Category: Network-attached storage

Buyers’ Guide–Network-Attached Storage

Introduction

Netgear ReadyNAS

Netgear ReadyNAS as a music server

A new class of hardware has been brought about by the networked home and small office environment. This is in the form of the network-attached storage device which works simply as a hard disk that is attached to the small network, sharing its resources using common network protocols.

Description

A network-attached storage device or NAS is an appliance that connects to your home or small business network via Ethernet to serve as a communal storage device for that network. This is instead of purposing an older computer for this role of a common storage device.

One main advantage of these devices is that these devices don’t demand as much power as a regular desktop computer running as a server and they make less noise than the typical ATX desktop tower computer. Therefore they need less power to run and don’t need to have a constantly-running fan. This also leads to a device that is quiet and energy-efficient, values that are being asked of in this era.

The devices are typically very small, often ranging in size from a pair of cassette tapes through a small book to the size of a kitchen toaster for the small-business units.This means that they don’t take up much desk space and can even be hidden behind other computing devices, which also puts them in the good books with those who value aesthetics. This small size also wins favour with those of us who want a data storage to serve multiple devices but that can be quickly shifted to a location at a moment’s notice; as I have seen for myself at the Australian Audio and AV Show with a few of these devices working as DLNA-compliant media servers for demonstration hi-fi equipment. Infact the pictures of the Netgear ReadyNAS and the Seagate GoFlex Home NAS units are images of fully-operational units serving this aforementioned role, with the Seagate single-disk unit being photographed on the floor and it being slightly higher than the skirting board.

Disk Storage

Single-Disk NAS

Seagate GoFlex Home NAS as music server

Seagate GoFlex Home single-disk NAS

Cheaper consumer-focused NAS units are typically equipped with one hard disk with a few of these units like the Seagate GoFlex Home being a network bridge for a removeable hard-disk module that is part of the manufacturer’s modular-hard-disk system.

This also includes the portable NAS units like the Seagate GoFlex Satellite that are their own Wi-Fi network and are intended to work as a data offloading device for tablet computers.

But on the other hand, there are some single-disk NAS units like the QNAP range that can excel as highly-capable network storage hubs. In the case of the QNAP, these units are able work as full-flight Web servers suitable for serving intranets or “proving” Web-site prototypes; or pull off other advanced network-storage tricks.

Multi-Disk NAS

On the other hand, the better units will support two or more hard disks which work the installed hard disks as a RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) that facilitate either extra capacity, higher data throughput or increased fault tolerance.These multi-disk units can be set up to have two hard disks of equal capacity “mirroring” each other as a safeguard if one disk fails or to facilitate high-throughput low-latency data transfer. On the other hand,the disks can be seen simply as a large volume of data. Units which support three or more disk drives can support disk setups that combine failsafe data storage and increased data capacity.

Some multi-disk units like the Netgear ReadyNAS units have the ability to support in-place volume expansion. This is where you can add extra hard drives to the NAS while it is running in order to build up redundant failover storage or increase system capacity. But other systems will require the NAS to be taken out of service if you intend to evolve the multi-disk RAID volume.

User-installed disks and upgrade options

Most of these NAS units have the hard disk integrated, which is at a known capacity whereas others, commonly known as BYOD enclosures, come simply as an enclosure where you buy the hard disk separately and install it yourself. A variety of multi-disk units do come with a single hard disk but you upgrade them to the RAID resilience or extra capacity by installing a hard disk in an empty disk bay. This kind of installation typically can be done without the need for tools in all of the recent implementations.

Of course, the cheapest single-disk NAS units don’t allow you to upgrade or replace the hard disk yourself, so you have to replace the unit if that hard disk fails or you outgrow the hard disk capacity. On the other hand, the better units permit the user to upgrade or replace the hard disk, thus providing for a long device lifespan.

External connection ports

A lot of NAS units have one or more USB ports so you can copy content off a thumbdrive or external hard disk, use an external hard disk as extra storage or a backup device for the NAS or use other peripherals. Some of them may use an eSATA port for the same purpose, especially to add storage or maintain a backup device.

It is also worth knowing that these ports may be used as a way of extending the functionality of the NAS devices through the use of various device classes; especially if subsequent firmware upgrades take place. Example applications include working as a print server for a USB-only printer to a camera server for a Webcam.

Functions

Network-central backup location

Most network-attached storage devices typically provide the ability to be a network-central backup device for all of the computers in that network. This is typically facilitated through manufacturer-supplied software or backup utilities that are part of a regular-computing operating system such as Windows Backup or Apple Time Machine.

