March 21, 2006 4:00 AM PST

Networked storage heads for homes

Storage companies are betting a technology once reserved for businesses will appeal to consumers dealing with large files shared by multiple PCs and a need for data protection.

Get ready for network-attached storage for consumers. With NAS, standalone disk storage systems are accessed by a PC over a network rather than being plugged directly into a computer's USB port or internal drive bay.

Seagate Technology, Infrant Technologies, Western Digital, Iomega, Intel and others have begun selling networked storage devices that cost between $200 and $2,300 and include as much as 2 terabytes of capacity--roughly eight times that of a high-end PC. Advocates acknowledge that right now, the devices are best suited for technically savvy folks, but they're speculating that a larger market of less-sophisticated buyers will follow in coming months.

"I do think it's going to break out of the early adopter niche, and the timing is going to surprise people. In this holiday season coming up, you're going to see some movement in these products," said Lee Williams, Iomega's vice president of product generation. "Where we originally anticipated being in single-digit thousands, we're now looking at double- and triple-digit thousands for the year."

Growing needs for storage space, data protection and file sharing bode well for consumer NAS. Digital photos, video and music gobble up gigabytes of storage space. That data is increasingly valuable--think irreplaceable wedding photos--which makes backup important. And sharing information makes sense, as home networks with multiple PCs today expand to include stereo and video electronics.

NAS for consumers

But there's also a big problem. NAS isn't simple. Home system and network administrators could be forced to contend with storage jargon, too, such as RAID 5 or JBOD, which refer to ways to configure multiple drives.

"When do we get to a point when everything backs up easily and connects into the network easily?" NPD Group analyst Stephen Baker asked. "We're not at that point with basic computer hardware. To expect to connect this (storage equipment) on an easy basis is tough."

Other challenges for consumer NAS include competition with simpler external drives connected by USB and with Internet backup services. The systems also can come with price tags that far exceed the cost of an entire higher-end PC.

A tough sell
Take David Looby, a San Franciscan who works for CNET sister site GameSpot. When 400GB worth of his audio and video vanished in a hard-drive crash, he became a prime candidate for NAS vendors singing the praises of data preservation. But Looby isn't convinced.

"I'm probably just going to stick with an extra drive to back up my big drive," he said. Another alternative would just take time. "There's no reason why I can't take a few hours and burn some DVD backups," he said.

External hard drives are simple, increasingly popular and a much bigger market than consumer-oriented NAS products, Baker said. In 2005, retail sales of NAS products totaled just $10 million, compared with $357 million for external USB hard drives.

Consumer NAS advocates recognize the challenges but have faith that the market will develop.

For example, at the Intel Developer Forum in March, Intel announced its SS4000-E, also code-named "Baxter Creek." The NAS product is offered to Intel's business partners to sell under their own brands. The four-drive product is best suited to small businesses, but Intel decided to aim for a broader market.

"This initially wasn't even intended to be a consumer product," said Hans Geyer, the general manager of Intel's storage group, but discussions with individuals and product resellers convinced the company to change course. "This is an early starting point, but it's definitely something very appealing for the higher-end, more-sophisticated home users that have several PCs on a network and in many cases have connected that network to their home entertainment equipment."

Typically, NAS systems can readily communicate with Windows, Mac OS X and Linux computers, and new Universal Plug-and-Play standards could help NAS work hand-in-hand with consumer electronics equipment.

The price of NAS will be easer to swallow when consumers realize the cost of data loss, Geyer said.

"Say I've taken pictures of my newborn baby. Three years later, my hard drive crashes, and I've lost the pictures of my newborn baby. Or you have purchased songs from Apple (Computer) iTunes at 99 cents. Once you've downloaded 1,000 songs, you've spent $1,000. Your hard drive crashes, and you've lost $1,000," Geyer said.

CONTINUED: Beyond basic hard drives…
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NAS = more stuff to lose
NAS for home users isn't practical, IMO. It just gives them a
bigger bucket to fill up with memories and files and then lose.

Why? Because home users NEVER do backups. But my NAS is my
backup, they will say. It has a RAID, they will say. It's reliable!

It was stolen! It was in the back bedroom when the house
burned. IT IS GONE. So much for reliability.

Until you can buy two of these devices, don't bother buying one.

Instead, buy a couple of Firewire or USB external hard drives.
Keep your stuff on one, and copy it to the second drive at least
once a month. Then keep the second drive somewhere offsite
(the office, grandma's house, etc.). Someday, you probably be
glad you did.
Posted by rcrusoe (1305 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Right on.....
Back-up drives make much more sense, and they are cheaper. And
they can be networked or shared on the LAN without any problem,
from both PC's and Mac's, I'm glad I did.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
Apples and Oranges
You're talking about two different purposes - NAS for a "big storage bucket" and NAS for "backup". In my mind, these are two different purposes. If you have more than a TB of stuff, there's no single drive you can buy to collect it all in one place. You need multiple drives for capacity. A NAS device simplifies and consolidates storage into one location - that's all it's ever done.

