Tag: Network-attached storage

The NAS as an on-premises edge-computing device for cloud services

QNAP TS-251 2-bay NAS

QNAP TS-251 2-bay NAS – units like this could become a capable edge-computing device

The high-end network-attached storage system is a device able to augment the cloud computing trend in various forms. This is by becoming a local “edge processor” for the cloud-computing ecosystem and handling the data that is created or used by end-users local to it.

High-end network-attached-storage systems

We are seeing the rise of network-attached-storage subsystems that are capable of running as computers in their own right. These are typically high-end consumer or small-business devices offered by the likes of QNAP, Synology or NETGEAR ReadyNAS that have a large app store or software-developer community.

The desktop variants would be the size ranging form half a loaf of bread to a full bread loaf, with some rack-mounted units about the size of one or two pizza boxes.This is compared to servers that were the size of a traditional tower computer.

But some of the apps work alongside public cloud-driven online services as a client or “on-ramp” between these services and your local network. A typical use case is to synchronise files held on an online storage service with the local storage on the NAS unit.

These high-end network-attached-storage devices are effectively desktop computers in their own right, with some of them using silicon that wouldn’t look out of place with a traditional desktop computer. Some of these machines even support a “local console” with a display connection and USB connections that support keyboards and mice.

Cloud computing

Cloud computing takes an online-service approach to computing needs and, in a lot of cases, uses multiple computers in multiple data centres to perform the same computing task. This is typically to host the data in or close to the end-user’s country or to provide a level of scalability and fault-tolerance in the online service approach.

Lot 3 Ripponlea café

A cafe like this could benefit from big-business technology without paying a king’s ransom thanks to cloud computing

Small businesses are showing an interest in cloud-driven computing solutions as a way to come on board with the same things as the “big end of town” without paying a king’s ransom for hardware necessary for an on-premises computing solution. In some cases, it is also about using different endpoint types like mobile-platform tablets for daily use or as a management tool, underscoring such concepts as low cost or portability that some endpoints may offer.

Typically, this kind of computing is offered “as a service” where you subscribe to the service on a regular, usually monthly or annual, basis rather than you spending big on capital expenses to get it going.

But, due to its nature as an always-online service, cloud computing can cause reliability and service-availability issues if the Internet connection isn’t reliable or the service ends up being oversubscribed. This can range from real-time services suffering latency towards a cloud-computing experience becoming unresponsive or unavailable.

Then there is the issue of privacy, data security, service continuity and data sovereignty which can crop up if you change to a different service or the service you use collapses or changes hands. It can easily happen while cloud-computing faces points of reckoning and the industry goes in to consolidation.

Edge computing

But trends that are being investigated in relationship to the “Internet Of Things” and “Big Data” are the concepts  of “edge” and “fog” computing. It is based around the idea of computing devices local to the source or sink of the data that work with the locally-generated or locally-used data as part of submitting it to or fetching it from the cloud network.

It may allow a level of fault-tolerance for applications that demand high availability or permit scalability at the local level for the cloud-computing application. Some systems may even allow for packaging locally-used data in a locally-relevant form such as for online games to support local tournaments or an online movie service to provide a local storage of what is popular in the neighbourhood.

The ideas associated with “edge” and “fog” computing allow for the use of lightweight computer systems to do the localised or distributed processing, effectively aggregating these systems in to what is effectively a heavyweight computer system. It has been brought about with various early distributed-computing projects like SETI and Folding@Home to use personal computers to solve scientific problems.

What is serving the edge-computing needs

Qarnot Q.Rad press image courtesy of Qarnot

This Qarnot Q.Rad heater is actually a computer that is part of edge computing

Some applications like drones are using the on-device processing to do the local workload. Or we are seeing the likes of Qarnot developing edge-computing servers that heat your room or hot water with the waste heat these computing devices produce.  But Amazon and QNAP are working on an approach to use a small-office NAS as an edge-computing device especially for Internet-Of-Things applications.

The NAS serving this role

Here, it is about making use of these ubiquitous and commonly-available NAS units for this purpose as well as storing and serving data that a network needs. In some cases, it can be about the local processing and storing of this locally-generated / locally-used data then integrating the data with what is available on the cloud “backbone”.

For some applications, it could be about keeping enough data for local needs on the NAS to assure high availability. Or it could be about providing scalability by allowing the NAS to do some of the cloud workload associated with the locally-generated data before submitting it to the cloud.

