When I installed a cable modem in the house several years ago, I also created an in-home network. With current technology, creating a network in your home is simple and rather inexpensive. I purchased a router made for the job, followed the instructions, and had a network running within 30 minutes after first opening the shipping boxes.
Use of this in-home network simplified several tasks. My computers are connected to the Internet 24 hours a day, as are the computers of other household members. The household members also share printers; both laser and inkjet color printers are available to all the computers in our home. Security is also improved as the firewall built into the network router provides excellent protection against anyone trying to access our computers from the outside world.
Best of all, the network at home made it quick and easy to make backups of files across the network. Any of us could simply copy files to any available disk space on any other computer in the network. We no longer need to copy files to floppy disks, CD-ROM disks, ZIP drives, or other media. We simply copy from one computer's hard drive to another computer's hard drive across the network. We can even temporarily connect our laptop computers to the network to make backups or to copy the files we made while traveling.
Of course, all this assumes that there is available disk space on other computers. While I usually could find some space on one computer or another, I now have some files backed up to one computer, some other files copied to a second computer, and so forth. This has become confusing. After using the network for a couple of years and after upgrading to new computers a few times, I began to feel that I needed a road map to determine "what is where." Worst of all, some computers are becoming full of other computers' files.
Another disadvantage is that any computer providing backup space to other computers needs to be connected and running while the backups are being made. This is a minor inconvenience for me, but occasionally I found that I had to power up a second computer in order to make backup files. This also defeated the software I have that automatically makes backups when the computers are unattended in the middle of the night. As a result, I had to leave my computers running twenty-four hours a day, a waste of power.
In short, I felt it was best to have a dedicated system powered up all the time for making backups. This system would need to have a very large hard drive. To be sure, I could buy a new computer and leave it running all the time as my backup system. However, buying a new computer was out of the question financially. I also didn't need another monitor, keyboard, and mouse cluttering up the place. I wanted a simpler and cheaper solution.
After some study, I purchased a Network Attached Storage (NAS) unit. In short, this is a device that contains one or more disk drives and connects to my in-home network. The NAS device is simply a small box with three lights on the front and two connectors on the back: one connector is for the network and the other is for the power cord. Simply plug this into a wall outlet, connect a cable to the network, turn it on, and several hundred gigabytes of disk space become available to anyone and everyone on the in-home network. This space can be used for backups or for storing pictures, MP3 files, movies, or anything else that I might want to share with household members.
The unit I selected was the ADS Tech's NASDriveKit. I selected this particular unit for several reasons:
1. I have used ADS Tech equipment before and am a satisfied customer.
2. The ADS Tech unit ships with no disk drive in it. The purchaser must add a standard PC hard drive of any capacity. I had just picked up a 320-gigabyte hard drive at a bargain price (see my earlier article about that at http://www.ez-nets.com/2005/11/320_gigabyte_ha.html.) I knew the 320-gigabyte drive would slip into the ADS Tech unit easily.
3. The price was right at just over $100.
4. The ADS Tech unit has a cooling fan built in. Some of today's high-capacity disk drives can become very warm in normal operation. I was surprised to find that some drive cases do not have cooling fans. I assume this is a cost-cutting measure to keep prices competitive. However, that is a false economy since elevated temperatures will shorten the life expectancy of the disk dive significantly. Buying a cheaper mounting case now will probably result in higher expenses later, not to mention the loss of data.
5. The ADS Tech unit uses standard networking commands built into Windows, Macintosh, and Linux systems. Unlike several competitive units, I did not have to install any proprietary software into any of the computers in my house to use this device as a remote drive on any of my computers.
Upon opening the ADS Tech's NASDriveKit, I found exactly the items I expected: a silver-colored box that holds the disk drive, a power "cube" that supplies power, a network cable, a CD-ROM disk, and an instruction manual. I spent some time reading the manual but found no surprises.
Installing the hard drive was very simple. All that is needed is to loosen two large thumbscrews on the back of the NAS device and then slide the internal device out of the case. There is a empty space that is the same size as a standard PC hard drive. In the space for the hard drive, there are several holes for the mounting screws (the screws are included) and two cables to attach to the hard drive. That's it! Installation required four or five minutes.
