February 29, 2008
Diving into network storage
How quickly Bleeding Edge's eagerness to dive into technology's inviting seas can get us into an area that's outside the flags, being sucked out into deeper and deeper waters … enjoying ourselves immensely.
The latest episode started in OfficeWorks, attracted by the $149 price tag on Seagate's 2.5-inch 160GB FreeAgent Go USB portable external hard drive – a slim, sculpted USB powered slice of storage – and the somewhat more bulky 750GB FreeAgent 3.5-inch model at $299.
Then we saw the 1.5TB Western Digital My Book World Edition II for $599. Given all those AVI files and RAW digital camera files we've been accumulating, the idea of having 1.5 terabytes of storage seemed irresistible at that price.
The salesman, who we realised later (how often does this happen?) didn't know what he was talking about, convinced us that the My Book World Edition was just the solution for anyone looking for a large external USB drive.
We should have known better, but we were in a hurry, so we handed over the credit card, popped the My Book World Edition II in the scooter's top box, and headed home.
The minute we got it out of the packaging, we knew this was going to be interesting. It's a large, fashionably glossy white box with two blue LED lights circling the on/off button. There is a USB plug, but no USB cable. That USB port is meant for connecting additional storage, like a USB key or hard drive. It ships, instead, with an Ethernet cable, which clicks into the drive's gigabit Ethernet port. Clearly this wasn't your standard USB drive.
It wasn't your standard installation process either, unfortunately. To begin with, when we popped the installation CD into the drive, it didn't autostart, and we couldn't find any files. We downloaded the installer from the Western Digital Web site, and accepted the standard installation procedure.
Things got even curiouser. After our new toy rebooted - it takes about four minutes to have a good yawn, sip a cup of coffee, and prepare itself for the day - we were totally bemused. The My Book World Edition has to be one of the least accessible products we've encountered.
It isn't what most people think of when they buy an external hard drive. The transfer rates (unless you've got gigabit Ethernet, rather than the 10/100Mbps version which most of us use) are much slower than for a USB 2.0 drive. But this isn't designed as a USB drive. It's a highly-affordable NAS (Network Attached Storage) box.
In addition to a couple of SATA hard drives which can be employed in either a RAID 0 (one large hard drive) or RAID 1 (two mirrored drives) configuration, it's got its own processor (a 200MHz ARM chip), 32MB of RAM and cut-down Linux operating system.
The packaging proclaims that the product's WD Anywhere Access technology is "a simple and secure way to access and share data, pictures, music at home, in the office and anywhere in the world – even when your local computer is off".
That assertion seems to us to put Western Digital at risk of action under the Trade Practices Act, because Anywhere Access is a cut-down version of MioNet, and MioNet is one of those patronising pieces of software that appoints itself as its users' conscience. It won't allow you to share music files, or for that matter, AVI files, whatever your legal rights might be.
But the MBWE is a highly versatile unit, if you happen to be one of those people who, like Bleeding Edge, enjoys tinkering, and doesn't faint at the very idea of a command line. You'd have to be prepared to do some relatively minor fiddling with Linux, but all the directions and commands are laid out for you on the Web, and the results are quite satisfying … although it might involve what appears to be a tiny risk of "bricking" your new hardware.
There's an international online community that has embraced the MBWE, and shared the secrets that make it arguably the cheapest NAS on the market.
You don't have to install the Western Digital software, and our advice is to ignore it completely. Since our initial installation, we've removed all traces of it.
Plug the box into a DHCP-enabled router on the network, then turn it on and wait for about four minutes while it starts all its software.
You can access the Web interface by typing http://mybookworld into your Web browser. The default user name and password are in the online manual.
You can then mount it as a network drive by typing \\MyBookWorld\PUBLIC into a Windows Explorer window. You may or may not have to use the default username and password.
To access your new NAS remotely, you have to create a new user. What isn't obvious is that to do that, you have to click on the File Sharing tab in the Web interface, and select User Management.
You'll use those details to install new firmware that will allow you to take control of that little computer nestling inside that massive lump of storage, and get it to do a good deal more than Western Digital apparently intended.
That will start you on a whole series of adventures, using Martin Hinner's instructions and software scripts, and information and links on other My Book World Edition hacking sites here and here.
You'll find yourself in a world of programs like SSH and Samba, and the Apache Web server. We'll explore some of them in a future column. Once we find our way back to the beach.
Posted by cw at February 29, 2008 07:31 AM
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What network file system does it use? Not everyone is happy using FAT over SMB (or CIFS).
My personal preference would be HFS+ shared via AFP, but a decent journalling filesystem like Ext3 (ReiserFS) with a cadre of Networked File Systems like APF (for Time Machine users), SMB2.0 (for Vista Users) and NFS (for Unix users) would be a better solution.
Posted by: Daniel W Woods at February 29, 2008 06:17 PM
It uses Linux EXT3 FS, but if you want NFS, you can set it up like this.: http://martin.hinner.info/mybook/nfs_server.php
Posted by: cw at March 1, 2008 09:56 AM
I was also tempted by the Seagate 160 GB portable drive, but I had seen it advertised for $132. Happily Office Works agreed to match the price for me.
I was almost tempted by a Maxtor 160 GB portable drive for $129, but it did not include the portability software that the Seagate did.
I chose the Seagate because it included "encryption software". Unfortunately the software is not portable and must be installed on your home computer. I found a good alternative is truecrypt, which allows for a "portable" install (i.e. can be used directly from the portable drive without a separate install on every computer you use).
Pair that with a portable install of Firefox, and I was left wondering if it was worth spending the extra money (only $3) to get the Seagate. Overall though, the Seagate is a nice neat little package and I am happy with it.
By the way, it is nice to see you back Charles!
Posted by: David at March 3, 2008 08:41 PM