Netgear ReadyNAS

The NETGEAR ReadyNAS on the right is an example of a NAS that is capable of being an edge-computing node

This may be of importance with IT systems that are moving from a totally on-premises approach towards the use of cloud-computing infrastructure with data being stored or processed online. It is where the focus of the cloud infrastructure is to make business-wide data available across a multi-site business or to provide “portable access” to business data. Here, a NAS could simply be equipped with the necessary software to be a smart “on-ramp” for this data.

For small and medium businesses who are moving towards multiple locations such as when a successful business buys another business in another area to increase their footprint, this technology may have some appeal. Here, it could be about doing some pre-processing for data local to the premises before submitting to the cloud as part of an online management-information-system for that small effort.  As well, it could be about keeping the business-wide data “in-sync” across the multiple locations, something that may be important with price lists or business-wide ledgers.

This kind of approach works well with the high-end NAS units if these units’ operating platforms allow third-party software developers to write software for these devices. It can then open up the possibilities for hybrid and “edge” computing applications that involve these devices and the network connectivity and on-device storage that they have.

Conclusion

What needs to happen is that the high-end network-attached-storage systems of the Synology or QNAP kind need to be considered as a hardware base for localised “edge computing” in an online “cloud-computing” setup.

This can be facilitated by the vendors inciting software development in this kind of context and encouraging people involved in online and cloud computing to support this goal especially for small-business computing.

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Could a NAS be relevant to console gaming?

QNAP 2-disk NAS

Could a NAS like this QNAP 2-disk NAS – be used as storage for a games console?

The games console that connects to your TV is still relevant to video gaming, especially where the idea is to be able to lean back during gameplay or have a dedicated games machine to use in the living room or recreation room.

The key trends affecting video gaming

Video gaming is becoming a data-thirsty activity where there is emphasis on having a large amount of data being available to the players as they continue to play these games.

Download rather than packaged media

But there are key directions that are affecting video and computer games, especially those targeted towards games consoles. Primarily, they are being made available to download from online storefronts rather than being sold as packaged media or the packaged media is sold as a “get-you-going” option.

A continual supply of extra content available for download

Game players for all game classes are being able to benefit from free or premium downloadable content that is being continually authored by the game studios. This continued availability of extra content is providing for continued playability beyond the first rounds or sessions of the game. In some cases, some studios are even providing time-limited bonus missions or seasonal content in order to keep the players interested.

It extends to most of the games studios working on a high-quality-control regime which includes the supply of frequent updates for each of these games.

Games needing extra data as they go

Sony PS4

Games consoles like the Sony PS4 will need to benefit from extra storage offered by a NAS

More games are requiring extra data as you keep playing them. Typically with games of the “open-world” kind, some strategy games or adventure / role-playing games, this is about loading extra scenery, missions or other data that facilitates further game play. In some cases, you completing a mission in a game brings down extra data.

The best example of this would be Forza Horizon 4 which is set in the UK. Here, players complete race challenges to buy individual cars, or they could buy a property to gain access to further challenges and further vehicles. In some cases, they may have access to so-called “barn-find” cars that are discovered when they visit particular buildings and they have to restore these vehicles so that they can be used as competition vehicles. The game even adds seasonality with particular

USB portable hard disk

These portable USB hard disks are seen as a way to expand storage capacity on a games console

vehicles, areas and challenges available during particular seasons.

What is being done to answer the problem

USB hard disks or aftermarket hard-disk upsizing

But most setups are requiring the connection of USB hard disks to these consoles as a way to offload extra game data from the console’s hard disk. Or third-party repair shops simply upsize games consoles with newer larger-capacity hard disks and solid-state drives to improve performance or create extra storage space.

A problem that will easily surface with USB hard disks or aftermarket hard-disk upsize installations is the maximum capacity that a games console’s firmware can address for any mass-storage device that the console can handle. In the case of USB hard disks, there will be an expectation that these disks are a single logical volume, something that is common with consumer-electronics and similar devices that use USB mass-storage.

What could be done here

Use of network-attached-storage devices

But games-console manufacturers could look towards using network-attached storage devices as another way of storing extra game data. Here, the NAS system could be about “parking” games data if a game isn’t being played including data for missions and levels yet to be played, to share common data across games machines on the same network for multiple-player multiple-machine gameplay.

It could be feasible to share common data between a regular computer and a games console if the data is the same format for both devices. This would appeal to platforms like the XBox One where there is a strong effort to maintain a common codebase and common data between regular computers and games consoles to avoid duplication of effort in a game’s lifecycle. It is important where the goal is to port a game to as many platforms as possible.

