Category: Network-attached storage

Hardware video transcoding to be a feature for NAS units

Article

Synology adds hardware video transcoding and more to consumer NAS | CNet

My Comments

Netgear ReadyNAS

NAS units to be able to transcode on the fly for the media network

Most consumer and small-business network-attached storage units can serve as a DLNA-compliant network media server for whatever folders you nominate on them. Typically this allows you to have access to whatever multimedia you store on them without you needing to run a desktop or laptop computer to gain access to that media from your smart TV, Blu-Ray player or stereo system.

But not all client devices can handle all the media formats and types that exist on the scene. For example, some of them may not handle QuickTime or Motion JPEG formats that some digital cameras or smartphones tender as formats for their video files. In some cases, not all TVs or video players could handle Full HD video content or some would handle this while struggling. As well, most older and cheaper network-capable audio devices wouldn’t be able to handle 24-bit 96khz audio files which are being considered de rigueur for high-quality high-resolution audio content.

It could be feasible to have a DLNA media server integrated in a NAS perform media-file transcoding to suit the client devices. But this would tax the NAS device’s processor ability when it comes to performance and responsiveness.

What Synology have done is to integrate in to the DS415Play NAS the ability to transcode media files using hardware transcoding. This means that a separate hardware system handles the job of transcoding the media content like what happens in a multimedia-capable computer where the graphics chipset performs any transcoding or rendering for video-editor software running on that computer.

This feature could become important with the availability of “download-to-own” file-based video or high-resolution audio and be seen as part of the feature set for premium-level NAS units. This could then reduce any consumer worries about home AV equipment not supporting particular advanced video formats or the inability to benefit from a “high-resolution” audio album on equipment you use for casual listening like that Internet radio.

It could also encourage the availability of “master-grade” audio and video content in file-based formats for the home network or the ability to gain access to a wider competitive shopfront for file-based image, audio and video content As well NAS units that support content aggregation could also handle transcoding for other NAS units that don’t have this feature which could come in to place in a multi-NAS household.

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Product Review–WD Sentinel DS5100 Windows Server NAS

An idea that has come to me for small businesses that have a handful of staff is the concept of a small server that isn’t too overpowered for their needs but allows them to “grow up”.  What I mean by that is that  a small business that runs with a few regular desktop or laptop computers but without a server may not be seen by some as being a “grown-up” business as far as their IT needs are concerned. This may be due to absence of flexibility in these setups or not being able to cope with larger volumes of business due to the smaller size of these setups.

Here I am reviewing the Western Digital Sentinel DS5100 NAS which is a four-disk NAS that runs on the Essentials version of the Windows Server 2012 operating system rather than a shoehorned version of Linux which most NAS units run on. This software is licensed and optimised for 25 users and 50 computers.

The Sentinel DS6100 series comes with increased capacity and two power supplies which you can set up for increased power-supply redundancy and reliability. It also runs with two 2.5” boot drives rather than one boot drive also for increased reliability.

Price

WD Sentinel DS5100

4Tb raw AUD$3799
8Tb raw AUD$4499

WD Sentinel DS6100

8Tb raw AUD$4999
12Tb raw AUD$5799
16Tb raw AUD$6499

Western Digital Sentinel DS5100 Windows Server NAS

Specifications

Class Small-business network attached storage
Operating System Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials
Storage
Capacity 8Gb raw (no RAID in place)
Disks 4 x user-replaceable SATA 3.5” disks
Connection
Network Connection 2 x Gigabit Ethernet
USB Device Connection 4 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0
Console video connection VGA
Device Discovery
UPnP No – install separate software
Bonjour No – install separate iTunes software
UPnP Internet Gateway Control No
Features And Protocols
SMB/CIFS Yes – Windows Server
Media Server No
Remote Access VPN endpoint
Remote NAS Sync Windows Server devices

The Network-Attached Storage System itself

WD Sentinel DS 5100 Windows Server NAS alongside bread

Small size alongside a loaf of bread

This is a 4-disk NAS that runs with Intel Xeon E3-1220L horsepower but is in a cabinet half the size of a breadbox. It is well-built and hasn’t shown any symptoms of excessive vibration or noise, although the large fan does spin up hard during the initial boot-up phase. Even transferring data to a parity-arranged RAID setup where two or more disks would be spun up meant that the system was relatively quiet.

