically think of TiVo or a cable-company-supplied device. These are set-top devices with an integrated hard disk and 2 to 4 TV tuners that are connected to a TV antenna (aerial), a satellite-TV dish or cable-TV infrastructure. With these devices, you pick shows to record from an electronic-programme-guide on the TV screen. with the ability to even search for particular shows. Some models even implement a cloud-based Web page for programming shows, operate a recommendation engine and the devices worth their salt can keep recording each episode of a TV serial.

The NAS as a PVR

Synology DiskStation DS415play NAS with media transcoding - Press image courtesy of Synology

Synology DiskStation – one of an increasing number of NAS devices that can become a PVR

A trend that is starting to appear is to equip a network-attached storage server as a PVR, which Synology and a few others are doing as part of their app ecosystem for their NAS devices.

Here, you connect a USB TV-tuner module to the NAS or point it to a broadcast-LAN tuner device of the HDHomeRun ilk to pick up the TV broadcasts. Similarly the NAS could receive streamed or downloaded content from one or more IPTV services without the need for TV-tuner modules. You would typically program the shows using a Web-based interface or mobile / smart-TV app and play these through your TV, computer or mobile device using either DLNA technology or, again, the same mobile / smart-TV app.

These offer a sense of flexibility because you could add on extra tuner devices to “beat the ratings period” where many good shows are being run at once. As well, you have the high-capacity hard disk for recording your shows so there is less of a need to delete shows you have or haven’t watched.

Personally, I would see these devices augmenting a set-top PVR device or work in lieu of one. But there has to be a way to provide a native set-based experience for programming recordings or viewing them, something I would see as being facilitated if UPnP AV 4 which offers remote scheduling, or RVU which offers a “set-based” user interface for other devices is implemented,

Other capabilities that can be opened up include:

  • record all prime-time news bulletins from many channels to allow you to examine how different channels treat particular stories
  • record “like” shows as part of a recommendation engine, including to record previously-curated “critic’s lists” of TV content or recording all shows with particular attributes without tying up a primary PVR’s tuner and disk resources

Similarly, these devices could work well in this respect when the goal is to serve multiple users who want to view the recorded content on different TVs or mobile devices. It could also allow for the design of “lightweight” set-top PVR devices that send broadcast content to a NAS and play content from that NAS rather than recording to a local hard disk. These would have a solid-state storage of a low capacity along with a single tuner for “slip-viewing” content for example or even use a low-capacity hard disk and a tuner to capture content to be stored on a NAS.

Once the concept is well-executed, a high-capacity multiple-disk network-attached storage device could end up serving as a personal video recorder for a household or business.

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Synology now premieres their NAS with hardware transcoding

Article

Synology announces DiskStation DS415play, shipping August | CNet

From the horse’s mouth

Synology

DiskStation DS415play NAS

Product Page

Press Release

My Comments

Synology DiskStation DS415play NAS with media transcoding - Press image courtesy of SynologyI have previously covered Synology’s direction with including hardware media transcoding in consuner-grade network-attached-storage units on this Website when they were mooting this feature as part of their product lineup for this device class. This will take the pressure off the device’s CPU when it comes to optimising multimedia content for the destination device’s capabilities, thus opening up the reality of enjoying high-resolution video files or high-grade audio files in a “best-case” manner on your home network.

This feature has come forth in the form of the DiskStation DS415Play 4-bay multimedia NAS which also has Intel Atom dual-core horsepower and 1Gb RAM. The hardware transcoding can, for example work “best case” to 1080p on-the-fly, while the NAS can work as a network DVR for TV broadcasts once you use a USB digital-TV tuner module with it. Even the DLNA-certified media server software supports the ability to use the hardware transcoding for use with high-grade video and audio files. The only question about this is how well does the DLNA media server handle already-created playlists or the metadata associated with the audio, photo or video files.

The 4-bay design supports up to the RAID-5 disk arrangement and includes the ability to upsize these RAID-5 disk arrangements whether through adding extra hard disks to the unit or upsizing already-installed hard disks. This may be a chance for this unit to attain a long usage life by allowing you to increase its capacity to suit new needs.