Network-central file storage and drop-off point

They also work as a data-drop-off point where users can “park” redundant data or data being moved between computers and hard drives. This is facilitated using standard SMB/CIFS, FTP or HTTP machine-to-machine data transfer protocols which these operating systems can support natively. The computer may run a manufacturer-supplied “assistance” shell to help with locating the device or linking it to the computer.

In the same extent, the NAS may work as a shared data library for software and data that is needed across the network. This would include utility software, device drivers, updates and patches as well as documents of common interest.

It is being extended to mobile computing devices like smartphones and tablets through the use of manufacturer-supplied or third-party network-file-transfer apps for the common mobile-computing platforms like iOS or Android. I have covered this topic in an article about moving data between your NAS and your smartphone.

Media server

This now covers the ability to share media files like digital images, music and video files to every computer and DLNA-compliant media device across the network.  This is facilitated through an integrated DLNA media server for standards-compliant devices and an iTunes-compatible server for iTunes media managers including Apple iOS devices.

But some manufacturers are targeting some of their consumer-focused NAS units at the distribution of media files across the network. These will typically have software that provides for low-latency transfer of audio and video content as well as an improved DLNA media server. Some of these DLNA media servers may support content-metadata aggregation where they index all media held on every DLNA server in the network and become the single point of reference for that media.

Some of the NAS units like RipNAS, ZoneRipper or Naim UnitiServe may even have an integrated optical drive to allow you to “rip” CDs to the hard disk or allow you to connect an optical drive to their USB port so you don’t have to power up a computer to “rip” new CDs to your media collection.

Remote access and the personal cloud

A new capability that is being promoted by NAS vendors such as Western Digital and Iomega is remote access, commonly marketed as a “private cloud” or “personal cloud”. This requires the NAS to have server software that exposes its location to a cloud service on the Internet and manage access to the data from Internet-based users. It works alongside client software available for regular or mobile operating systems to enable users to transfer the data outside their home network.

Variants of this software, such as what Iomega offer, may support peer-to-peer data transfer between multiple NAS units installed at different locations. This could cater for multi-site content replication or simple offsite data backup requirements.

Platform NAS systems

An increasing number of high-end NAS units have the equivalent of an app store, where the manufacturer can provide free or paid file-handling programs that load on to these devices. These can include a simple photo-viewing intranet app, a DVR for video-surveillance apps, an email server or a download / Bittorrent manager amongst other things.

Some systems like the QNAP units deliver every function in one “hit” when the user purchases the NAS devices whereas others just maintain the “app-store” or “download-point” for users to add the functions on at a later time.

What should you get

A single-disk NAS can serve a typical household well as a data drop-off point and media server. It can also augment a small-business’s server by fulfilling low-risk tasks such as DLNA media-server functionality thus keeping the server for business-critical needs. The high-end varieties of these single-disk NAS units like what QNAP sells would work well for those of us who want more functionality such as a Web-development workbench or a DVR for an IP-based video-surveillance system.

If you end up with more devices in your home and you want to be sure of continuity or expandability, a multi-drive system would fit your bill. You may go for a multi-disk system that has one hard disk installed so you can upgrade to resiliency or extra capacity at a later time.

Small businesses should consider a good multi-disk MAS that has what it takes to support increased resiliency. In some cases, a small business may operate the multi-disk NAS as a backup or file-archive device for their site’s main operational server; as well as a media server or similar application.

It is also essential to look at an offsite backup option for these units, such as the ability to connect a USB external hard drive for the duration of a backup job or the ability to backup to another NAS or cloud service via the Internet.

Mandatory features

For basic functionality, the NAS should support the SMB/CIFS and NFS network file protocols and have an integrated DLNA and iTunes media server. The computer-NAS backup options can be hosted with manufacturer-supplied software bout should work with Windows Backup or Apple Time Machine options.

I would also prefer that the NAS supports a continual software upgrade path for its functions. This is where the manufacturer keeps the firmware up to date as new standards come about, thus opening up the door to newer functionality and better performance.

The connection to the networks should be at least one Gigabit Ethernet port in order to support higher data throughput. You may not get this throughput with your existing router but if you upgrade to a newer router that has Gigabit Ethernet ports, you will end up with significantly higher throughput which would benefit applications like movies or high-quality music files.

Conclusion

Once you have a network-attached storage device in place, you will never know what capabilities these devices will open up to the connected home and small business. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a backup location for your computers or a media server or just simply a “file parking lot” for your home network.