This is because the power supply is a laptop-style “lump” that is outside the NAS’s case rather than physically integrated in the unit. This allows for quieter operation and the smaller size that this unit has.

The WD Sentinel DS Series of NAS units – effectively a “business in a box”

Setup and use

WD Sentinel DS5100 Windows Server NAS Connections - 2 Gigabit Ethernet, 4 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, VGA, power

Connections – 2 Gigabit Ethernet, 4 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, VGA, power

The setup routine requires that you to use a dedicated keyboard, monitor with VGA connection and mouse as a “console” to get Windows Server 2012 Essentials going on the WD Sentinel. After that, you have to go to the “//servername/connect” URL to download connection software for your operating system so you can manage the WD Sentinel from your computer.

The Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials software can support up to 25 users on 50 machines initially out-of-the-box but there is the ability for the small business to upgrade to Windows Server 2012 Standard. The fact that this box runs on Windows Server means that it could run as a server for a variety of business-grade software applications such as being part of a “point-of-sale” system.

The throughput was pretty good enough for most light-duty file-by-file work, being able to accept 220Gb over two hours. This could satisfy most small-business data requirements especially at the early stages.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

WD Sentinel DS5100 Windows Server NAS front

Access door to hard drives

For a person who isn’t used to Windows Server, it may appear to be very daunting to do tasks like setting up the data volumes. WD could improve this with a wizard that simplifies and directs setup towards a RAID-5 setup. Similarly, the Windows Server Essentials misses out on the ability to run the Exchange Server and the main file / Web / application server function in one box which may put a limit on its use as the dream “business in a box” server.

Microsoft could pitch a lightweight variant of Exchange Server for use on Windows Server Essentials setups in order to cater for on-premises setups with these “business-in-a-box” servers and could work towards simplifying Windows Server Essentials setup for the businesses who don’t have ready access to IT staff. As well, small business needs to be aware of line-of-business software that works with Windows Server Essentials in an easy-to-manage manner and can run on these servers.

This class of server could be a chance for WD, Seagate and others, along with Microsoft to achieve the goal of the small “business-in-a-box” server that is highly capable. For example, more-powerful highly-compact “breadbox” servers could appear, with some being able to run from a vehicle’s or boat’s battery leading towards the goal of server-assisted big-time computing for businesses that work out of a vehicle or boat.

As well, a computer dealer could offer a “get-you-going” pack with one of these servers along with a UPS at a price that could please small business so they can have that “foot-in-the-door” with server-based computing.

Conclusion

Personally, I would pitch the WD Sentinell DS5100 or DS6100 for one of many applications. For example, a person who is teaching or learning Windows Server skills could use this box rather than a surplus desktop “tower” as part of this activity. Similarly, this could be set up as an entry-level “business in a box” server for a small shop moving from the cash register or single-terminal POS setup to a more flexible setup.

Similarly, this box, with Windows Server’s BranchCache feature could work well with small businesses who are running from a few different locations or want to establish a transportable location like the so-called “pop-up” branch. Here, it means that the unit could serve as a “local cache” server for these remote or transportable locations thus mitigating poor-quality or expensive Internet backlinks.

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Could Seagate’s Windows Server NAS be a dream come true for small business?

Article

Seagate Adds Windows Server NAS | SmallNetBuilder

From the horse’s mouth

Seagate

Product Page

My Comments

Seagate have just lately launched a four-bay business grade network-attached storage device that runs Windows Server.

This 4-bay business NAS has the expectations of a NAS of its class including being driven by Intel Atom horsepower and also has a USM removeable-disk slot for backup storage. It runs Windows Storage Server 2012 Release 2 and supports the Active Directory functionality so valued in a Windows-based enterprise or medium business.