NAS offers RAID for availability, not backup. If you want backups, copy your critical data to archival media and take it off site. Or replicate it, as you say. Without it, you'll probably need to take two or three or four disks to Grandma's house for backup. Oh, and you better hope she doesn't try and clean them for you, deary. :-)
Posted by network247 (18 comments )
Link Flag
Very Good Point
A good back-up strategy must include off-site storage.
Posted by JAW 1ST (3 comments )
Link Flag
I've Been Glad Enough Times Already :-)
I've already had to rely enough times on back-ups to know that they're necessary. And, because I live here in tornado alley, off-site storage is an absolute must. Have you ever seen how the grass is sucked out by it's roots after an F-5?

But, NAS has a place. It's for those who've run out of hard drive space. This means there's no larger hard drive made that can be installed, there isn't room for another hard drive in their computer (or another computer on the network), and a software solution such as FolderShare won't suffice. Personally, I think that's a somewhat limited market for the typical home user.

mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Something over nothing
Most home users don't have ANYTHING to backup right now. Even i'm fairly lax in the practice, only burning one DVD a month.

Yes, having a couple of USB drives is great, but a RAID5 is still more redundant than that, at least in online storage.

Say, for instance, if you were to lose a drive in either case, the online drive in your example, or a drive in the RAID. In your example, the person would lose all the data since their last backup. In a RAID, if you pay attention to the indications, you have time to get a new drive to replace the old one. In some RAIDs (I have a LaCie Biggest F800 on our office fileserver) you can have a 3 drive RAID5 with hot-spare. That way I should definitely have at least some time to get a replacement drive without losing ANY data.

Some things just aren't practical. For our servers, I have several RAID 1+0 drives, as well as a daily tape backup. That's only because the company could afford it, I cannot.

For home users, it's far more practical to get a 'cheap' RAID5 solution, and if they're extra paranoid, perhaps a dual-layer DVD burner or even bump up to an expensive tape drive.

The argument that 'If you don't have two, you're better off with none' is just silly in this case.
Posted by Jahntassa (158 comments )
Link Flag
Not practical? Or not The Answer?
You say NAS isn't practical. Well, it's every bit as practical as that
FireWire/USB drive you advocated ... the few buck$ extra you
pay buys you some neat software and access from anywhere on
the LAN. I paid as much for a 250GB NAS in February as I did for
a 250GB FireWire at MacWorld Boston last summer, and the NAS
has password protected shares. I've heard one model also
replaces a LinkSys-style router, including firewall and web server
built in.

It's true ... people really need to store some backups off-site. So
why do you argue that "home users NEVER do backups"? I do. My
wife does. Lovely software from Apple called Backup 3 - free
with my .Mac account. Used it to keep my wife's backups 3,000
miles from home ... until it ran out of space. Now I use it to back
up to the NAS. And, monthly, to a CD. Not everything, just
everything that matters.

Why be so negative? You can make your cautionary point without
being nearly so negative. This sounds like bitter experience
Posted by dlmeyer (6 comments )
Link Flag
Indeed not secure
As stated above, the human factor can lead to disaster. Many business have seen their data disapear from SAN (a cousin of NAS) devices. The marketing people will try to convince that your data is completely secure, when in reality is only safer than before. And of course the user may think that backups are not necesary any more.

There are so many things that can go wrong, including filesystem corruption, controller malfunction, or dual disk failures. Yes it can happen if you, or the software, don't check the status of the appliance: First one disk go offline (nobody notices) then the other (you are toast).
Posted by Pablo Vogel (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Obviously you have no knowledge of NAS
Nothing in IT is 100% safe from data loss. DVD Media is not archival, meaning it can deteriorate over time unless you spend more money on archival approved media. The DVD's can get scratched. Backing up to tape has been proven that there is a 25% failure rate even on successful backups. As far as a NAS goes with a controller malfunction you can just replace the controller and your raid nas is back in action. Dual disk failures are rare but I have seen them happen. My NAS by infrant has email alerts and a flashing light on the device when a drive fails, reducing the likely hood of a dual disk failure. Filesystem corruption can happen on any media device. But all in all a RAIDed NAS is the safest way to store data outside of a fire. The Human Factor is the number 1 reason there are disasters when it comes to data and your recomendation of not using a NAS is one of them. I Highly recommend a NAS to anyone who wants to ensure the keep their data for years to come.
Posted by HAVIC (14 comments )
Link Flag
Ummm ... huh?
" Yes it can happen if you, or the software, don't check the status of the appliance: First one disk go offline (nobody notices) then the other (you are toast). "
Wow - you really don't know anything about NAS, commerical or otherwise. All of the products mentioned in the article have email notification. Some even have SNMP alerts. In either case, you get active notification from the appliance of problems. Sure, dual disk failures can happen, but that's why there's an industry shift to RAID6, using an additional parity block to recover from a two-drive failure.

