Network Attached Storage

by Stuart Sweetow of Audio Visual Consultants ©2005

Originally published in Camcorder & Computer Video Magazine

If you have two or more computers in your home or office, you can set up a simple network and have the computers share an external hard drive system. The external hard drives can back up or store those huge video files, and they have other uses such as allowing sharing of printers.

With this Network Attached Storage (NAS), instead of connecting an external hard drive to a single computer, you connect it to your network so that everyone in your home or office has access to it. Most NAS systems have password protection, so you can decide just who has access and if an individual’s access is read and write or read only.

Maxtor Shared Storage Drive

Maxtor offers a low-cost way to have your own NAS system, and the $399 MSRP 300 GB Shared Storage Drive is designed for users with little or no experience with computer networks. It uses a single hard drive with a 16MB buffer.

The system comes with a Quick Start CD that you install on each computer on your network. The Maxtor Shared Storage (MSS) system appears like an external hard drive. The system sets up a shared public folder and a set of private folders on each computer. You determine who has access to the public folder, and each computer may have a private space on the Maxtor hard drive.

You can easily move files from your computer to the MSS using Maxtor’s Drag and Sort feature. This feature automatically sends particular file types to appropriate folders. For example, your video files will go to your My Videos folder, photos will go to My Photos folder and music will go to My Music. The drive has two USB2 ports, and you may connect printers and other external hard drives. The MSS is compatible with USB drives that are formatted to the FAT32 file system, and that limits a single file size on a partition to 4GB.

Buffalo TeraStation

While the Maxtor Shared Storage System is a good entry-level Network Attached Storage solution, the $999 MSRP One Terabyte, TeraStation contains four 250 GB hard drives and incorporates an automatic backup system called RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks), a system used by professional video production facilities. Inevitably, one day, a hard drive is going to fail. If you are 90 per cent complete with editing your precious video production, and the hard drive fails, the redundancy of a RAID system saves the day.

The TeraStation’s RAID comes with the flexibility to configure it in a variety of ways depending on your needs. RAID 1 divides the four drives into 500GB groups or volumes. You store and access your video files on the first volume, and the second volume acts as a clone backing up all the data. The system is designed so the second volume takes over to give you seamless access to your files. After you replace the defective drive, the TeraStation automatically rebuilds all the volumes.

In the RAID 5 configuration, Buffalo combines the four drives together into a single 750 GB volume. The remaining 250 GB is used to rebuild the drive array in the case of a drive failure. Buffalo recommends that users configure the TeraStation to RAID 5 because they say it “provides the best combination of performance, redundancy and storage size.”

The TeraStation can also be configured for “spanning” where the four drives are combined into a single 1 TB volume or in a non-RAID configuration where each drive acts as an independent 250 GB unit. Additional hard drives may be installed via the USB2 ports. The decision on how to set up the RAID configuration should be made before using the TeraStation, because to change the configuration requires that all data be deleted.

The setup utility walks the user through the physical installation of the unit, and it installs the “TeraStation Client Utility” software for managing some of the drive’s basic functions. The more pertinent drive options are managed from the Browser Management Utility which opens in a web browser. This is where the administrator can configure all aspects of the drive such as network configurations, shared directories, user management, print serving and the backup scheduler. The drive can even be configured to email the administrator regarding certain drive activities.

The system comes in a silver case, about half the height of a computer tower. The front panel has a variety of LED indicators and a drive status display. It has two USB2 ports on the back, two more on the front and one 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet port. Up to four external USB hard drives can be connected concurrently to allow expandability and backup options. The TeraStation also offers a print server feature so users can share a USB printer over their network. All your computers may be networked to the TeraStation, and passwords may be assigned. It acts as a central repository for all your files, and any computer attached to the network may access the files.

The TeraStation also lets you utilize FTP (File Transfer Protocol), an industry standard for downloading files from any computer on the Internet using a user name and password. You can configure and manage your TeraStation through a URL assigned to you by Buffalo.

Included with the TeraStation is Tangra’s Memeo—backup software that monitors changes and additions to files on your computer. It sends copies of the files to the TeraStation. During setup you can determine what files and folders you wish to backup and how many changes to a file you would like to save. Rather than schedule nightly or weekly backups Memeo instantly backs up the changes to your files.

Going for a Test Drive

Maxtor’s setup utility is easy to use, although it doesn’t walk the user through setup of hardware. Like the TeraStation, the hard drive is configured through a web browser utility. Many of the options are the same as found on the TeraStation such as user accounts, shared directories and network settings. However, the Maxtor doesn’t provide any RAID options, meaning that the drive can’t automatically provide the storage redundancy of critical data needs. The Maxtor also doesn’t include any automatic backup features. It does have a feature called “drag and sort” which automatically sorts various file types when they are dropped on the volume icon. The files are placed in folders such as “My Movies,” “My Music” and “My Photos.”

To use NAS systems, they need to be connected to a network router via Ethernet. Windows and Macintosh systems will both readily recognize these drives as shared volumes available through “Network” on the Mac’s Finder and “My Network Places” on the Windows file browser. We did experience issues seeing the drives with one of our Windows machines that uses a Norton Internet Security firewall, so we had to configure the firewall to allow communication with the drives’ IP addresses.

Both drives come with setup software for Windows, which may or may not be necessary depending on which version you’re running. The rather complex feature set offered by both devices is configured using standard web browsers. When directing the browser to the drive’s IP address, a password-protected HTML application opens, giving the user administrative options including networking, formatting and even print-serving.

The Maxtor has two USB 2.0 ports and the TeraStation has four, but they are not for connecting the units to the computer as you would most external Hard Drives. They are actually there for adding on traditional USB hard drives to expand the overall networkable capacity of the NAS. Or they can be used to connect USB printers for sharing across the network.

The drives’ data transfer rate is pretty fast as long as the network doesn’t get bogged down. The front of the TeraStation puts on an appealing light show with LEDs blinking when each of the four hard drives are reading and writing data. The unit is impressively quiet even though it is spinning so many drives.

The TeraStation is capable of greater performance if it is connected to a network capable of gigabit Ethernet. These units can even be accessed wirelessly when connected to a wireless router. To make sure that data is protected, users can be set up with their own password-protected folders, and public folders can be used for sharing between users. These drives can also be configured for use with a network workgroup to limit access to users on that workgroup.

If use your computer to edit video and author DVDs, you know how quickly hard drives fill up. If your home or office has two or more computers, you can network them together so you can access and process video files from either one. If you are going to get an external hard drive for more storage and backup, and you have a network, then it makes sense to get a Network Attached Storage (NAS) hard drive system.

Just a few years ago, NAS systems were priced so high that only large companies could afford them. Buffalo’s TeraStation and Maxtor’s Shared Storage Drive are aimed at the SOHO (small office home office) market. Since video takes up so much storage space, either of these units would be a natural add-on to your home or office computer network.

As your video editing projects and authored DVD files grow you will need more and more storage for them. When you move to high definition video, with its hungry hard drive requirements, you will be glad you set up a NAS for storing, protecting and backing up your video productions.

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