One could see it work well as a branch server for a multi-site business or as a file server for small business – think of that small suburban medical clinic for example. But a question that I would raise about the Seagate Business Storage Windows Server NAS is whether it could be loaded with the server component of a client-server line-of-business application? This question could be raised by small businesses who want to use a sophisticated point-of-sale, property-management or patient-records application with a few client PCs as they increase their capacity.

Who knows what this kind of machine could offer as the small business server for the small business and whether others will offer Windows Server systems that match this for price and size for that small office.

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Using FreeFileSync to sync media files out to your NAS

You use a regular Windows or Macintosh computer to curate your pictures, music and video files and store these files on your computer’s hard disk. Then you buy a high-capacity network-attached storage device to make these files available on your home network at all times and also as a backup or “offload” measure.

Normally this will require you to use Windows Explorer or Macintosh Finder to copy the files out to the NAS every time you synchronise them out to your NAS. This can be annoying especially if you have made changes to a few of the files or added a handful of files to the collection such as the latest downloaded images or a CD “rip”. Here, you have to answer a file-owerwrite prompt that the operating system puts up every time you write over an existing file as part of a copy process and this can be awkward if you did something like modify your files’ metadata or edited a photo, You could select the “Yes to all” prompts but this runs a slow copy process which transfers redundant data or work through each folder and file manually and find that you hadn’t reflected all the changes you had to reflect..

There is a free open-source application called “FreeFileSync” which automates the process of keeping your files that exist on two locations in sync.  This is available for Windows, Macintosh OS X and Linux and can work with locally-mounted drives or SMB network-shared folders.

Here, you can set up a “there-and-then” sync job or create a sync job affecting certain files and folders on both the source and destination in a particular way. A sync job that you save can affect multiple pairs of files and folders thus avoiding the need to create one job for each folder pair.

Prerequisites

FreeFileSync must be downloaded and installed on your computer

You download FreeFileSync from FOSSHub or Download.CNET.COM and install it as you would for downloaded software for your operating system.

Identify on your computer where your media manager software is storing your music, photos and videos.

Media libraries in Windows 8.1

Media libraries in Windows 8.1

In iTunes, this is found under the “Advanced” tab in the Preferences menu. Windows Media Player and Windows Live Photo Gallery use the Pictures and Music or “My Pictures” and “My Music” libraries created by Windows. Other media-management tools may use a particular folder that you set in their options or preferences window as the place for their media library.

CD rip location in Windows Media Player

CD rip location in Windows Media Player

Most audio-based media management tools like iTunes and Windows Media Player typically use the library as their import folder for when you “rip” a CD or purchase music through their online store whereas a lot of photo and video tools may have you create a separate import folder away from your library for images and video you import from your camera or scanner. This then allows you toe edit the images and video before adding it to your library.

Identify and make available the “media” folders that you are using to store your media on your NAS.

A NAS that uses a DLNA media server and an iTunes media server typically references a folder tree like “Media”, “Shared Media”, “Shared Music” or something similar. These are typically at the “Public” SMB mount point and are accessible using SMB/CIFS as well as these media servers.

If your NAS uses one shared media folder, create a sub-folder for the music files, another for the images and home video and another for other video like “download-to-own” content.

Create a media sync job

Setting up FreeFileSync for media syncing

Setting up FreeFileSync for media syncing

These actions are for a Windows computer and most NAS units

  1. Open FreeFileSync
  2. Click ProgramNew
  3. For each root folder representing your media collection kinds,
    a) Drag the root folder representing the media type on your computer to the left file list pane
    b) Drag the destination media folder for the media type on your NAS to the right file-list pane
    c) Click the + symbol to add extra media type pairs to your sync list.
  4. Click the gear icon next to the Synchronize button to determine the kind of synchronisation to take place
    In this case, you will have to select the “Update” option for this job. This effectively contributes new and modified files and folders that exist on the computer to the NAS without deleting any files that have been removed from the computer’s media folder. This is important if you just keep your files on your regular computer just to curate them before adding them to your media collection, or you “shift” older files to your high-capacity NAS to create space for newer files.
  5. Click on the “Update” button to select this option.
  6. Click on the “Save As” option to save this sync job as a file. Give it a name like “MediaSync” or “MediaNAS” to reflect the goal of it syncing your media to the NAS.