Here, this may be about keeping player-specific data like gameplay-specific data or common data like game assets relating to a specific game. But some game assets such as games or premium downloadable content may be particular to a player or console as a way of binding it to a player who had bought the game or DLC or won the bonus content.

The advantage that a NAS can offer is that the NAS simply defines the maximum storage capacity available to the client device such as through an account-specific quota or a maximum volume offered by that device.

The main problem associated with games consoles and NAS units

Onboarding games consoles to NAS units

Integrating a NAS device may be about a difficult path with the use of the SMB data-sharing protocol being supported in these consoles. It will then require users to supply share names and username / password credentials to their consoles to make use of these network shares. In some cases, the player may have to create a player-private user account on the NAS for player-specific data.

An easier path that the games-console industry and NAS vendors could work towards is a simplified provisioning and device-discovery setup protocol. This could allow for the creation and allocation of player-specific and common data space on a NAS device for storing game data over the network.  Such a protocol could be based on the UPnP AV / DLNA protocols for device and content discovery. As well, it could be facilitated on existing equipment through firmware updates or add-on apps for both the NAS and the games consoles.

Other uses

Of course, there is the issue of being able to draw upon one’s own multimedia content library which would be hosted on at least one DLNA-compliant NAS. This could come in to its own with, for example, open-world car-racing games where you can equip your in-game car with a “virtual car radio” that plays audio content from different online or network content sources.

Another direction that may be looked at with higher-performance NAS units of the QNAP or Synology ilk would be to run them as games servers for LAN-based multiplayer multi-machine gaming. The idea may be about a purely local game that is independent of an Internet-hosted online service or it could simply be about creating localised competition elements in addition to the Internet-hosted online competition elements.

Conclusion

A network-attached-storage device can be considered a relevant device for console-based video gaming as an approach towards offloading or backing up video-game data. It can also be used as an approach for sharing common game data amongst multiple consoles or other devices that are playing the same game.

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What are the full-featured desktop NAS units about?

Article

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

Synology DiskStation DS415play – an example of these full-function network-attached-storage units

Synology DSM vs. QNAP QTS: Which NAS is right for you? | Windows Central

My Comments

Increasingly Synology and QNAP have become strong rivals when it comes to full-function network-attached-storage devices that do more than what WD, Seagate and others offer. Here, they are made by two NAS specialists who are running high-end NAS-focused operating systems that can be run headless or with a screen and keyboard “head”. Some manufacturers like NETGEAR and ASUSStor are following on with Synology’s and QNAP’s efforts to join in the pack when it comes to

QNAP TS-251 2-bay NAS

QNAP TS-251 2-bay NAS – another example of what a full-function NAS is about

offering full-function NAS units for home and small-business use.

Recent iterations of these devices typically have the same kind of computing power as a relatively-recent low-end regular personal computer but put this power towards file handling and serving. Most of them will support at least a two-disk RAID setup in the low-tier varieties with the mainstream models having four or five disk bays for a RAID 5 setup. The “brain” in these devices will be mostly an ARM-based CPU but higher-spec variants may use an Intel or AMD processor expected in a very low-end laptop computer. You may also find some NAS units like the Synology “play” NAS units running a graphics processor as a co-processor for media transcoding. A significant number of models will even support upgradeable RAM to allow them to work more quickly and handle more data traffic.

But the operating system is of a similar standard to one that would drive a regular personal computer. Most likely it would be a variant of a desktop Linux distribution and would be regularly updated as well as allowing users to install apps from the NAS vendor’s app store. Once you log in through a Web-based user interface or a keyboard / screen / mouse “console” attached to the NAS, you would experience a user interface similar to Windows, MacOS or desktop Linux running a graphical user interface.  But most of these user interfaces can’t allow for cut-and-paste between the host computer and the NAS user interface.

The apps will typically convey particular file-handling functions like syncing to online storage platforms, BitTorrent server functionality and DLNA-compliant media-server functionality. There is also apps that “tie” the NAS to native mobile-platform client apps supplied by the vendor to allow transfer of data between the NAS and a mobile-platform tablet or smartphone. It is typically a way to push a NAS as a “personal cloud” by working with a vendor-hosted “DNS-mapping” arrangement to allow you to upload content from your iPhone to your NAS even while you are out and about and connected to the Internet. This is in addition to various “client-backup” server tools for regular-computer platforms along with NAS-NAS backup tools.