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Freebox Révolution–the first to be compatible with the full Apple ecosystem

 

La Freebox Révolution est compatible avec AirPlay et Time Machine – DegroupNews.com

My Comments

It is not common for Internet-gateway equipment that is typically supplied by a communications provider or ISP to support any of the protocols that are peculiar to Apple’s ecosystem. Typically a person who wanted a device to work tightly with their Macintosh or iOS device had to use a network device supplied by Apple or an Apple-approved third-party vendor.

Increasingly most network-attached storage devices started to support iTunes server functionality or Apple Time Machine backup functionality through the use of open-source components that were enabled through the device’s Web-based dashboard. But the AirPlay playback function has been based on code that Apple controls and devices had to have Apple approval in order to compete with the Apple TV device as a media player.

Now Free, one of the telecommunications carriers in France’s lively and competitive “triple-play” Internet market have integrated their latest Freebox Révolution customer equipment with the Apple ecosystem. This functionality is supplied for free as part of the latest firmware update for the Freebox Révolution router and set-top box.

At the moment, the AirPlay playback functionality is available through the Freebox Server’s integrated speakers or an audio device connected to the Freebox Server’s line output. The Time Machine network backup is done by using the Freebox Server’s integrated hard disk.

There are some other slight improvements for the Freebox Player in the form of  improved MKV compatibility and UTF-8 subtitle handling. But this device could really support the AirPlay functionality better because it would ordinarily be hooked up to the TV and a good-quality home-theatre system. As well, if Apple allows, it could support AirPlay video playback from from a Macintosh computer or an iOS device.

It certainly shows how capable the consumer-premises equipment for a triple-play service can become under a highly-competitive environment for “triple-play”Internet.

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Seagate GoFlex Satellite–a new breed of network-attached storage

Article

Seagate GoFlex Satellite : Father’s Day Gift Guide: Geeky Patriarch Edition

From the horse’s mouth

Seagate’s Web site for this device

My Comments

The Seagate GoFlex Satellite network-attached storage is representing a new breed of network device design that is becoming more prominent with Wi-Fi devices. Here, the device has an integrated access point and DHCP server and works with dedicated client apps or integrated Web server to share files.

There are limitations with this class of device in that they cannot connect to an existing Wi-Fi network. Here, the user has to point their client device to the network-attached storage device’s SSID in order to benefit from the device. In the case of the GoFlex Satellite, the user would have to visit a Web page hosted by the device and / or use dedicated client software to gain access to the files.

Of course, with this GoFlex Satellite, it is intended for the user to connect the unit directly to a computer as an external hard disk using a USB 3.0 connection when loading content on to it or using it as a backup device.

This is compared to some newer “MiFi” wireless-broadband routers that have SD card readers and treat the mounted SD cards as network drives. Here, they use standard network-drive protocols for sharing the storage space and share media-file directories using UPnP AV / DLNA standards.

I find that it would be easier to have these kind of drives work with client devices through standardised protocols. If the device is to work with an Apple iOS client, the manufacturer could license or develop CIFS and DLNA client apps for integration with these devices’ file systems.

As for network connectivity, these devices could support the ability to join an existing Wi-Fi small-network segment, whether through “push-to-join” WPS, Windows Connect Now-USB or manual setup. Then they could serve content to that Wi-Fi segment. Of course, they could still work as their own network if they have to, such as serving content to devices that have no Internet; have Internet served via a wireless-broadband setup with integrated modem or computers in the throes of being commissioned.

The main issue with this design is that it is very much designed around the Apple iOS ecosystem and is not likely to work well beyond that.

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Vodafone Mobile Wi-Fi R201 “Mi-Fi” wireless-broadband router – raising the bar for this class of device.

Carry an instant Windows 7 hotspot in your pocket | NetworkWorld.com Community

From the horse’s mouth

Vodafone Mobile Wi-Fi R201 – Product page

My comments on this device

I have come across most of the small wireless-broadhand Wi-Fi routers and most of them seem to offer the same functionality – working just as a wireless router for wireless-broadband services. But the Vodafone Mobile Wi-Fi R201 has offered more than the typical device of its class.

This battery-operated device has a built-in microSD card and is able to work as a network-attached storage device as well as a router for wireless broadband. It can present the files via three different protocols – SMB/CIFS, HTTP or UPnP AV / DLNA for media files. The latter function is provided for by TwonkyMedia Server which is being integrated in to many network-attached storage devices.

It can be powered from AC power, USB or integrated rechargeable batteries but, due to its small size, it doesn’t have an Ethernet connector for either LAN or WAN (broadband) connectivity. An Ethernet connector being added to the device could allow the unit to become a NAS / wireless access point for an existing network or it could work with a cable or ADSL modem as a router. As well, it is dependent on the Wi-Fi network as the primary connection method.