Manually running this sync job

Here, you open FreeFileSync, select the name of the “media sync” job and click “Synchronize” to start the sync process.

When to run this

Run the :FreeFileSync” job whenever you have done significant work on your media library like importing new media or editing existing media including the metadata. This can also be done as part of a backup routine before you start off the main data backup on your PC.

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Feature Article-DLNA Media Network Series: Setting up a PC-Less Network AV setup

Updated: 15 October 2013

Why set up a PC-less networked AV setup

DLNA Media Network with NAS A PC-less networked AV setup doesn’t need a particular computer to be present and running to provide AV media to DLNA client devices.

The media is provisioned by a box that is designed for providing AV media to client devices 24/7. This avoids situations where the media is not available due to the PC crashing or being infested with malware; both events that can be very common occurrences with most home computers. There is no need to worry about a PC which is being used for playing games or doing other system-intensive activities limiting media availability. Similarly, these setups use less energy than a PC working as a media server.

This setup also suits today’s mobile computing environment where laptop computers, smartpbones and tablets are more likely to be moved from place to place. It also suits environments like holiday houses where there is no real use in keeping a desktop computer on the premises but there is the desire to have occasional Internet access at such locations.

As well, this kind of setup appeals to computer-shy people who may want to benefit from digitally-hosted media. This is because there is no need to have a noisy ugly computer in the house for this kind of activity to occur.

Another bonus is that when you add more media client devices to the network, a dedicated media server can handle the increased demand more capably. Contrast this with an average desktop or laptop PC where the odds of failing when serving more devices can increase rapidly.

What kinds of PC-less media server exist?

Dedicated DLNA media server (Philips Streamium WACS-7000, Sony GigaJuke  NAS-S55HDE, etc)

This unit is typically in the form of a hi-fi system or component that is part of such a system. It has a single hard disk that is primarily for storing media, typically music files and have a network interface, either in the Ethernet or 802.11g wireless form.

Such units will have a built-in CD drive and can “rip” audio tracks from CDs loaded in that drive. They will have access to a metadata service like Gracenote so that the tracks are properly indexed by song title, artist (both album and contributing), genre and album title. As well, they could record audio to the hard drive from a device connected to the server’s line-level input or, where applicable, from a built-in radio tuner. This is in a similar manner to recording music to tapes from the radio using that good old cassette deck.

A lot of these systems expose features and functions that only work best with selected client equipment sold by the server’s manufacturer. They may have limitations concerning transferring audio files to and from the unit’s hard disk, which may limit backup or secondary-storage opportunities. Usually they require a computer to run a special utility in order to transfer music files to or from the unit.

Similarly, it is becoming a trend for some PVR-capable set-top boxes to work as a dedicated DLNA media server for the TV shows that are recorded by these devices. This is a trend being pushed forth by the FCC in America to allow consumers to use their smart TVs to pull up live or recorded video content offered by their pay-TV providers.

Standalone NAS (network-attached storage) box

WD MyCloud consumer network-attached storage

WD’s latest Personal Cloud NAS which works as a DLNA server

These devices are simply a dedicated file-storage device that is connected to the home network and handles files according to standard network-based file-handling protocols. They often provide backup file storage and secondary file storage for computers on the network as well as media-server functionality.  Some users may use the hard disks in these units as a “holding bay” for their computer’s hard-disk contents while they are upsizing that computer’s hard disk.

These boxes will typically come either as a single-disk unit which is the size of a book or as a multi-disk unit that is typically the size of a toaster or breadmaker. These units  either uses the hard disks as a huge storage volume or sets aside some of the disks as a “shadow store” for the data should any of the disks fail. This latter technique, which also provides higher data throughput is known as RAID which stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks.

They are available as a unit fitted out with the necessary hard disks to the capacity you pay for or as an enclosure where you install hard disks that you buy separately. Earlier versions of these enclosures required the user to mess around with a screwdriver and end up losing screws in the assembly process, but the newer units just require the user to slide in or “clip in” the hard disks.

