13 Things to Consider Before Buying a Digital Media Storage System

In today’s connected home we take pictures digitally, listen to digital audio on our MP3 players, and download and watch digital movies on our HD TV’s.  All of these digital media files take up a copious amount of space and the growth of these files is outpacing our ability to store and protect them.  Thankfully, storage has become relatively inexpensive – a 1TB hard disk drive can be purchased for well under $100 and the pricing on 2TB hard disk drives is starting to move in that direction as well.  Not that I can tell the future, but I expect to look back on this article in a year or two and see a 3TB or a 4TB hard disk drive priced at the levels of a 2TB hard disk drive today.

Within the digital home you may want to share your media with others inside and outside of our homes.  To make this possible many vendors are offering home storage systems to store and protect your digital media lifestyle.  These devices connect to your home network and enable you to store and share your media with your family through PC’s and connected devices, such as home theatre systems, digital media extenders, xBox 360, PS3, the Apple TV, and even with friends and family outside of our homes through cloud based services.  Also, with several of the products you can backup your data to cloud based backup services so if there was to be a fire in your home, or a virus outbreak your precious data would be protected.   These services aren’t free, but when you think about your important family albums that are all digital what are they worth to you?  It is a small cost in those terms.

Another other use that I have found for these systems is sharing files between my various home PCs and Macs – instead of dumping files to a USB Memory Stick and Sneakernetting them from place to place I can copy files to my home digital media storage system (NAS Device) and share files among all of my computers.

Having used a number of these digital media storage systems over the past several years I have had to go through the buying process; working through my own requirements, researching and evaluating the options in the market, and finally selecting the right system for my usage.   In an attempt to make your purchase decision easier I wanted to share some thoughts on how to select the right product for your environment.  I am not going to attempt to recommend a specific product because your requirements will likely differ from mine, rather I am going to encourage you to explore many of them by taking a moment to think about what you want to be able to do today and in the future with your digital media.  From my perspective, the worst thing that you can do is buy a product that doesn’t fit your needs and then return it or use it only to have buyer’s remorse.  So, take the extra time and do the research;  laying out your requirements clearly and then buy what best meets your needs – take the time to read reviews online and download and read the product manuals – there are some real gems to be found within the product manuals as well as in the online communities and forums for these products. Unless you live alone you should also talk with your family members to understand how they intend to use the product.  For example, if I was buying something for my mother, it would have to be super-simple and seamlessly integrated with her computing experience as she is not a techie, not even close.  She would need the system to automatically backup her Mac using Time Machine and that would be all that she uses the system for – she rents her digital media through DVDs at RedBox and Blockbuster.

There are several considerations to think about when looking at digital media storage systems, including:

1. Who is going to, and how are they going to use the system?

If you are only storing pictures then you need one type of digital media storage product, like adding a USB connected hard disk drive to your wireless router, which is an option on many of the wireless routers on the market today.  If you are going to be streaming digital media as well accessing your pictures then you may need a totally different system.  Finally, if you are going to stream media throughout your house then you need to think about getting a system with multiple drives, a good bit of memory, and a fast connection to your network.  Now, you are going to ask why?   There are a few reasons why, including:  streaming media requires a good bit of consistent performance, more than you are going to get from a single drive system with a slow connection to your network.  A single hard disk drive can generate between 4-6Mb/s of consistent performance – that is from a SATA-2 drive.  While the vendors of the hard disk drives will claim higher levels of performance, these are usually burst modes and are not consistent, which is what you need to stream media.  Imagine you are watching a HD movie or streaming high quality audio, how much performance do you think that you need?   If you encode your video at 480p, standard DVD, then you are going to need approximately 3 Mb/s of consistent performance to replay the video.  Also, you need to make sure that your home network can support the performance of the streaming media.  Don’t rely on Wi-Fi alone, you may need to physically wire your components together with Gigabit Ethernet to get the best consistent performance.  And, if you are looking at streaming 1080P video then you need to look at 50 Mb/s of consistent performance, which means that you will need to look at striping across several hard disk drives in a RAID configuration.  This is what you need to stream HD quality video from your HD Video Camera or Blu-Ray quality video.

