I was recently paid by a client, so I took the opportunity to add a little hardware to my home network:
My home network consists of two laptops (mine and Wifey’s, via w-fi), and my desktop (wired to the base station). I needed to be able to access the same files from my laptop and my desktop. These include my iTunes library, and source code stored in my VSS repository. Wifey needed to back up iTunes, and I needed to make sure she can access the thousands of images from the flower shop’s weddings and funeral work. Netgear’s “toaster” seemed like it would fit the bill, so I ordered it and a pair of Maxtor 200 GB IDE hard drives. Total cost was under $400, significantly less than for a full file server. One of the reasons this is so much cheaper than a full file server is that this is more of a networkable hard drive, and this particular model is meant for the home network. Technically, this device is a SAN, not NAS (http://kbserver.netgear.com/kb_web_files/n101547.asp). Similar products on the market are Iomega’s StorCenter hard drives or the lower-end Snap Servers. One advantage this device has over the other competitors is that you can determine how much storage you have. You have to buy the drives separately, but you can start with one and add another one later. You can also upgrade the drives for more storage down the road.
Setup was very easy—I literally opened the side of the SC101, dropped in the two drives and connected the power and ribbon cables to each. The side needed a little more force to get back on than I wanted to use, and the lock is spring loaded, so I had to use both hands, one to keep the lock unlocked until the side was back in place, and the other to press the side into place. It’s like they needed to leave a few mm more space than they did, and the side still doesn’t fit back perfectly. I then attached the network cable and plugged the unit in, and it started its self configuration. You do need to have your network running with DHCP, which is the default for most home networking gear. If you haven’t fiddled with the DHCP settings, you’re probably good to go.
Next step was to install the software, which you must use in order to make this work. Installation was quick, and it even prompts you to check for an update first. Good thing, as there was a minor version upgrade since my unit shipped. Once the software is installed, your first task is to configure the drives, and I was pleasantly surprised as to how the drives can be configured. During configuration, you’re prompted to check for a firmware upgrade, and this too had a minor version upgrade. The firmware upgrade was the only glitch in installation—the installer program crashed after the update finished, and I couldn’t reconnect to the device with the client software until I power cycled it. After the power cycle, I could configure the drives, and everything progressed normally.
I was most interested in having my drives mirrored for data protection reasons (http://kbserver.netgear.com/kb_web_files/n101543.asp), but you do have some options in how you divide the physical drives into logical drives. You can define the physical storage media into a number of logical drives, and each drive can be mirrored or not. I could have two drives, each of 190 GB (representing the two physical volumes), or one 150 GB mirrored and two 40 GB non-mirrored (one on each physical volume). I ended up with a 150 GB and a 40 GB drive, each mirrored. Total time was maybe 20 minutes from when I started unpacking to finishing configuration.
In the Amazon reviews, you’ll see people complain about the speed of the device. Part of this may have to do with the network speed, part may have to do with the speed of the physical drives (try to buy faster ones if you can), and part may have to do with the size of the logical drives. I use a Microsoft MN-500 base station running at 100 Mbps (the speed of most corporate networks), and it took 2–3 minutes to copy 1300+ files (894 MB) from my desktop to the SC101. You will probably get better performance by partitioning into smaller logical volumes, and by using a wired connection (the laptops connect at 10 Mbps via wi-fi, but newer wi-fi networks can connect at 54 Mbps). On the larger volume, it does seem to take a few moments longer to load folder and file listings than on the smaller volume, so I would suggest several smaller logical drives, rather than one monster drive.
There are a couple considerations/downsides. One thing you definitely need to make sure of is that if you’re using a wi-fi home network, you should definitely secure it with WEP or WPA, especially if you’ll be storing sensitive files on the SC101. If you don’t, there’s a chance someone could access your files. I suspect this device uses some form of embedded Linux, and it doesn’t support NTFS or Windows security—it just uses a simple password to access the volume (if you set one). There does not seem to be any client for Macs or Linux machines, only Windows. Since I bought two new drives off the shelf at Staples, I can’t say if older drives work or not (you can find a list of tested drives at http://kbserver.netgear.com/kb_web_files/n101554.asp). Also, Netgear’s website says that the device is compatible with Windows XP SP1, but the box and product insert both say that XP SP2 is the minimum system. I had to upgrade Wifey’s laptop to SP2 in order to make the client software connect, and the software worked fine after the upgrade to SP2. Also, SFS bypasses the Windows cache, so folder and file information must be reloaded each time you access your drives. This absoluetly slows the interface down, and can get annoying if you have to keep accessing different folders in a short amount of time.
All in all, I’m very pleased after several days of use. One cool feature is that the drives do not need to be defragged. The controller software uses SAN File System (SFS), which is self-optimizing (to oversimplify). Even though it’s not a Windows-based device, I haven’t noticed any incompatibilities at all, and the speed seems fine for normal file operations. And, you can choose to share the logical drives, or keep them private. This allows you to have a central family place for photos or whatever, and private drives for each family member.
I noticed today that for some reason the Windows Installer is painfully slow when I have drives attached. When using the Add/Remove programs, or when installing a new application, the installation takes forever. To remedy this, I ran the drive wizard and detached the drive. Then, installation was pretty normal.