Users will always think backups are unnecessary, whether you tell them or not. Even if you put your "backup" disk on the shelf, are you even guaranteed it will spin up in the future?
Posted by network247 (18 comments )
Link Flag
You don't get it do you?
I've got my little 200 GB NAS drive... for sharability, and still do my backups to tape. Use it to store all your music, photos etc, and the family can access them from any PC on the network. No need to have a server or host pc, just a little 8x6x2 box plugged into my wireless router. In my case I use Allway synch to keep copies of the data too and can thoroughly recommend the solution.... just think positively and look at the overall options.

ps Who mentioned SAN? It's a method of sharing data across disjoint servers & drives and has nothing to do with NAS, especially in this case. Home NAS have pretty basic interfaces (mine anyway) and are definitely the way forward for me. Low power, cheap, and efficient.
Posted by pj-mckay (161 comments )
Link Flag
Wired Or Wireless?
With a household full of far-flung computers, laptops, media centers, and game boxes, the consumer is going to want wireless NAS capability. I didn't see any discussion in this article of whether any vendors offer wireless NAS, or plan to do so in the future.
Posted by Stating (869 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Wireless is Available for a NAS
Infrant offers usb ports on their NAS devices and support USB wireless network cards. I can only speak for them as I own an Infrant ReadyNas NV and I am extremely happy with it.
Posted by HAVIC (14 comments )
Link Flag
Depends on Network
It plugs directly into the router, so whatever your router offers is what you'll have. There are, however, NAS devices that provide wireless connectivity without a router.

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mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Software Solution
I've been using Foldershare for the last several months and have been very impressed. It automatically synch's the files between two desktops and a laptop whenever any are connected to the Internet. In addition, it allows VPN access to files between any of the computers as long as there is Internet access. For example, I was able to access a file on my home computer (Midwest City, OK) using my laptop from my oldest son's home while visiting him in Alpharetta, GA.

The real bonus: It's free!

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You can use it as a crude back-up, but I prefer something with media that I can store in my safe deposit box (surviving the F-5 tornado that passed less than a mile from my home was enough to convince me of that!).

This doesn't mean that NAS doesn't have a place. Certainly there are folks who have run out of hard drive space. But, I suggest before spending a dime on NAS look at upgrading hard drive sizes, adding hard drives, and using FolderShare.

mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What happened to the Buffalo TerraStation; one of the first NAS devices? I have had a 1TB unit for about 7 months and it is fantastic. The unit has 4 250Gbyte hard drives and is setup as 2 RAID 1 (mirrored) devices. This gives me automatic duplication and two 250Gbyte storage areas. One is used for critical user files and the other for photos and video. So far the unit is stable and reliable; highly recommended.
Posted by dcmap (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You have a 1TB unit, but you only have 500GB of space available for your data (RAID 1 with four (4) 250GB drives == 500GB available).

That said, problems with the Buffalo:

1) Horribly overpriced like most consumer products -- street price is A THOUSAND US DOLLARS! This is *NOT* an affordable solution for consumers. You are part-of the elite group of techies (such as myself) who would pay that amount of money for such a product... except I'd never buy a generic "one-in-all" solution like that. ;-) Too many risks...

2) Appears (from their PDF) that you must purchase hard disks *from them*, i.e. you're asked to use Buffalo's hard disks, rather than purchase your own.

3) Proprietary hosting software. Probably Linux-based, but I don't like "mysterious things that just work". What you think has been working all this time may have been destroying your data all along... only when you try a full level 0 restore will you find that out.

4) Still suffers from the same old problem -- using hard disks to back up data from other hard disks. This is a result of hard disk capacity growing at a faster rate than the tape back-up industry can deal with.

I'd trust tapes over everything else... except that there aren't affordable tape drives that can back up large hard disks (500GB-1TB) these days.
Posted by katamari (310 comments )
Link Flag
Apple's .Mac and the like.
Since the release of Jaguar, Apple's OS X and a .Mac subscription
can do what this article is written about.

I've also, via AppleTalk and the Personal Web Sharing options in
OS 9/X have been doing all of the concepts that this article

Furthermore, I have zero problems connecting to my numerous
Windows PCs.

As for losing stuff . . . use DVDs or REV disks to create back-ups
about once a week, on an automated schedule.