This class of device includes “headless” small-scale server platforms like Windows Home Server and some Linux distributions which can be expanded by the user to perform different functions. They may include this kind of software being loaded on an otherwise-redundant PC that is being repurposed as a small-form file server.

Most NAS units on the market offer a “personal cloud” or “remote access” function which works with a server that provides private log-in and access to the data on the NAS from a mobile device used out in the field. Some implementations may also allow remote syncing of content data between two NAS units at different locations.

This device will be the way to go eventually because of its ability to provide a flexible media-sharing solution for most small networks. It is infact part of a personal “shortlist” of devices that I would consider essential for a home network to be equipped with.

“Ripping” NAS units

RipNAS "ripping" NAS with built-in optical drive - RipNAS press image

RipNAS “ripping” NAS with built-in optical drive

There are a class of NAS boxes that are just like a regular NAS box, having the same number of hard disks as these devices and having the same capacity and functionality as these boxes. But these units, such as the ZoneRipper Max, RipNAS and the Naim UnitiServe have a built-in optical disk drive and software which “rips” CDs loaded in to the unit’s optical drive, in a similar manner to a dedicated DLNA music server. They will use a music metadata service like Gracenote to index the tracks that are ripped from the CDs loaded in the unit’s optical drive. These units would be considered as a “bridge” between the dedicated DLNA music server and a general-purpose NAS box.

USB hard disk connected to a DLNA-compliant USB file server

Another common method is to use a USB network file server device that is connected to a USB external hard disk. The device can typically be part of another network device like a lot of the newer high-end routers including the Freebox Révolution and its peers offered in France, or just become a standalone box. These units, again, handle files according to the standard network-based file-transfer protocols.

They work best with one self-powered USB hard disk because most of these server devices usually run on a low-output power supply that typically powers the electronics within. Most of these units also don’t have the logic to properly handle a USB hub or multiple USB hard disks. If you are using a small hard disk that doesn’t have its own power supply, you may need to connect it via a self-powered USB hub. Similarly, you may find that using a self-powered USB hub can assure reliable service with any of the USB file servers that can support USB hubs,

These setups are useful for a temporary media-sharing arrangement where you are providing media to one or two devices or as an auxiliary media server for other media that isn’t always used.

Storing your media on these devices

If you use a dedicated NAS unit without a built-in optical drive, you will need to make sure that you have SMB (Windows, MacOS X, Linux) or NFS (Linux) read/write access to the media share on that NAS unit. As well, make sure that there is a desktop shortcut, mapped drive letter or other mount point to that share on your computer(s) that you are preparing the media on.

Prepare your media as you normally would, with it ending up in your computer’s media directories. This includes providing the appropriate metadata to describe the content being offered. Then copy the media directories to the NAS media share using the standard practices that you use for copying files and directories. You may need to set up a “sync” routine to automatically copy new media to the media share so you can be sure that the new media is available on the network.

For that matter, I am using the open-source “FreeFileSync” program for this purpose and have a sync routine set up to contribute additions and modifications to my media folders to my WD My Book World Edition NAS.

Avoid the temptation to “rip” a CD directly to the network share because there is the increased likelihood of errors and slow performance due to multiple points of failure existing between the CD and the NAS’s hard disk, being the optical drive, the ripping and encoding processes and the network transfer process. This is more so with cheaper and older NAS devices as well as USB file-server setups that may be unreliable.

If you use Dropbox, Box.com, SkyDrive or similar services to share media with others or transfer media between computers, it is a good practice to copy the media that is available through the “cloud” storage service to a folder on your NAS used by its DLNA media server. This then allows you to enjoy the media from that service on your DLNA-capable equipment.

Increasing and evolving the DLNA networked media system

One media Server, work towards a NAS unit

This is more analogous to a business’s file server where the IT department want to make sure that all company data is seen as one collection to back up and manage and is at one location. This may appeal to you if you want to have only one primary storage point for your media.

The only limitation about this is that if you need to “do anything” with the NAS unit like upsize it or replace a failed hard disk, you will have to have the media library out of action.

Two or more Media Servers serving different content

This is a situation that may come about as you start to outgrow your existing NAS’s capacity as I have written about when I received a new higher-capacity NAS due to the fact that my existing unit had nearly reached capacity. Here, I was talking about where you keep an existing NAS working as another server alongside your newly-acquired unit.