What is RAID?  RAID is an acronym that means Redundant Array of Independent Drives, in other words data is stripped across a number of drives and the performance of the drives is combined, thereby increasing the performance as well as providing resilience and reliability in the case of a single drive failure, using a parity drive.  This article is not about RAID, nor am I going to go into detail on parity configurations, but suffice it to say that many of the vendors that provide these systems have created their own RAID configurations that maximize the available amount of storage from the stripped drives as well as protect your data in case one of the drives fails.  Also, many of the systems offer hot-swap drives enabling you to replace a failed drive on the fly without shutting the system down and they will automatically restore the protection of the system while restriping the data onto the new drive.  While the restriping process is occurring the performance of the system will be degraded because the resources of the system are being used to restore the resilience of your data.  For larger hard drives this can take a day or more depending on how much data is stored on the system.  If you want to read all about RAID I would suggest visiting Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAID

2. Price

There are products available for under $100 to several thousand $ and everything in between.  And, what you spend depends on what you want the system to do.  Some of the sub $100 systems only use one hard disk drive which can be problematic if the drive dies and you haven’t backed it up.  Many of the systems will come with a single drive and several empty drive bays so you can customize your system based on capacity by adding drives.  Before adding drives to a system make sure that you check the vendor’s website to ensure that you are using tested and supported drives – don’t want to compromise your warranty, or more importantly your data.  Vendors test the drives to ensure that they are compatible and work with their suppliers to work out issues with the drives by upgrading drive firmware, or in some cases disqualifying a drive all together.

3. Physical size of system

Single drive systems are the size of a textbook from college.  You remember textbooks, right?  The larger systems with multiple drives will take up the size of a breadbox.  I always wondered how big a breadbox was and the answer is, approximately 12 inches by 6 inches high and deep – a bit bigger than a large loaf of bread (According to Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breadbox).  The size of the system from a physical perspective does not take into account the airflow that these systems need to ensure they stay cool, so make sure you read the manual and place the system in a location where it gets the proper airflow.  I put my system in my home office closet next to my network printer where it has a good deal of airflow and central access to power and networking connections.  Many of the systems have an information panel on the front of the system that will show you the status of the system as well as used and available capacity.  One other important feature on many of the digital media systems is physical security and many include a standard Kensington style locking slot.

4. Look and Feel

Now, I am all for aesthetics and I want my system to look “cool” , but that is something that is very personal and I am going to leave to each of you to determine what you think “cool” is.
The vendors have designed the systems to look like they would fit into any home technology environment – some of them even look like books on a bookshelf, while others look like small versions of servers.  Most of systems have access lights to show drive access as well as management displays on the front of the main unit so you can see what is going on in real-time.

5. Environmentals (Airflow, thermals, sound, and more)

This is an important part of selecting a system and I was surprised when I purchased my first system to find that the fan in the system made so much noise that I had to place it out of the way behind a door to ensure that I would not hear the sound of the fan.  Further, the system got hot, we are talking hotter than I thought it should and it would burn my fingers if I left them on the system for too long, so I had to put some insulation under it to keep it from burning the shelf that it was on.  I read online that these were known issues with the system, and I should have done more research before buying the system.  My second system was not only quiet, because I checked, it ran cool, and it used 1/10ththe amount of power that the first system used.  So, in upgrading I not only got a better system in every way, I got a system that delivered on the environmentals.  Finally, one feature that I really liked on the new system was that it automatically shut down the power based on a user selectable calendar for each day of the week and weekend day, meaning it turns off automatically and drops from full power utilization to only a trickle when it is powered off, only to restart early in the day and be ready for my usage when I need it.   Also, the current system that I am using has the ability to remotely monitor a connected UPS.  What does this mean?  If the power to the system is interrupted and the UPS kicks in the system will monitor the UPS and before it gets powered down inadvertently the system will shut itself down cleanly.  By cleanly shutting down the system you avoid having to clean the file system, and no, I am not talking about taking about a toothbrush and some cleaner and physically cleaning the system, I am talking about the RAID program replaying a log to ensure no data was lost when the power was interrupted and market the file system super-bit clean.  Did I use enough techno-babble in the last sentence for you?  If you want to know more about this process you can look it up on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journaling_file_system