Let’s not forget software like media-player functionality or IP-camera videosurveillance recording functionality. In some cases, there are various server apps for email or WordPress content management so you could easily purpose these units as a business information server. In some cases, adding peripherals to these NAS devices opens up paths for extra functionality with, for example, TV-tuner modules converting these NAS units in to Tivo-style PVRs that can share live or recorded TV content over the network.

QNAP’s QTS and Synology are very similar in many ways but Synology is focused towards simplified operation while QTS is focused towards taking advantage of faster better hardware. There are other similar full-featured NAS platforms like Netgear’s ReadyNAS or the ASUSStor NAS platform existing but there doesn’t seem to be the same kind of third-party developer base built up around these platforms.

But what can be done to make the full-featured NAS market better? One approach could be to allow the licensing of one or more of these NAS operating systems and app platforms to other companies on a “white-label” basis so they can launch their own full-featured NAS product range. This can avoid the need for a company who wants to develop their own NAS product to “reinvent the wheel” when building software.  As well, the creation of one or more large platform bases for NAS operating systems can give software developers the confidence to create software for these devices. Therefore it can avoid the home and small-business NAS market becoming like the games-console market which is focused towards vendor-specific solutions with a limited path for delivering additional software.

Personally, I would recommend the full-function NAS units of the Synology or QNAP ilk as being suitable for those of us who want more out of a network-storage device. In some cases, I would see it as appealing for an upgrade path for people who see their NAS device do more than just host files from your computer and share them to your Smart TV. Similarly it would appeal to those of us who want the basic abilities like DLNA media serving to be done in a more capable manner.

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Plex moves towards PVR functionality

Article

Thecus N5810PRO Small Business NAS press photo courtesy of Thecus

Plex gets closer to turning a NAS in to a PVR once coupled with a HDHomeRun broadcast-LAN device

IFA 2016: Plex live TV recording comes to Australia | Sydney Morning Herald

From the horse’s mouth

Plex

Product Page

My Comments

Previously I had covered the idea of a NAS being a PVR that records your favourite TV shows. This is whether it works alongside a dedicated USB or broadcast-LAN tuner device or a fully-fledged set-top device.

Recently, Plex was pushed as a “polished” media server for computers or NAS devices. This meant that it could show supplementary information about the movies or music you have on your PC-based media server or NAS if you used client-side apps on your TV or video peripheral.

But this software’s functionality has been extended to include PVR where it can record TV shows off the air and on to your media server or NAS. At the moment, it only works with the HDHomeRun broadcast-LAN TV tuners as its signal source and uses Gracenote as its source for the electronic programme guide. This means that the functionality is offered as part of the PlexPASS subscription program.

It seems to me that this feature could be destined for the servers that run the desktop operating systems but a good question to raise is if the DVR functionality will come about for NAS units because these would appeal more to those of us who run them as a media server. But personally, I would prefer that all of the platforms that Plex Media Server is written for have the upgrade for DVR recording.

To the same extent, it could also be about using a NAS as a “gateway” for a broadcast-LAN device when it comes to viewing live TV content on a tablet, laptop or similar computing device.

At least it is a different approach towards using a NAS and a broadcast-LAN device to perform PVR duties using your home network.

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Blu-Ray, HBBTV and app-based NAS systems can take documentary content further

Increasingly the Internet has been used as a “cyber-library” of information that is being used to create many interesting feature-length documentary films.

Wikipedia - could augment many of these documentaries

Wikipedia – could augment many of these documentaries

But most of these shows have been augmented by a micro-Website dedicated to the film, which may just contain some public-relations material like press releases. But some of these sites contain more detailed information on the topics covered in these films and/or provide a pathway to a “call-to-action” like engaging other entities that relate to the documentary’s subject. The classic example may be to have viewers contact a particular advocacy organisation for assistance if the subject relates to them personally; or to engage local, regional or national politicians to have the issue covered in the film raised by their government.

In some cases, the Website is the only resource used to keep the film’s viewers updated on the topic. This may be augmented with a site-based newsfeed or email list so viewers can keep “in the loop” with what is going on.

Similarly, there are other resources like the “reference sites” like IMDB, Wikipedia, Bible Gateway and the like which provide useful reference tools for viewers to use. Let’s not forget YouTube or Vimeo being used simply as a video repository for supporting video material.

But how can these resources be brought to the large screen?