Synology is laying down the gauntlet for what can be part of a high-end multimedia storage device for your home network, and who knows who will answer them when it comes to the same feature set for these devices.

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Buffalo raises the bar for wireless NAS devices with the MiniStation Air 2

Article

La MiniStation Air 2 sans fil de Buffalo | Ere Numerique (France – French language / Langue Française)

From the horse’s mouth

Buffalo Europe

Product Page (MiniStation Air 2 – HDW-PDU3)

My Comments

Buffalo is raising the bar when it comes to the wireless network-attached storage device. These devices typically have a capacity of up to 128 Gigabytes due to their implementation of a solid-state drive and observed limitations such as working either as direct-attached storage for a regular computer or their own Wi-Fi network for mobile devices that ran an app supplied by their manufacturer.

How are Buffalo raising the bar here? They are offering two variants of this NAS – one with a 500Gb hard disk and another with a 1 Terabyte hard disk. It works to the Wi-Fi 802.11g/n standards including support for dual-stream (theoretical) 300Mbps bandwidth. Like most devices in its class, it can stand between another Wi-Fi segment like your home network or hotel-supplied Wi-Fi Internet service and effectively bridge the other network’s services to the network it provides.

On the other hand, it can be connected to a regular computer as an external hard disk using the USB 3.0 connection which most newer computers have at least one of. When you use it wirelessly, you will need to use Buffalo-supplied apps to shift files between the MiniStation AIr 2 and your mobile devices, and I am not sure whether this implements SMB/CIFS to transfer files between a regular computer running Windows, Mac OS X or Linux and this device via its Wi-Fi network. But, from what I have read, it does use DLNA to stream multimedia files to client devices like Internet radios.

Let’s not forget that it can house half a day’s worth of power on its own battery and Buffalo reckoned that it could charge two smartphones.

Personally, I see this raising the stakes with storage capacity, wireless bandwidth and battery runtime along with the ability to implement DLNA media serving. If Buffalo could take steps to have devices of the MiniStation Air 2 able to work with a “master” network like your home network for “picking up” content and other files without having to be tethered to a regular computer, it could become a useful device to take network-hosted content on the road. The capacity that this unit offers is also a sign of things to come for mobile computing.

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QNAP launches a fanless 4-bay rugged-use NAS for industrial, mobile and security applications

Articles

QNAP Launches the Rugged & Fanless NAS IS-400 Pro for Industrial and Surveillance Applications | Hardware Heaven

QNAP ships ruggedized IS-400 Pro Turbo NAS for industrial environments | Electronista

From the horse’s mouth

QNAP

Press Release

IS-400 Pro NAS Product Page

My Comments

QNAP have released their first network-attached-storage appliance that is specifically designed for rugged environments like factories or warehouses. But this unit has a certain appeal for the direction towards the up-and-coming in-vehicle network trend.

The IS-400 Pro four-bay NAS is designed as a fanless unit that makes use of its steel housing as a heatsink for its components. This made me think of the unit looking like one of those aftermarket car-stereo amplifiers that young males install in their cars to make their car stereo sound louder and boomier to impress their mates. As well, the way the components are mounted inside the unit to resist vibration and impact, making it suitable for in-vehicle use like those amplifiers. Even the provision of a secondary power connection block allows for failover power-supply setups or in-vehicle setups where ignition-switch following is important.

It can house up to 4 of the 2.5” hard-disk or solid-state drives used in portable computing applications, running them in varying RAID or JBOD configurations and works under the QTS 4.1 operating environment. This ties in with a plethora of apps that make it work well as a server for your home or business needs, whether as a network video-surveillance server, backing up computer data, being a file or data server or even working as a mobile DLNA media server.

Personally, I could see the QNAP IS-400 Pro validating the concept of a NAS design that is pitched for industrial, mobile and similar installations. Here, it would play its part with the trend where your vehicle or boat will have its own small network that is effectively the extension of your home or small-business network for both work and pleasure.

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