6. Capacity and Expandability

Most of the systems on the market today start with a single 1 or 2TB hard disk drive and can easily be expanded by adding multiple hard disk drives.  Adding drives is a simple operation of removing a drive carrier and installing a new hard disk drive per the vendor’s instructions and installing the drive back into the system.  The system will automatically recognize the drive and stripe the data across it, or you may have to configure the system based on the performance and capacity options that you want to have for your specific environment.  Usually, drives need to be added one at a time and the process of getting to the maximum capacity may take time and some of the systems on the market will right-size the drive based on the capacity of the first drive installed, so if you install a 1TB drive and then want to add 2TB drives, the capacity of the 2TB drives will only be seen as 1TB.  To fix this one would need to backup all of your data and then start with all of the same capacity hard disk drives.  Other systems on the market will take whatever hard disk drive capacity you throw at it and build a RAID configuration delivering the maximum capacity to you.

7. Integration-Interconnection

Most of the systems on the market today offer both Wi-Fi and Wired connections.  While Wi-Fi offers a simple connection without wires it sacrifices performance for that simplicity.  We have all read the performance claims of 110Mb/s for 802.11n Wi-Fi networks, but realistically the theory and reality are quite separate.  To really deliver the performance there is no way around a physical wired connection.  Sorry, you are going to have to deal with the harsh reality that technology companies don’t always tell the truth and that streaming media will take every Mb/s that you can throw at it to ensure that you get an entertainment quality experience in your home.  Also, you need to think about how many people are going to be accessing the system at the same time.  In my house we have three “Power Users” that all access streaming media at the same time.  My oldest son will be streaming media from Netflix on his Wii while my youngest is looking at pictures on my home media storage device and I am streaming home movies to my Mac.  I checked the network and we were pumping some serious I/O to the tune of 80 Mb/s.  Now, I wouldn’t say that every user in the house needed to be streaming media, but the idea is that I want them to have that capability and utilize the media when and where they want to.

The Netgear ReadyNAS also supports connecting an external UPS and monitoring it for a change in the status of the power coming into the system and will gracefully shut the system down if the power fails.  I have not hooked a UPS up yet, but am planning to do so shortly.

8. Backup – what is all of this I hear about backup?

In the 70’s and 80’s the number one concern that I heard from my parents related to their media was that they were afraid that their physical, analog home movies and pictures would get burned up in a house fire, or lost.  Thankfully, it never happened, but they made copies and stored them at another family member’s house just in case.

Today, all of those physical memories have been replaced by digital files that live on spinning media that is going to crash at some point and you will need to have a backup to ensure that you can still access your digital memories.  What are your digital photos worth to you?  Your memories?  So, why don’t you back them up?  There are many answers to that question it is too complex, or simply too costly, or I never thought about it, to name a few.  With many of the digital media storage systems on the market today they offer the ability to automatically backup the system to a cloud based backup service on the Internet.  This service is available for a fee and you can access your files securely from any other system that can connect to the Internet.  The fee is modest, under $100 per year for the average user and the pricing is based on capacity.  The system can be configured to only backup certain files or directories (folders) so you only pay for what you think is important, for example children’s pictures.  A word of caution, if you have a lot data, say 1,024GB, a full TB be prepared for a rather lengthy upload process.  You can do a quick calculation to figure out how long your upload will take by measuring the speed of your upload and then dividing your total amount of data to be backed up by the upload speed.  In most cases you are probably looking at least a week to backup a TB of data.  On some of the systems available on the market there is a USB port on the back of the system that enables you to connect a USB hard drive and backup the system.  This is a simple and inexpensive way to backup the system, but it requires you to manually backup the system and will not protect your system should you have a fire or a virus.

9. Sharing your media

Many of the products on the market today enable you to share your media, specifically your pictures, through a publishing mechanism.   By sharing a published link with those that you want to see the media they can easily and securely access the media on the Internet.  My current media storage system lets me share my pictures on the web to my family members who live in other states.   While the capability sounds great, the implementation is less than what it should be.  Picture sharing sites offer a rich experience and enable those who view shared media to order pictures and access the media in a simple and visually rich environment.  The implementations of the current media storage systems seems a bit archaic in comparison to the current set of web based photo sharing sites and I think it is a case of trying to be all things to all people instead of focusing on what they are good at and leaving the photo sharing to the photo sharing experts by creating a digital upload service where photos are automatically uploaded to the photo sharing site by the media storage system.

