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You Need Network Attached Storage And We Help You Pick The Best and Install it.
by the Tech Lab Staff, edited by Keith Benicek.
January 31, 2005

A paperless business place, file sharing, MP3 multimedia Entertainment Centers, digital photography and digital video have created digital overload. Everyone of those technologies, well OK the paperless business place never did happen, but all the rest including a lot of digital business files have presented businesses and home users with a storage and data sharing dilemma.

Ten or twelve years ago the accepted idea of sharing data at home meant moving a file to a floppy, or if it was over a megabyte, a Zip disk was used. All the data was kept on your personal computers hard disk drive. At most small business, guess what, it was often the same thing except that some had a LAN (local area network), also called Ethernet or AppleTalk if it was a Mac house.

Medium to large businesses have been savvy a lot longer than home and small offices when it comes to networking and Network Attached Storage (NAS), basically a big hard drive (or more than one) served by an embedded computer. Since most of our regular readers are advanced geeks and IT folks, we normally wouldn’t have to explain, however here’s a short explanation of NAS.

NAS was originally a Ethernet connected complete computer, probably running UNIX, Windows or even Mac OS that had large internal hard drives which had “permissions” to share with approved users on an Ethernet LAN and it ran 24-7, or until it crashed. As technology progressed, Ethernet connected NAS units shrunk to the size of 1u tall “rack mount” enclosures with multiple redundant array hard drives and their own microprocessor instead of a regular desktop sized computer. These self-rebooted, self-analyzed and have automated repair functions like ScanDisk. These days they usually run a version of Linux or UNIX, Apple units run a version of OS X. So now you know.

In this multi-segment How-To and Review series on Network Attached Storage, we are going to try to give you ideas on what best way to implement a NAS system on your network and review our top choices of NAS units to fit your budgets. Segment One will be oriented towards Home Recreational, Home Office and Small Office (SoHo) systems and devices. So, with enough explanation, lets just get started.
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Segment One –
Personal and SoHo NAS systems.

This segment of the market is probably one of the fastest growing of the entire Network Attached Storage (NAS) system product list. The reason is pretty simple. Home users for personal digital files like pictures, digital video and especially digital music has gone through the roof. Excellent quality DV-camcorders are more than affordable and at our last count, there were at least 18 major-brand hard drive based personal “MP3” iPod-like players for both Windows and Mac. I think there must be a zillion “flash” type players out there too.

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You have to put all those Gigabytes of digital video, pictures and music somewhere other than on your computers hard drive for two great reasons.

  1. A computers internal hard drive, especially in a PC Notebook or Apple PowerBook, is just too expensive a piece of storage real estate to fill up with sometimes infrequently accessed digital data. Notebook HDD’s are three times as expensive per GB, as desktops and most people have no idea how to upgrade them to larger ones.
  2. Assuming that you have family, friends or other computers, that you’d like to share your digital archives with; how are you going to do that when everything is on one computer and it’s turned off, or your files are might be scattered over two of three of your computers? If you’re in a small office, sharing mutually used files with other in your business is just smart business and a time savings.

Well, a NAS system will solve those and other problems for you at a surprisingly low cost per Gigabyte compared to adding another drive to your desktop and a lot cheaper than replacing your notebooks HDD.

Leaving a desktop computer on 24/7 just to access your digital data and music is costly in a lot of ways. Even in sleep mode, your computer and monitor may still drain up to 40 - 50 Watts per hour from your checkbook. When your computer wakes up because someone in the house or office wants to access files, your computer may kick up to 200 - 450 Watts of electricity use and that is very big bucks. No matter what any computer store “expert” tells you, the manufacturers agree that components will die sooner in computers left on all the time. The hard drive and video cards will go first.

Enter Super (mini)NAS –
As we mentioned in the opening explanation of Ethernet Network Attached Storage, these units now are standalone network servers, which means that attachment to computer is not necessary. Containing a low power consumption processor, sometimes the same types as used in your Pocket PC or Palm, they most often run an imbedded mini Server version of Linux OS with file serving services usually compatible with most currently common computer operating systems. All that we’ve seen, can be set to even more power saving sleep modes, when not being accessed; and some even have built-in computer data backup functions.

Most of the famous brands that have gotten into this market early, have been smart to aim for a particular niche markets, use accepted reliable technologies and price their products at very reasonable costs for the intended buyers.

With so many new to the market NAS units for Home, SoHo and Small Business uses; we strongly suggest you be careful about what you buy and stick to more traditional technologies that will protect your data. Ask any IT Manager if he would even consider implementing an 802.11x Wireless NAS and you’ll be laughed out the door. No matter what you hear, Wireless is not secure enough on any network to safely protect your personal or business data.

Wireless is still horribly unreliable too, with erratic connections over anything but the shortest of distances and many Wirelesses chipset are NOT fully or reliably compatible with each other. Iomega recently came out with 802.11x Wireless NAS units and we could not recommend it after looking at the specifications. It’s just not a good choice over wired Ethernet connections. While Iomega has a history of making popular small removable ZIP™ “disks”, there just isn’t a history of networking there to trust important data to.


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