You may want to have the media on two or more media servers rather than one media server. This may appeal to a household which has young adults or adolescent children living in it. In this situation, they may want to keep their media on an NAS that they have responsibility for and can take with them when they move on. This avoids you having your media server being “clogged up” with their media which you will less likely want to touch whether they are with you or when they have left your place.

Similarly, you may have media to do with your personal activity as well as media to do with your business or community-engagement activity. Here, you can run a separate media server which houses your business media and this one can be managed under business standards and be financially underwritten by your business. This includes Web developers who run a NAS box as a “Web-page workbench” and want to view primary pictures for their Web page on a DLNA media client attached to the big-screen TV.

Here, you create the different media servers but you make sure they have different names so that your DLNA client devices can differentiate between the server devices. You may use different types of server such as a USB hard disk connected to a DLNA-capable USB file server for a small project or a business-class NAS unit for your business data.

An increasing number of NAS devices pitched at the domestic market are starting to support the ability to aggregate multiple DLNA media libraries in to one large media library. This allows the user to point their media client device at one reference point for all the media that exists on the one home network.

Media Servers in different geographical locations

There may be the possibility of running another DLNA-based media network in another geographic location like a business premises or another house.

The main issue about this is keeping both locations in sync with the desired content. You may have to use an Internet-based sync utility which is supported by your media server to synchronise content between locations.

On the other hand, you could set up an IP-based NAS-NAS backup set for incremental or differential (only files that are new or have changed) backup, but the backup jobs could still be large if any metadata is changed. This must be a file-by-file backup where each file on the destination NAS is its own copy of the source file rather than a “file-of-files” that most backup software works with.

You would have to make sure that both NAS units are accessible from the Internet. This may involve establishment of a “dynamic DNS” setup through the use of “DynDNS” or similar utilities; or having each location have a fixed IP address. Then there is the issue of setting up a port-forwarding rule in your router, which may be easy if your NAS units implements UPnP-based port forwarding and you are using a UPnP-compliant router in each location. On the other hand, you may have to visit the router’s Web page to set up the port-forward rules.

This situation hasn’t been made easy because typically the concept of using multiple NAS boxes for applications like multi-location file storage hasn’t been defined as a key application. Similarly NAS manufacturers prefer users to set up ecosystems based around their devices especially certain device ranges.

Conclusion

Once you have moved towards the PC-less DLNA-based media network, you will thank yourself that you have headed down that path. You won’t need to keep a noisy computer on all the time just to enjoy your music over the network.

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Western Digital’s latest NAS more as a personal cloud storage

WD MyCloud consumer network-attached storage - press image courtesy of Western DigitalArticles

WD Tightens Focus On Home Personal Clouds | SmallNetBuilder.com

WD Asks: Why Are You Paying Dropbox for Cloud Storage? | Mashable.com

WD announces My Cloud, an external drive that connects to your home network for $150 (video) | Engadget

WD embraces C word* and hews HDD handles from NAS kit | The Register

From the horse’s mouth

Western Digital

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

Western Digital have issued new iterations of their consumer network-attached-storage drives but have placed heavy focus on them being the heart of a “personal cloud”. Here, they branded this lineup of 2Gb, 3Gb and 4Gb book-sized NAS units as “MyCloud” and have supplied refreshed desktop and mobile companion apps as “MyCloud” apps.

They were pitching these drives more or less as part of a multi-tier storage system for personal or home data i.e. alongside your device’s built-in or directly-attached storage and any storage space you rent or have for free with a service like Dropbox. I had written about this concept in a previous article when WD were pitching storage management software that worked alongside a recent-issue NAS as well as online storage services.

The software will work alongside Google Drive, SkyDrive and Dropbox online storage services and work the NAS as an “overflow” for these services. As well there is a semblance of data aggregation functionality in the software. The problem with the iOS version for this software at the moment is that if you want to offload photos from your device’s Camera Roll to the MyCloud resources, you have to do this manually – there isn’t yet an automatic backup or file sync for these devices.