10. Protocol Support

For every type of media and streaming there is a protocol that you need to support it.  For iTunes, the media server needs to be able to act like an iTunes Server so iTunes clients, such as Macs and PCs can see and share all of the stored digital media.  Most of the media servers on the market today leverage open source technology to deliver many of the major protocols on the market, including those listed below:

  • Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA): enables a DLNA certified device to access media on a DLNA certified server.  For more information on this process please visit http://www.dlna.org/digital_living/how_it_works/
  • Time Machine:  In every apple Max with Snow Leopard there is a built in backup solution that enables you to roll back and find files in a simple to use interface and digital media systems that support the Time Machine protocol can backup Mac clients remotely and automatically on the network.  For more information on Apple’s Time Machine please visit http://support.apple.com/kb/ht1427
  • iTunes Server:  Instead of having to have all of your music on every system in your house you can use a digital media storage system with an embedded iTunes Server to share your music with all of the systems in your home.
  • Windows Media Server:  With an embedded Windows Media Server you can stream Windows Media Files and MP3 files to any connected system.
  • CIFS (SMB):  Allows you to share files between Windows and Mac systems on the network.
  • AFS:  Allows you to share files between Mac clients on the network
  • NFS:  Allows you to share files between Linux and UNIX clients on the network.

NOTE:  Files shared between CIFS and NFS can be seen by both systems at the same time and may leverage Samba file sharing technologies and include a locking mechanism so file ownership is kept intact and keeps you from overwriting one another’s changes to the file.

  • BitTorrent:  For file sharing over the Internet a BitTorrent client is standard equipment on many PC’s – with a BitTorrent client embedded in the digital media storage system so you can offload the task of getting files off the Internet from your PC.

11. Support & Warranty

When buying anything in the technology market it is important to check out the support and warranty offerings from the vendor.  I checked through the knowledge base of the vendors that I have purchased from and found them to be chuck full of good information.  I did have a hard drive fail in one of my units and I called the vendor and they processed a RMA and cross-shipped a new drive.  Many of the systems offer three year warranties today and that is a good option to have, but you need to check on the specifics of the warranty and find out what is covered in terms of parts and shipping charges.  Also, I played “dumb customer” and called their technical support center to find out what kind of help I can expect when I have an issue and all of the vendors that I called were very supportive and knowledgeable.  As you know, calling support is the luck of the draw based on who is on the other side of the phone line, sometimes it is a great person, other times it is a newbie who is green behind the ears.  You may also want to check on how frequently the vendor updates their product’s firmware (OS platform) and how their product quality has been received by trolling through their knowledge base.  Most of the products on the market will support an auto-upgrade feature by downloading the latest revisions and installing them directly from the vendor’s website.  This is a good feature and keeps you from making a costly mistake by downloading firmware and then not upgrading the system correctly.

12. Hackability

For “Power-Users” that may read this and wonder if they can hack their systems and improve the performance, change a parameter, or add a new protocol?  The answer is most likely “Yes!”  Communities have sprung up around these media servers and offer the know-how and instructions to hack the systems, but be aware that doing so may void the warranty, or require you to reset the system to get support in case of an issue, which means that you may lose your data when you perform a system reset.  Again, read the directions on the system to know what you can and cannot do before you buy the system.

13. Simplicity-Complexity

All of the systems that I have used are relatively straightforward to setup and manage requiring a minimal amount of tech savvy.  When installed all of the ones that I have used automatically register with the DHCP Server and get an IP address.  From there, you configure the system on a management console that is usually web based.  In the case of my current system there is an application that when launched will find the media storage system and allow you to manage it securely.  All of the systems that I have used allow you to set an administrator userid and password to ensure that only you have access to manage the system.

Other Considerations: A word about copyrights; for those of you that copy music or videos that is the property of others please be aware that you are breaking the law and while I cannot condone your actions, you need to understand that your media is also property, your property, and should only be used by those that you want to have access to it or have copies of it.

So, What Were My Requirements and What Solution Did I Select?