The unit can work tightly with Windows 7 or with other operating systems and devices that support WPS, especially the PBC “push-to-connect” method. As well, the PSK passphrase for the WPA2 security setup and the SSID are unique to each unit, which makes for better security.

Another feature is that this particular “Mi-Fi” can work alongside the network-connected computers as an SMS send/receive terminal. This is done using a Web form that is part of the Web management interface for this device.

My comments about this device is that it would work hand in glove with a portable Internet radio like the Pure Evoke Flow that I previously reviewed as long as you have a generous data plan on the SIM card for receiving Internet-radio programs. This is intensified by you putting a microSD card full of music or a SlotMusic card (the microSD equivalent of the pre-recorded Musicassette) in this device and using the radio’s DLNA music-player mode to play the music files from the card.

As well, I would recommend that users who buy this device buy a USB car charger that plugs in to the vehicle’s cigar lighter in order to avoid compromising the device’s battery life when they use it in the car. This charger should have a standard USB socket on itself or a microUSB plug that fits the device.

By the way, it is worth noting that this router is now available in the UK and will be rolled out to countries that Vodafone does business in as a name.

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Product Review – Western Digital MyBook World network-attached storage device (1 Terabyte)

WD My Book World Edition network hard driveI am now reviewing the Western Digital MyBook World network-attached storage device which is the first such device to be reviewed in this blog.

It is a white box about the size of an average paperback book such as a personal Bible but has a white “operation” light along the spine. This light can be turned off through the Web-based configuration menus under the “System-Advanced” screen in the Advanced menus. There is a vent along the top of the unit to allow for proper cooling.

Connection

It can connect to an Ethernet network, even a Gigabit one which would be part of high-end routers and equipment optimised for “next-generation” broadband services. There is also a USB socket for use with adding external USB storage or USB printers that can work as network printers to the network.

Storage

This unit has 1 Terabyte worth of storage available on it, which would be the minimum required for these devices. If you use it primarily as a media server, you would have plenty of room for many hours of high-definition video, oodles of “many-megapixel” pictures and many hours of audio content using good-quality codecs.

This is provisioned through one hard disk but the step-up model (WD MyBook World Edition II) has the ability to work with two user-replaceable hard disks and can support a two-disk RAID data-mirror setup.

Ethernet connection to the NAS

Ethernet connection to the WD NAS

Network functionality

It may be worth noting that I have run this unit on the latest firmware and is a wise practice to do whenever you buy these units to make sure they run the latest firmware.

It can work with the common network file protocols like FTP and SMB, but the Samba (SMB) server can’t handle credentials situations where you have the same username and password as one of the computers. As well, it isn’t easy to create a NAS share with a “public read-only” access condition where you have to log in to add or modify files on that share but anyone can read the files.

There is support for “cloud backup” and “cloud remote access” with WD’s MioNet cloud-based remote servers, but I haven’t tried this feature out yet.

The main function that I have appreciated in this NAS is the TwonkyMedia UPnP AV MediaServer function. This positions the NAS as a very capable network media library that provisions the media to standards-based media devices. It can also work as an external media drive for iTunes-based media setups.

This has allowed for PC-free media serving where I could play “ripped” audio files on any of the Internet radios that I have reviewed without needing to have the computer on. As well, it has improved the reliability of my UPnP-based media experience because the network hard disk is doing just that job of providing the media rather than a PC that does this amongst other activities. The UPnP functionality could be better supported by working with other shares that can be set up as “public read-only”, rather than just the “Public” share. It would then increase its validity as a media server in businesses where media collections are at risk of unauthorised alteration.

Points of Improvement

As I have outlined in the review, I would like to make it easier to provide “public read-only” shares which are able to be edited by authorised users but the files can be viewed by anyone without authentication and media files can simply be provided for playback by UPnP devices. This can make it easier to share media or other files across the network without fear of accidental or malicious alteration or deletion.

There could be some finer control on the status LED by providing for a static “bar-graph” display that indicates how much disk space has been used, or light-up only as a “distress signal” or if the hard disk is in active service. This is so you can know what is going on without that bright light staying on all the time.

Summary and Placement Notes

I would suggest using this hard disk as a “simple network backup” device or as a dedicated UPnP media server device for the home or small-business network. In the latter usage case, these businesses could easily relegate this unit as a secondary “media-server” NAS alongside their primary NAS that provides regular network file-service functions and establish UPnP AV / DLNA in their realms as I have talked about in a separate article.

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