As for network-local functionality, this unit ticks the boxes for SMB/CIFs file transfer and DLNA and iTunes media serving. The DLNA function has even been improved with TwonkyServer 7 being supplied as standard. This includes the ability to use the DLNA specification to upload content like digital images to the NAS, which comes in handy with DLNA-capable Wi-Fi digital cameras and advanced smartphone apps.

An issue worth raising with these so-called “personal clouds” is the ability to maintain multiple MAS devices in a “personal cloud”. This encompasses situations where you purchase a new NAS because you outgrew the existing NAS and you move some data to the new NAS, or you have another consumer or small-business NAS in another location and want to have a copy of some or all of the files in the other location either as a safeguard or for quick access. There could be support in the WD MyCloud platform for these scenarios especially as those of us who make use of these devices end up filling them with data.

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Pioneer’s Wi-Fi-linked optical drive for Ultrabooks

Article

A Wireless Blu-ray Drive For Those With Ultra-thin Laptops

My Comments

Those of you who own or lust after a computer like an HP x2 detachable-keyboard tablet, a Sony VAIO Duo 11 or an HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook may find that these computers miss the optical drive. This will limit their usefulness when it comes to enjoying CDs, DVDs or Blu-Rays or sharing data on cost-effective optical discs.

This situation is typically rectified through the use of a USB-connected optical drive of which there is an increasing number. But Pioneer have taken this further with a Blu-Ray drive that links to these computers via a docking station that has an integrated WI-Fi access point. This is similar to the many “mobile NAS” devices that are appearing on the market such as the Kingston Wi-Drive that I previously reviewed. It is part of a system that Pioneer is proposing with the docking station also being able to support an external hard disk this being like these mobile NAS devices.

A question that can be raised about this devices is whether it is worth paying the extra premium for a Wi-Fi-linked device rather than buying a USB optical drive. If you are using a regular clamshell-style ultraportable or just using this drive to “rip” content from optical discs to the computer’s local storage such as “loading up” that Sony VAIO Tap 20 with music from those new CDs you bought, or “burn” files to optical discs like you would do when you using the Sony VAIO Pro 13 to prepare a “proofs” disc to give to your client after the photo shoot, this unit may not be for you.

But if you do things like play CDs through the HP Envy x2’s Beats-tuned sound system or lounge on your bed while watching that Blu-Ray copy of your favourite movie on your Microsoft Surface Pro, this device would earn its keep.

What I am starting to see more are manufacturers who come up to the plate and offer devices to fill the gaps in the marketplace. This kind of situation avoids the risk of a product class reaching “peak” condition where products of that class lose their excitement.

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Sony releases the first mobile NAS with DLNA capability

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Sony

Sony – Simple, secure content sharing on the move: the evolved portable wireless server from Sony that’s made for your mobile : : News : Sony Europe Press Centre

My Comments

Sony WG-C20 mobile NAS - press image courtesy of SonyOver the last few years, I have come across many different mobile network-attached-storage devices which serve content to smartphones and tablets while on the go by creating their own wireless network. If you use these devices, you typically have to use a Web form to download the content to a regular computer and may find it hard to upload the content from a regular computer using the Web form.

Of course, when you use these devices with smartphones or tablets based on common mobile operating systems, you have to download an app from the mobile platform’s app store to your mobile device before you can transfer files to or from the mobile MAS.

Sony have just released the WG-C20 mobile NAS which uses an SDXC card as its storage or can work as a USB file server. But this mobile NAS takes things further by implementing a UPnP AV/DLNA server as well as its regular mobile-platform file server, which is a function that I have wished for with the mobile NAS devices. It also is the first of its kind to implement NFC for one-touch Wi-Fi setup with suitably-equipped Android smartphones.

There is the bridging ability to link the mobile NAS with an existing Wi-Fi segment for Internet use but I am doubtful whether this bridging function would allow a user to share the stored data to the existing Wi-Fi segment. Here, I would improve on the bridging ability to allow a user to determine whether the Wi-Fi segment they are annexing the WG-C20 to for Internet access is a home/business or public network so as to enable file sharing to that segment as appropriate.