Netgear ReadyNAS NV+

NetGear ReadyNAS NV+ with four drives.

 

http://www.netgear.com/readynasvault

Other systems that I evaluated included the following:

  • Buffalo Terastation
  • Drobo – I could not purchase the Drobo due to budget concerns and the Drobo required an external box to connect to the network.  The initial design point for the Drobo was a better USB Storage System for Mac users doing animation and digital video.
  • Iomega StorCenter – The Iomega seemed a bit clunky and inefficient, but did provide the best performance based on comments on the Internet.
  • HP MediaSmart Server – This system is based on Windows Server – Home Edition and has a good deal of performance, but I wanted an open source solution so I could hack it.

Who is going to, and how are they going to use the system?

In my environment I have myself, a power-user who will stream media of all types, my oldest son who is getting into web development, and my youngest son who is mostly interested in streaming music.  Also, I have my parents and friends that want to see pictures of my family and significant events.    We needed a system that has multiple hard disk drives to support higher performance and delivery of media on the network and Gigabit Ethernet is a must have.  For streaming media alone we needed at least two drives to generate the performance that was required and having four drives gives me a bit of headroom when I go to a higher resolution video – not that I am going to be distributing 1080P video anytime soon – just too costly in terms of capacity and bandwidth at the moment.

Price

In 2009, when I decided to purchase a Digital Media Storage Server I had a budget of $500 for the system with all of the drives and I wanted about 4TBs of overall storage for my current and future digital media storage requirements.  This budget was based on buying a second hand system on eBay or Craiglist. If I was looking to buy a new system I would need to raise my budget a bit too around $750.  I have seen new systems that fit my needs on eBay for less that $500 and I bought my system on Craigslist with 2x500GB drives for $200.  That left me $300 to buy drives and I replaced the two 500GB drives that came with the system with 1TB drives and still have some change left over.  I bought the 1TB drives at TigerDirect, after checking the vendor’s website for supported drives.  The drives cost me $59 each and I needed four (4) of them.  So, I spent about $240 for the drives and had about $60 left, which I quickly spent to upgrade the system memory to 512MB, from the standard 128MB which resulted in an increase in performance of ~20%.  Today, you can buy 2TB drives for $69 each and double your capacity, provided they are supported in your system, which my system supports.

Physical Size of the System

This is an area where I am constrained as I needed to put the system in a closet in my office next to my laser printer.   So, the size is critically important to me as is accessibility to the hard disk drives and other parts of the system.

Look and Feel

This is an area where, admittedly, I have less of a concern as the system is going to be in the closet, but the Netgear ReadyNAS NV+ is a winner in my book as it has an industrial chrome-silver look that fits in well in my clost.  The current revision of the ReadyNas product has followed the pendulum swing back to black.  Thru the years I have found that the market moves from a gloss black outer to a more industrial look depending on what is hot in the Home Theatre market and today black is back.   The ReadyNAS has a great LCD display and four disk access lights on the front of the system that make understanding the status of the system as simple as looking at it.    The disk status lights also help identify failed drives, should a drive fail.  I would highly recommend looking at systems that show you the status of the drives and location so you don’t remove a good drive by accident and lose your entire data set.

Environmentals

I had owned a Western Digital MyBook World – 1TB NAS in the past and the single fan on the system was so loud that I had to keep the door closed on the closet that contained the system and I could still hear it.  I put some foam insulation around the WD product to help quiet it and it was still loud.  Several websites suggested replacing the main fan to quiet it down.  Instead, I sold the WD system and bought the ReadNAS NV+ which is very quiet.  With the door open I can barely hear the fans or the drives spinning.

The ReadyNAS NV+ also supports the automatic power down – power savings feature.  The system starts at 6:00am and shutdowns at 11:00pm every day.  Below is a picture of the web management tool that is supplied with the system showing the configuration screen for the automatic power down feature.