The Blu-Ray Disc family of optical discs

Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray Disc Player

Blu-Ray players can provide pathways to online content

The DVD had opened up some ways content can be taken further thanks to providing a standardised way to add interactive content like a graphical menu tree along with the ability to package supporting video and image content. There is even the ability to provide supplementary audio tracks that have extra narration that can be played alongside the main audio track.

But the Blu-Ray disc family has taken this concept further with a few features that earn their keep with the documentary film.

Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray player remote control

A remote control that comes with a Blu-Ray player – a pathway to interactivity

One of these is BD-J which is a variant of Java written for Blu-Ray applications and can be run an all Blu-Ray players currently in use. This can allow for interactive content that is more than just a fancy menu, a photo gallery or some extra video material. For example, the “coloured” function buttons on every Blu-Ray player’s remote control could be exploited to allow the viewer to pull up “explain more” screens or movies if they need to understand concepts. A skilful Java programmer who is good at creating full-screen graphics could even create an experience not dissimilar to a computer game to highlight various concepts in a graphically-rich manner.

Another feature available to the Blu-Ray format is BD-Live which connects the Blu-Ray player to online resources. Here, this could range from a Web-hosted resource list through “download-to-view” movies and trailers that take it further. A BD-J script could exploit the RSS Webfeed associated with Webpages or blogs relevant to the film or show up the Wikipedia page about the topics of relevance. These same scripts can even provide pathways to advocacy Websites in a localised form or even provide that link to an online petition.

HBBTV and similar “broadcast + broadband” technologies

Panasonic VIERA AX900 Series 4K UHDTV press picture courtesy of Panasonic

HBBTV-capable TVs can provide the same level of rich interactivity with broadcast content

Another path for a lot of these shows to be exhibited is through broadcast TV, often with public-service broadcasters being associated with showing documentary and other allied content to inform the populace.

But in Germany and a large part of Continental Europe, along with Australia, Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV is in full flight. This works with TVs or set-top devices that are connected to the broadcast-TV infrastructure (aerial, cable-TV or satellite dish) along with a broadband Internet connection. This standards-based setup allows broadcasters to transmit information that leads to access to interactive-TV content via the Internet with a focus on “lean-back” presentation.

These systems could make it feasible that a user can have access to the online resources while the content is being broadcast. This could be facilitated by using the so-called “red button” concept being implemented with interactive TV where users can bring up this content by pressing a red button on the remote control. But there will be a requirement to provide access to a simplified user experience such as using the coloured function buttons for direct access to the “calls to action” for example.

File-based media distribution

Thecus N5810PRO Small Business NAS press photo courtesy of Thecus

App-based NAS units that exploit RVU and HTML5 remote user interface can provide a high level of interactivity for these movies

If the content is to be delivered as file-based video, it may be about implementing an RVU-compliant media server and using a “file-of-files” like an ISO file or BitTorrent Bundle file to deliver video material along with a “lean-back-friendly” Web page that can be presented with this media server. An example of a server that could tick these boxes is the Plex advanced media server being made available to a few current-issue NAS units but this doesn’t implement RVU and HTML5 remote-user-interface technology nor does it allow for “file-of-files” delivery. Here, this issue will crop up if Vidity is being considered as a “sell-through” format for delivering file-based video content or if BitTorrent Bundles, part of the BitTorrent Now platform, are being valued as a way to deliver indie documentary content.

Where HTML5 is used skilfully, it could he feasible to create a highly-interactive media interface in the same guise as either a well-designed Website or Blu-Ray BD-J user interface. Again this leads to tapping in to external resources like the “reference hub” sites (Wikipedia, IMDB & co), the film’s Website or blog, “call-to-actions” and the like. There can also be the ability to use animations and other graphics to “tell more”, as well as ways to control playback of the film like “diving in” to particular portions or adding narration tracks.

What are the issues to be faced?

Handling the 10-foot lean-back user experience

The main problem with Webfeeds, Wikipedia and the like is that these resources are typically formatted in a “lean-forward” manner associated with working with a tablet, laptop or desktop computer. But these resources may not appeal to the 10-foot “lean-back” viewing experience associated with watching TV and video content on the household TV set.

The traditional “lean-forward” layout for computer use involves a “dark-on-light” colour scheme that doesn’t really work well for the large screen, the use of serif typefaces in the copy text that can be hard to read from a distance along with a navigation experience that is focused towards a touchscreen or a keyboard and mouse rather than a D-pad on a remote control.

It is compared to the “lean-back” experience where larger bright sans-serif text is set against a dark background and any highlighting is made more distinct. There is the expectation that the user interface has to be navigated with one hand using the D-pad on a remote control. The same experience can also be achieved if one used a projector to show a Website or similar interface to a group of people such as in a boardroom.