This could allow you to preview those pictures and videos from your digital camera on your smartphone, tablet, laptop or DLNA-capable Smart TV just by taking the “film” (SD card) out of the camera and putting it in the WG-C20. As well, you could use this device with the Pure One Flow or similar portable Internet radio to play music files through that UPnP AV-capable radio while on the road.

What I see of this is the way Sony has raised the ante with this class of device rather than selling the same old mobile NAS with the same old functionality.

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A mobile network-attached storage that is a server for USB flash drives and SD cards

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Sony

Sony announces new Portable Wireless Server : Consumer Products Press Releases : Sony Australia

Product Page (Worldwide)

My Comments

The Sony WG-C10N is like most other mobile network-attached storage devices in that it requires the mobile device to be effectively attached to its own wireless segment. Of course it can work as a bridge between an existing Internet-connected network and your device like most mobile NAS devices. As well, it requires the use of a mobile platform app or the use of a Web front for users to benefit from the data stored on the NAS using the Wi-Fi network.

This means that it can’t work with existing wireless home networks, nor can it support SMB/CIFS network file transfer that is common on regular computers nor can it serve audio-video content to DLNA-capable media devices.

But unlike the other mobile NAS devices that are on the market, this device works simply as a file server for attached SD cards or USB flash drives rather than using an integrated storage medium. This is more so for those of us who want to use higher-capacity memory cards or USB thumbdrives or have a collection of different SD cards / USB thumbdrives for different applications.

It also works as an SD card reader for those of you who don’t have an SD card slot in your computer or similar device (think of the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook that I previously reviewed) to view or download your digital camera’s “film roll”. As well, it is one of the first “mobile NAS” devices that can serve as an external battery pack for your power-thirsty smartphone or tablet.

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SanDisk comes to the mobile NAS market

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SanDisk Intros "Connect" Wireless Storage Product Line#xtor=RSS-181

From the horse’s mouth

SanDisk

Product Page

Connect Wireless Flash Drive

Connect WIreless Media Drive

My Comments

SanDisk have jumped on board the bus as far as mobile network-attached storage devices are concerned.

Here. they have released two devices but both of these devices are similar in functionality to the typical “mobile NAS” is concerned. They require that you connect your laptop, smartphone or tablet to their own wireless network but the SanDisk devices have a similar Internet-access “bridge” mode to what the previously reviewed Kingston mobile NAS has so you can benefit from another Wi-Fi network for Internet access. They also require you to install a manufacturer-designed app on your mobile device so you can get at or put files on these mobile NAS devices from your device’s control surface. There is also a Web front for gaining access to the files hosted on these devices from a regular computer.

Of course they have their limitations such as not supporting SMB/CIFS data transfer used by every regular-computer operating system or not supporting DLNA media-server functionality so you can “pull up” media stored on these devices on a smart TV or similar device. They don’t even allow you to link them to a regular small network so they can become a NAS for that network, which could come in handy if you use a “Mi-Fi” device on the road or simply annex it to your home network just to transfer data to and from the device.

There is a USB connection that is used for charging these devices from any USB AC charger, car charger or external battery pack as outlined in the “Gadget List – Essential Smartphone And Tablet Accessories” article. But this also is used for transferring data between a regular computer and these wireless NAS devices as if they are a USB memory key. You may end up with issues when it comes to connecting these devices to “non-computer” equipment like printers or Blu-Ray players because they may present themselves as multiple USB devices which is something that these “non-computer” devices don’t really tolerate as I have raised before.

The SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive also uses an SDXC slot so you can use it as a place to “dump” your digital-camera images if you start to “run out of film” on your digital camera. Then you can either use it as a backup system for your holiday’s worth of photos during that trip or take some of the pictures further by uploading them to Flickr or Facebook using your laptop, smartphone or tablet. It also has higher storage capacity options in the form of a 64Gb variant as well as the 32Gb variant.

Personally, I would like to see someone take these devices further and do things like support DLNA or SMB/CIFS or provide network “annexing” as an option so they can do more than just being on the road. If not, we could start to see a very stale class of product come of these devices.

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