ReadyNAS Management Console – showing the Power Time for Automated Shutdown and Startup

Capacity and Expandability

I needed ~3TBs of storage for my needs today and for the next few years.  I should give you some background on my media needs.  I have about 25,000 songs, each ~1MB in size, a few hundred home videos consume between 100MB-1GB each.  Additionally, I create backups each few months of my personal and work data that comes ~80GBs for each backup.  So, today, I am consuming 1.3TBs of storage and expect to consume 750GB per year of capacity.  So, with four 1TB drives, I have ~3.4TBs of usable capacity of the system.  The 600GBs of capacity is used for RAID overhead and protects me in case a drive fails, which has happened in the past and I was protected and did not lose any data and when I installed a new drive the system immediately recovered and rebuilt the data from the bad drive. The ReadyNAS system uses a Netgear version of RAID called X-RAID that creates a balance between reliability and capacity which also supports automatic expansion of the system as one adds additional drives.  X-RAID is Netgear’s proprietary “patent-pending”  solution where the “X” stands for “eXpandable” as most traditional RAID environments can only extended by relaying out the data (restriping) requiring one to delete all of the data, while the X-RAID system automatically extends the volume when a new drive is added and restripes the data to take advantage of the additional capacity.  For more information on X-RAID please visit http://www.readynas.com/?cat=54

Integration-Interconnection

The ReadyNAS NV+ is well integrated into my environment as I needed to support streaming media to a variety of platforms including:

  • Apple TV with Boxee
  • LG LHB-975 supporting DLNA
  • Apple Mac
  • Windows PCs
  • iTunes

Backup – what is all of this I hear about backup?

I use the ReadyNAS NV+ as a backup target for my system and I have yet to do a full backup of the ReadyNAS, other than my main files, which I backup to another USB Hard Disk Drive, so in theory, I am protected in case I lose one set by two backups.  Netgear offers a ReadyNAS Vault Cloud Based Backup Service, but, in my opinion, the pricing is off a bit from where I expect it to be, so I am not using a cloud based service.  Also, I would like to see Netgear, or the Netgear community, which I will discuss later, offer integration with other 3rdparty cloud based backup services like Mozy, so I can affordably backup my data to a cloud based service.  This would need to be an unlimited capacity option for me as I have a lot of data and I put value on all of it, plus I really don’t want to go through all of my data and categorize what needs to be backed up and what does not need to be, much easier to backup my entire data set.   I expect to see the major cloud based backup services offer this kind of service and integration in the near future as the home market moves from dedicated PC’s to these shared digital media devices.  One solution is leaving a computer on and using it as a shim to move the data from my ReadyNAS to the online backup service, but this could prove to be problematic as the ReadyNAS will automatically power down in the middle of the backup operation and would need to be restarted the next day, over and over again.  With a 500Kb/s upload speed I am looking at a couple of weeks to completely backup my digitial media library.  All of a sudden the upload speed is critically important and the Internet Providers caring for download speeds becomes an out of focus discussion – I need a 10Mb/s asymmetrical Internet connection at the same price I am paying now for my 9Mb/s download with 500Kb/s upload speed.  This would cut down my upload by a factor of 20X – significant.  Integration would put the control of the entire operation in my hands and support the automated power-down and power-up and remember where the job left off so it can restart without having to do so from the beginning of the data set.

I thought of buying a 2TB hard drive in an enclosure for $100+ and use it as a backup target as the ReadyNAS has a one touch backup that works with USB hard disk drives and will backup the entire system to the USB connected drive.  A nice option, but doesn’t really work when you get over 2TB of stored media/data on the system.

Also, the system included backup software for your PC’s and Mac’s on the network that simply backups your data on a schedule to the ReadyNAS system.  I tried the software for a few months and then realized that I didn’t need it as I was backing up the same directory on my PC once a month and could manually handle the task with a quick automation setup in Windows.    For my Mac’s on the network I have Time Machine setup to automatically save their data to the Time Machine on the ReadyNAS – and it is super simple to setup  and I was able to re-purpose my USB Hard Disk Drive for temp space while I edit digital video.  For instructions on setting up Mac Time Machine with a ReadyNAS check out http://www.readynas.com/?p=253

Support & Warranty

The ReadyNAS system that I purchased had a three year warranty and the latest systems from Netgear and others come with a five year warranty.  I used the warranty once and found the support team at Netgear to be very knowledgeable and fixed my problem on the first call.  Also, the Netgear online knowledge base is very good and well categorized.  I was able to resolve several of my questions without having to call Netgear using their online knowledge base.