But most of these attributes are being shared by mobile-compatible user interfaces as viewed on a smartphone due to the requirement for reduced clutter and the ability to be operated by one hand.

The problem could be answered through the use of “application-specific” interfaces dedicated to presenting the interactive content in a 10-foot experience. Here, a resource like a blog or a Wikipedia article would need to be presented in a market-up text form. Then a BD-J interface for a BD-Live Blu-Ray Disc, or an HTML5 or RVU interface Website that accompanies a file-delivered film package would be used to “set” these external resources to a 10-foot user interface.

Similarly, the definition for “responsive” or “adaptive” Website design or user interfaces could encompass a variation for 10-foot lean-back applications. This is where a Website could be required to work on a regular computer’s screen, a smartphone, a tablet or a TV screen with the variation being described as “large-screen” or “lean-back”,

Conclusion

As independent and other filmmakers build out documentary content especially with the help of the Internet, it could become feasible to use the Internet and interactive-content technologies as a way to provide more detailed information with these shows that the viewer can summon. It can also allow the filmmakers to build up a call-to-action for their viewers while the film is fresh in their minds.

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DLNA 4 and Vidipath facilitate elaborate TV user interfaces for network devices

Thecus N5810PRO Small Business NAS press photo courtesy of Thecus

NAS units will be required to provide a rich user interface on the big screen without the need of an app

I have had a look through the DLNA 4.0 and VIDIPATH standards and found a feature that these standards do provide for in the form of a “remote user interface”. This is where another server device can provide a graphically-rich user interface on a separate client device typically in the form of a Smart TV or video peripheral. It works very much in a similar frame to how Web browsing, where you have Web pages hosted on Web servers and streamed over a network to a Web browser existing on a client device.

The standards that are supported in this context are HTML5 and RVU (pronounced R-View) which facilitate this graphically-rich user interface. It was pitched more at pay-TV operators who provide their customers a PVR or media gateway and want to share the same user interface across all of the smart TVs, connected video peripherals (Blu-Ray players, games consoles, network media players), regular desktop/laptop computers and mobile computing devices (smartphones, phablets and tablets).

Here, this would facilitate operator-provided video-on-demand, interactive TV services, the electronic programme guide and value-added services but allow the operator to present these services with their “skin” (branding and user experience) on all of the screens in a customer’s household. This is in contrast to services like programme guides, PVR content collections and recording schedules being presented using the device manufacturer’s user interface which may not be consistent especially at the lower end of the market. It wouldn’t matter whether the server device was “headless” (without a display or control surface) like a broadcast-LAN tuner or had a display and control surface like the typical set-top PVR with its own remote control and connected to the TV in the main lounge area.

But this technology appeals to another class of devices beyond the pay-TV set-top boxes and media gateways.

Increasing network-attached-storage vendors are partnering with software developers to develop and deploy advanced media-server software in their consumer-focused NAS products. Examples of these include the Plex Media Server being packaged with newer Western Digital premium consumer NAS products and the media server software that Synology are packaging as part of their latest DSM 6 NAS software. Typically these offer functionality like rich media information or improved search / browse functionality.

Some of the NAS devices offer PVR software that works with USB digital-TV-tuner modules or broadcast-LAN tuner boxes and are targeted towards markets where free-to-air TV or pay-TV delivered without operator-supplied equipment is highly valued.

As well, a lot of consumer-focused NAS devices are being marketed in the concept of the “personal cloud” and these devices could benefit from a rich user interface that takes advantage of smart TVs.

It also includes the possibility of Secure Content Storage Association pushing their Vidity “download-to-own” platform as a way to deliver the same kind of collectability and rich user experience that the DVD and Blu-Ray box-sets are known for when supplying sell-through video content “over the wire” or allowing customers to download DVD and Blu-Ray content to their home networks. This could also encompass using a NAS as an “offload device” for extra binge-watch content that you bring in using a PVR.

More and more, manufacturers will look at ways to add value to NAS devices or broadcast-LAN tuner devices as a way to have customers buy the newer devices rather than hang on to older devices.

When NAS suppliers want to offer this kind of functionality, they either implement a Web user interface which may work best for regular computers and tablets with you needing to know IP addresses or device network names, or you are having to download and install companion client apps into your client devices. This doesn’t really work well with any 10-foot “lean-back” experience.

