NAS appliances: Not just raw storage anymore

New generation of NAS boxes offers text-searching, print servers, cloud backup, antivirus, disk-failure protection and more

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TeraSearch, the full-text indexed search utility, has to be turned on, and the index-update time set, before it's usable. The index updates only once per day, but you can set the time so no users are inconvenienced if the index update slows performance. Accessing the straight-from-1998 search interface requires users to put the appliance IP address plus a port number (http://IPaddress:3000/) into their browser. Once there, the index returns answers quickly, but the files can't be accessed from the search interface.

Web and MySQL server software is included, along with iTunes, DLNA and Squeezebox servers. While the iTunes and Squeezebox support aren't unusual in this group, the Web and MySQL servers are only found on this and the QNAP appliance. Buffalo runs a DNS service to let users access their TeraStations over the Internet.

The UI for admins is friendly without cutesy icons. Services, like FTP and NFS for example, are enabled using a slider switch on the admin screen that lights up when engaged. Not fancy, but straightforward and value-oriented, the Buffalo TeraStation line still carries weight in the desktop NAS appliance area.

Seagate BlackArmor NAS 440

The only non-rectangular box, the Seagate BlackArmor NAS 440 looks like it has a brow protecting the disk storage area in the front. All black, with the two-line display on the brow, two Gigabit Ethernet and three USB ports on the back (there's another on the front), the BlackArmor looks armor-plated and serious. With 5.7TB open after the space taken by RAID 5 and the OS, the BlackArmor box and name would look just fine sitting inside a military operations center.

After getting past the EULA (End User License Agreement, really), setting up the BlackArmor NAS 440 goes as expected. System device name, time zone, date and time settings, and the new password for the administrator away from the default are typical, and go quickly.

The plainest UI, but one still professional and functional, the BlackArmor NAS admin interface has five major headings across the top, each of which opens a topic-specific menu on the left side. Users get their own private data share by default, but a click of the radio button changes that. User shares can be encrypted, which is not the case for all devices in the roundup. External devices connected by USB can also be shared, and access controlled to same, just like the main system storage.

Ten licenses of Seagate's BlackArmor Backup for Windows are included, and the software includes bare-metal restore capabilities, unusual in client software included with NAS appliances. Data files on the appliance can be backed up to USB-connected drives, or to another BlackArmor NAS on the network.

There aren't many extras, but a media server is included, as well as a wiki server. Not a fancy wiki server, but one that's certainly functional and free with the appliance.

Like the QNAP, the Seagate BlackArmor often comes diskless, so resellers can configure the system for their customers. Depending on whether you install 1TB, 2TB or 3TB drives, the system offers 4TB, 8TB or 12TB of raw storage capacity. Fans of one-stop-shopping may like the flexibility of getting both the NAS appliance and a range of hard drives from the same manufacturer. If so, the BlackArmor NAS 440, made by people who make about half the hard drives sold, will be your box.

All these units provide terabytes of storage that can be easily integrated into an existing network and installed and managed by a competent computer user. Some offer interesting extra features, like text-search or server applications. And they will all save your files quietly and reliably.

James E. Gaskin writes books, articles, and jokes about technology, and consults for those who don't read his books and articles.


Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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