I would not say the same for the WD MyBook World that I purchased before the Netgear – their support site was very poorly categorized and their search engine was ineffective.  When I had a drive fail in my WD product it took over a week to get a replacement and the instructions for replacement were very poor.  Thankfully, the owners of the WD MyBook World came to the rescue as they had posted copious amounts of information on the procedure and what pitfalls to avoid when attempting the operation at home – as a note, some operations that you may want to do void the warranty, so check out what you are doing before you void your warranty.  Also, understands your level of technical expertise and don’t go in over your head as you can irrevocably destroy your data.  An example of an operation that I was concerned with was when I upgraded the firmware (Operating System) for the ReadyNas from a 3.x to a 4.x revision and the main password changed and I needed to reset it to get into the system.  The operation requires rebooting the system and holding the Power button down until one of the LED flashes and the Power button is released and the system re-installs the firmware thereby resetting the password and your data is kept.  If the LED flashes twice your data is deleted and the system is reset back to the way it came from the factory – suffice it to say that I was very patient when performing this operation as I did not want to reload 1.5TBs of data from my backup on a USB Drive.  The operation went smoothly and I was able to

Hackability

The Netgear ReadyNAS has an online community of users that support each other and share knowledge as well as a group of developers whom have built 3rdparty applications that seamlessly integrate with the ReadyNAS platform.  This one of the main  reasons that I selected the Netgear ReadyNAS product.  The ReadyNAS Community is at http://www.readynas.com/and there are applications to manage and augment the ReadyNAS product, including iPhone Apps, Picture Sharing Apps, Management Apps, and much more – some 300 Apps in total.  Some of the Apps are from Netgear while the majority come from developers in the community.  One of the more interesting Apps available for the ReadyNAS is a TIVO App that enables you to store your TIVO recordings directly to your ReadyNAS, thereby saving precious space on your TIVO.  Check it out at http://www.readynas.com/?p=4324

Simplicity-Complexity

Setup and configuration of the ReadyNAS was another reason that I selected the product for my environment – it was a simple as plugging it into Power and the Ethernet and it automatically acquired an address from my DHCP Server and I ran the RADAR application on my Mac and it found the ReadyNAS and I was able to access it, setup my network shares for my PC’s and my Mac and I was off to the races;  adding digital media and accessing it from my media streamers and on my wireless network.

The web management utility that comes with the ReadyNAS is supported on all of the major Internet Browsers on the PC, Mac, and Linux, including Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera and Safari, which makes it perfect for mixed environments.

There are some setup options, which you need to read the manual for, but once the system is setup it is very simple to manage the system.  Also, the system automatically checks for upgrades and will download them and install them bringing your system to a current version – a nice feature for those that like to stay current – I must admit that I am more of a get it working and stable and leave it alone kind of guy – as long as it is doing what I expect it to do why change it, or as the old adage goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

Posted in: Articles, Audio, Video, TV Gear, Computer Gear, Home, Kitchen

8 comments… add one

  • Gregg February 17, 2011, 4:37 pm

    Hi Brett
    Thank you for this great article and your experience you shared.
    I used to share my datas on a ISB drive hooked up to the AEBS.
    But then I realized that TimeMachine cannot backup Airdisks.
    So I ended up using a Mac Mini as a file server with many duck chained external firewire drives. This gives me the most flexibility.
    You mentioned, that you use TimeMachine to backup the Macs, too.
    How do you prevent TimeMachine to use up all the disk space since it just continues filling up the space until it’s full?
    Greg

    1
  • Gregg February 17, 2011, 4:40 pm

    I mean USB drive … not ISB.
    Also sorry for my bad English ;)

    2
  • Brett Cooper February 17, 2011, 6:19 pm

    Gregg,

    First, thank you for the compliment, I enjoyed writing the article and sharing knowledge. The NAS systems offer the capability of setting up specific CIFS (SMB) Shares/NFS Exports (Mount Points) with a quota, so you can virtually slice up the storage capacity and ensure that the application or users only use a specific amount of space that you specify. This way you protect yourself from taking up too much space and interfering with other users/applications.

    I hope that I answered your question. Enjoy!