But the reality is that this software can exploit RVU or HTML5 remote-user-interface standard technology to realise the user-interface images on to the regular television screen. Typically, all it requires is that the devices exploit their Web server software to implement the RVU or HTML5 remote-user-interface technology and use UPnP which is already used for the DLNA content server functionality to expose this content to TVs and similar devices.

For that matter, the ability to print out content from an interactive-TV show should be integrated in to RVU or HTML5 technology because some shows and advertising like cookery shows encourage the printing out of value-added content for users to benefit from this content.

To the same extent, the hotel applications could take this further by opening up virtual content sources for things like in-house video-on-demand or gaming; or even provide a user interface to services like in-room dining or booking use of day-spa facilities.

What needs to happen is that the remote user interface technology can be exploited beyond the set-top-box or media-gateway application and taken further to NAS or other server-role devices on a home or business network for a proper 10-foot experience.

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DLNA 4.0 to support server-based media transcoding

Article – From the horse’s mouth

DLNA

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

Synology DiskStation DS415play – demonstrating the value of transcoding content to provide to DLNA devices

Press Release

My Comments

An issue that can easily beset DLNA / UPnP-AV content-delivery setups is the fact that digital-image, audio and video content can be delivered in newer file formats and that it could be packaged for high-quality setups. A case to point could be 4K UHDTV video content which would work with the newer 4K UHDTV sets; or you could have audio content packaged in the FLAC lossless-compression file formats rather than MP3 or WMA file formats.

But the problem that exists is that you will likely to have older or cheaper equipment that can’t handle the higher-quality content types. Some devices that can handle the higher-quality content type may not be able to handle it in the file format it is delivered in unless the device’s firmware was updated to take the newer filetypes. Typically, this may ruin the experience because the device will typically throw up a confusing error message or show nothing.

A few UPnP-AV / DLNA Media servers do support some form of filetype or content transcoding with some Synology NAS units implementing this functionality at the hardware level. But there isn’t the ability to be sure that the NAS, broadcast-LAN tuner or similar device provides this kind of transcoding. The new DLNA 4.0 specification mandates that compliant server devices have to transcode the content that they serve if the client device can’t handle it directly.

The questions worth raising about this required function is whether this applies to filetype transcoding only or if it also includes functionality like downscaling a 4K video to Full HD for existing HDTVs for example. It shouldn’t also be about whether the transcoding takes place in the background for stored or downloaded media or only in a real-time fashion whenever legacy equipment wants the resource, something that would work with broadcast-LAN applications.

As far as NAS and DLNA media-server software design goes, one differentiating point that will exist would be the ability for the hardware and software to implement hardware-based transcoding. This is where a separate processor and RAM, like a GPU setup, is provided to transcode video content rather than the device’s main processor and RAM being used for the task. It is similar to what would happen if you use a computer equipped with a discrete video card or chipset to transcode some video content and this permits the main processor in the NAS to continue serving the files without having to transcode them at the same time. At the moment, the Synology DS416play, the successor to the DS415play which was the first NAS to offer this feature, is the only one that implements hardware transcoding.

Personally, I would like to see these devices offer transcoding for QuickTime and Motion JPEG video as used by some digital still cameras, and FLAC and ALAC lossless audio which is now valued as a high-quality audio format for “ripping” CDs or buying download-to-own music. This is because these formats are not universally handled in the DLNA network media sphere.

Other functions that are part of this version include catering to IPv6 networks which is fast becoming the way to go, inherent support for 4K and HDR video content, the requirement for a DLNA MediaServer to expose HD variants of more video filetypes and the VIDIPATH functionality being baked in to the standard which would be important especially for Pay-TV applications.

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Your Chromebook can now work with your SMB-capable NAS

Article

WD MyCloud EX2 dual-disk NAS

These NAS units can now work with your Chromebook thanks to a Google SMB/CIFS file-system hook

Chromebooks can now seamlessly access Windows network file shares | PC World

Download link (Chrome OS)

My Comments

An issue you may find with the newer Chrome OS is that you could become stranded when it comes to gaining access to files. This may place limitations on your Chromebook’s utility value and you may find it serving as a glorified tablet.

Now you can download a Google-created app which serves primarily as a “hook” between Chrome OS and the SMB/CIFS network file exchange protocol implemented in just about all of the desktop operating systems for file sharing and in every network-attached storage device on the market.

This app takes advantage of an API made available for the Chrome OS platform that allows people to create software that links this platform with various file-storage systems and has been published as an open-source program, due to it being based on the Samba SMB/CIFS software used in every NAS. This could open up paths for creating various “hooks” for operating systems and computing platforms that make them work with these NAS units.