I might point out that you need to read the instructions with the NAS device and the instructions included with the disk drive to make sure that the drive is configured to be Master. (Disk drives can be configured as Master, Slave, or "Cable Select.") Most disk drives are pre-configured as Master, but there may be exceptions. If so, it only requires changing one jumper on the back of the disk drive to set the drive to Master. Instructions will be included with your hard drive. If you cannot find those instructions, search the web. Configuration instructions are available online for almost all disk drives.
I installed the two cables onto the hard drive and then bolted the drive in place. Next I slid the entire unit back inside the case and tightened the thumbscrews. Then I plugged in the network cable and power cord. However, the instructions warned me to not immediately connect the NASDriveKit to the network. Instead, I was instructed to first run the set-up software by using any Windows computer on the network.
The software set-up is simple, but you must follow the instructions exactly. I'll let you guess who rushed through the set-up the first time and had a failure! I then backed up, started again, and followed every step exactly as printed in the instructions. The second time everything worked perfectly.
One major drawback to the ADS Tech NASDriveKit is that the initial set-up must be done on a PC running. Once set up, the device will work with Windows, Macintosh, and Linux computers. However, I do not know how anyone running an all-Macintosh or all-Linux network would set up the device the first time. There is no initial setup software available for Macintosh or Linux. You must have at least one Windows computer on the network for the initial setup. That only requires two or three minutes to accomplish. Once the initial setup is completed, you could throw the CD-ROM disk away. You will not need a Windows computer again as all later configuration can be done through a web browser on any computer running any operating system.
Once the initial configuration was completed from a Windows computer, I opened a web browser and connected to the Tech NASDriveKit (It has a built in web server as well as an FTP server, a BitTorrent client, and other server software.).
I immediately changed the password for the system administrator and then changed the workgroup name on the new device to match the workgroup name that I use on all the computers on my network. I then created new user accounts for everyone that I expect will use this new device. Within ten or fifteen minutes, the new network attached storage unit was fully operational. I started a full backup of the C: drive on my primary Windows computer. I then connected to the NASDriveKit device from both Macintosh and Linux computers and did the same thing. Again, no problem.
I will offer a few comments about the software in the ADS Tech NASDriveKit:
First of all, the NASDriveKit apparently contains a full computer running a version of the Linux operating system. No monitor, keyboard, or mouse is required. Once the first few setup tasks are completed, everything else runs from a web browser in any computer on the local network.
Next, setting up users to be able to read and write files on the device is simple.
The included network-attached storage software is simple to use and functional, but not terribly sophisticated. For instance, I was surprised that there are no user storage limits. Each user can store as much data as he or she wishes until the hard drive fills up. More sophisticated NAS devices usually allow for limiting the amount of storage that each user may use. Then again, devices with that sophistication typically sell for a lot more money.
Finally, there is a lot of software in the ADS Tech NASDriveKit. Most of it is optional; if you do not want to use any of the more sophisticated features, you can simply ignore them. However, those who wish to experiment will find that the unit contains two web servers (one for use locally for administrative purposes and another for serving web pages to anyone), an FTP server, a full BitTorrent client, and more. These can be used by local users on the internal network. However, if you configure your router/firewall appropriately, these can also be available to anyone on the World Wide Web.
Yes, this low cost device can be a very useful web server as well as an FTP server with many gigabytes of file space. It can serve documents and files to the entire Internet, should you wish to do so. I elected to not do that; my NAS device is only available to those in my home, behind the firewall.
The user's manual and even the information displayed on the screen during setup contains numerous spelling and typographical errors. This suggests that the information was written by someone who does not speak English as his or her native tongue. Nonetheless, I found everything quite readable and accurate.
All in all, I am very pleased with the ADS Tech NASDriveKit. I now have 320 gigabytes of storage space available to everyone in my home. I also have a web server and an FTP file server that I can make visible to the entire world, should I choose to do so. All of this is in one small 5.24" by 8.75" by 2.375" device that consumes far less power than a regular computer. I can leave it running twenty-four hours a day without concern about the electric bill.
The combination of the ADS Tech NASDriveKit and the 320-gigabyte hard drive costs just over two hundred dollars, far less than any other NAS backup system of similar capacity.
If you would like to learn more about the ADS Tech NASDriveKit, go to http://www.adstech.com/products/NAS-806-EF/intro/NAS_806_intro.asp?pid=NAS-806-EF
These devices are sold at discount prices in many computer stores. You can obtain an idea of current prices on Froogle.