    3
  • Jean-Denis Haas May 5, 2011, 8:49 pm

    After doing some research I’m torn between

    – NETGEAR ReadyNAS NVX 4-Bay RNDX400E

    and

    – Synology DiskStation 4-Bay DS411+

    If you don’t mind, what are your thoughts on those two? It will be primarily for DVD/Movie Media/Music streaming, backup in general, for a large library of content.

    4
  • Brett Cooper May 8, 2011, 8:07 am

    Hi Jean-Denis and thank you for your comments. On your query, I have not personally used either product in my environment, so it is hard for me to give you any real quantitative feedback, but on the qualitative side I don’t think that you can go wrong with either product as they both meet or exceed my criteria listed in this blog post. The NETGEAR product is a bit more established in the market and has been a leader for years, but the Synology product looks to be shaking the market it up with a new GUI that is designed for simplicity and multitasking for new media environments. From a form factor perspective the systems are similar, I must admit that I like the look and feel of the NETGEAR a bit more as the screen on the front is helpful in understanding what is happening in the system, and the casing looks a bit more polished and finished, but that is subjective and my feelings. So which one do you like the look of? Also, the NETGEAR drives are all hot swap and easy to access, not so with the Synology system….that may be important to you…From my perspective, I have only had to change one failed drive and it was not a big deal as I could have easily turned off the NAS and swapped the drive without hurting anything. I read a review of the Synology product at http://www.storagereview.com/synology_diskstation_ds411_review and it seems like hot-swap will work, but isn’t officially documented, accordingly to the article. Would need to get one in my environment to know for sure.

    How loud is the Synology product? It has two good sized fans and I would ask for a DB rating, to know. The NETGEAR products are almost all very near silent, and the review above says that they are quiet, but a DB reading would tell you the truth.

    As far as performance, either unit will deliver what you need for everything from HD video streaming to music, and do it all at the same time without breaking a sweat.

    Also, from an integration perspective, both NAS devices support the main data protocols, so backup with Time Machine on Apple Products is supported and both systems can serve iTunes and DLNA equipped devices – I wouldn’t be surprised if under the covers they are both using Linux and Open Source tools to gain the compatibility – it is the way the market is going and differentiation is hard, save for the simplicity in setup and management, followed by the performance and overall usability of the products.

    I would also suggest trying out Synology’s support as I do not know how they are setup to support their clients. Having worked with the NETGEAR team in the past, I am very comfortable recommending their support and their product as when I had an issue they were there to fix it and knew exactly what the problem was…As well, their website for support is top notch and their developer community and open APIs makes hacking their system simple and easy. Not sure on the Synology product.

    So, let us know what you think and which one you go with.

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  • Jean-Denis Haas May 9, 2011, 4:10 pm

    Wow, what a fantastic and detailed response, thank you so much!

    I’m leaning towards the Netgear, since the user base is big and support seems great, plus the quiet aspect is a good point. The look is not that important, since it will be stored in my office at home.

    Thanks again!!

    6
  • Andrew Lawes December 31, 2011, 12:00 pm

    Brett, this is by far the most useful, well-reasoned guide to selecting a consumer-grade NAS product that I’ve found anywhere – thanks for sharing your knowledge and decision-making approach in such detail!

    I don’t yet have such a system but I’m contemplating purchasing one soon for personal use. I’m also planning to ensure that my parents have a similar system to keep their digital content safe. I have similar requirements to you in terms of devices and integration, so will probably be looking at a Netgear ReadyNAS solution as well.

    Have you thought about publishing a regular/updated guide to the current state of the consumer NAS market? Or do you know of any such existing guides elsewhere?

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  • Brett Cooper January 1, 2012, 8:36 am

    Andrew,

    Thank you. It is always a pleasure to receive such high praise for the readership for my work. I have thought about publishing a state of the industry review for some time, but I need to get access to more of the product in the market as the analysis has to be based on real-world experience and usage, not on reading website, marketing collateral and the like. I am looking to review additional offerings and then I can write a more detailed market status report. Also, Witt the addition of Thunderbolt devices it adds another genre, or niche product to an already crowded market. With that said, if the performance and benefits are there adoptio will occur. Be good and again, thank you.

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