The article raised the issue of Dropbox and Microsoft writing native “hooks” for their cloud storage systems rather than users of these systems using flaky software to have their Chromebook work with Dropbox or OneDrive.

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QNAP releases an ultra-compact SSD NAS

Article – From the horse’s mouth

QNAP QNAP logo courtesy of QNAP

TBS-453A NASBook Ultra-Compact SSD NAS

Product Page

My Comments

QNAP has just lately offered the TBS-453A NASBook which is an ultra-compact 4-drive NAS that is designed to work with solid-state drives rather than hard disks,

But this solid-state-drive NAS is a different breed to the portable NAS units offered to mobile users who exchange data between laptops and tablets. This is about Ethernet rather than Wi-Fi connectivity along with a 4-disk RAID array for performance or data safety, and increased functionality thanks to a desktop-grade NAS app store offered by QNAP.

The drives that are preferred for this device are the M.2 type that are typically used for Ultrabooks and 2-in-1s with this device being about the size of a B5 notebook. As well, it is powered by a 19-volt power brick but can accept voltages between 10 volts and 20 volts DC. This makes it suitable for a wide range if industrial and similar uses and could appeal to automotive and marine use, if there was a way to support externally-switched power control expected for such use.

It also has a 4-port Ethernet switch for one network along with a single Gigabit Ethernet socket for another network and this can be set up to work effectively like a router or to serve its own network.

As well, like other QNAP NAS units, this implements the QTS operating system with an increasing array of apps for business and personal use. But it also can be set up as a Linux computer by implementing a virtualised dual-operating-system setup and has the necessary “console” connections for this purpose. That is HDMI for display and audio connection along with USB connections for keyboard and mouse purposes. Like some recent QNAP NAS units, it also has its own audio interface which makes it appeal as a multimedia computer in its own right.

You can also expand this book-size NAS to work with a regular disk array by installing UX-800P and UX-500P multi-disk expansion modules this allowing you to create RAID disk arrays with these disks.

Tool or toy?

This kind of “far-fetched” cutting-edge network-attached-storage device could be easily dismissed as a toy rather than a tool, but there are some applications where it could earn its keep as a tool.

One would be to exist as a highly-capable Ethernet-connected portable NAS or server device that you use in a “mobile-office” setting. Similarly, you could see this being used with a home network where you want the multimedia functionality like DLNA Network Media Server functionality looked after but without dealing with a noisy or power-inefficient device. This would also win favours with home-AV manufacturers and distributors who are showcasing their network-capable hi-fi and home-theatre equipment at the hotel-based hi-fi shows like what the Chester Group are running. As well, QNAP are pitching this device in the Internet Of Things and building-security applications scenarios where this NAS could record data from sensor-type devices or visual images from network cameras yet be able to work with low power demands.

QNAP could see the TBS-453A as an effort to approach vehicle and marine applications for NAS devices along with courting mobile workgroups, remote data collection or other setups where portability, low power consumption or reduced operating noise are highly valued.

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Xiaomi raises the bar for routers with internal storage

Articles – From the horse’s mouth

Seagate

A Wireless Router with 6TB Storage? | Digital Den comsumer blog

Xiaomi

Mi WiFi Router 2 With 6Tb

Product Page

My Comments

Seagate has helped another manufacturer raise the bar for a consumer-grade router that has integrated storage.

Xiaomi had released to the Chinese market the Mi WiFi Router 2 with 6Tb storage on board. This is provided with a Seagate hard disk that is optimised for video-surveillance applications, with this hard disk able to handle continuous write operations and have a 1-million-hour mean-time-between-failure rate which leads to very high reliability. This is compared to most integrated-storage routers of this kind coming in with 1Tb hard disks typically optimised for regular computers.

The benefit that Seagate drew out was for storage integrated in an Internet-edge router is that the storage can serve as a waypoint for incoming and outgoing data especially if customers are using Internet services with not-so-good bandwidth. This is in addition to being an integrated network-attached storage for documents and media to be pulled up over the home network.

It could show that it is feasible to set up an integrated-storage router with today’s NAS-grade or surveillance-grade hard disks having capacities in the order of at least 4Tb. As well, using application-level gateways and other software can make these devices work as staging posts for such applications as cloud storage services, software updates, content delivery and the like.

As well, the higher-capacity higher-reliability hard disks are showing up as a trend that will affect how network storage is designed.

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