Backing stuff up has been in computing since UNIVAC and
ENIAC, so I don't want to hear about the foolish against backing
data up.
Posted by fakespam (239 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Affordable end-user back-ups
Sadly, even in the year of 2006, affordable end-user back-up mediums do not exist.

The problem, as I have outlined to numerous peers of mine, is that hard disk capacity continues to increase while home consumer back-up mediums do not evolve at the same rate (or even remotely the same rate).

What consumers are left with for back-ups are:

1) DVD (4.2GB or 8.4GB dual-layer)
2) IOMega REV (35-70GB)
3) Other hard disks

The problems with these methods:

1) DVD-Rs are still expensive. DVD-RWs are even more expensive, and most consumers will probably choose re-writable media. But more importantly, end-users aren't going to back up their system to 100 DVDs, because there's no way to manage that amount of discs.

2) IOMega REV is a completely and entirely proprietary medium. 35GB (or 70GB compressed) is better than most things out there, but I'll have potential buyers look at IOMega's track record when it comes to reliable/robust technology. The ZIP and JAZ drives' "Click-of-Death" being the #1 issue here... Because of these things, I just can't trust IOMega.

The REV stuff is also expensive -- not the drive, but the cartridges themselves. This is where IOMega makes the most money. Expect to spend US$800 or so on a decent REV setup (most consumers aren't going to spend that much; they want to spend *at most* US$200).

3) Hard disks are the only affordable choice at this time -- and they're just as succeptable to data loss and breakage as the source media! People say "Okay, so use RAID to solve that" -- wrong. In almost all RAID configurations (including RAID 5!), if you lose more than 2 disks in the same subset, you're going to lose all of your data.

I want to make something very clear to all readers of this article:


Both professionals and generic home users seem to continually forget this fact!

Additionally, are your average home users going to go out and buy a 4 to 8 hard disk NAS unit? No they're not. Most off-the-shelf NAS units are overpriced by a factor of nearly 5x, for absolutely no reason (that 400GB NAS should really cost not much more than two 200GB drives -- not five times that!)

The real solution is to use *large* tape back-up methods, such as AIT-2 and AIT-3. However, NONE OF THESE MEDIUMS ARE AFFORDABLE! You can find 10GB tape back-up solutions which are *just barely* affordable for end-users... but 10GB? Hard disks are over 500GB at this point in time. Am I really going to do a level 0 back-up to 50 tapes? Nope. Do people realise how much tapes cost, by the way?

Until the tape back-up industry agrees to let their stronghold pricing methodologies go, home users are going to continue to *not do back-ups* because there aren't affordable solutions at this point in time.
Posted by katamari (310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
we're not searching for perfection, just a system that works
I dunno, JC, you may be looking for too much perfection here. Now that external hard drive cases are dirt cheap and plug-and-play the consumer can back up the stuff they value to an external disc instantly (no disc burning routine) and have it if the main drive fails. This is sooooo much better than not having any backup--it would have saved me twice in the past when my pc's crashed without backup--and what are the chances of both drives failing simultaneously? I think the external hd will turn out to be the simple solution that gets home users into backing up as they find out how easy (and quick!) they are to assemble and use. My old 60gb drive from the crashed pc is now doing honorable service in a $20 case backing up my valued stuff at the touch of a button. If it crashes and the main internal drive is still okay, I'm only vulnerable for an afternoon while I head out to CompUSA for a new set at a fraction of the cost of a new pc. Isn't that what we're striving for here?
Posted by Razzl (1318 comments )
Link Flag
Affordable End-User Back-Ups--Maybe
If the home end-user has more than one computer, then as a bare minimum he should use software solutions that provide for back-up of data (correction: DATA!!! Not programs or applications or OS's that should always be reinstalled from original media anyway) between the computers. There are free solutions out there, as well as that built into windows.

If the end-user doesn't have big enough hard drives, then maybe optical media will work. Or maybe he should spend a few bucks and buy a second hard drive for one of the computers. He could install this as the primary OS/app's/data drive (with the data in a separate partition), and set up the old drive as a back-up drive. This will work even as a back-up for a single home system--at least all those valuable data 0s and 1s are copied to a second, physically distinct media from which they could be recovered.

This isn't an ideal solution. It may or may not protect against theft of the CPU (did they take both computers?), or catastrophic loss (such as fire, tornado, etc). But it will provide some protection against most losses for a minimum investment.

mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Link Flag
StorCenter Pro 200d Series ?
What do you guys think of these? They have a RAID + REV for both NAS reliability &#38; automatic backup scheduling?

Aside from the "US $1,899.00" are-you-kidding-me pricing?
Posted by innocentdove (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag

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