Buffalo TeraStation NAS box

Buffalo sets the bar with 1T byte for $1,000

In 25 years, desktop storage has jumped from the IBM PC with a 360K-byte floppy drive to Buffalo Technology's TeraStation, which offers 1T byte of capacity. We can make a good case for small businesses, workgroups at larger businesses, and even upscale home networks (digital video fans gobble gigabytes like candy) to plop down $1,000 for a terabyte of disk storage.

How we did it

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While Buffalo says the TeraStation combines ease of use with enterprise-class features, we were a bit skeptical. True, the installation of the network-attached storage () box was quick and easy, and you can apply the enterprise label because of the terabyte capacity. But any enterprise-class storage device should include more management tools, directory integration and hot-swappable disk drives, all lacking in the TeraStation.

Installation included automatically finding an open IP address upon booting (once we gave the administrator password to enable client settings) and making an easy connection from a Windows client running the management utility from an enclosed CD. TeraStation only supports Linux connections via Server Message Block Windows networking, but our Xandros 3.0 Linux Desktop had no problem accessing the unit that way. Default settings include enabling AppleShare but not FTP (having anonymous FTP access on by default isn't secure), and the four Western Digital 243G-byte disk drives are set to spanning mode, pooling all the disk space into one huge volume.

You can run the system in Standard Mode, where each disk becomes a separate volume; Mirroring Mode, where pairs of disks match up in a RAID-1 mirror configuration, which gives you two fault-tolerant 500M-byte volumes; or RAID-5 mode, which cuts the disk space by 25%, to 750G bytes, but increases performance and fault tolerance to survive a failure of any one disk. A journaling file system also improves reliability, mounting speed and failure recovery. These are high-end storage features, and if the drives were hot-swappable we wouldn't argue about the enterprise label.

Although usable space only showed 928G bytes after installation, the TeraStation still had more capacity to fill than our lab could cram onto it. Performance matched the lower-end NAS products we've tried because the four drives are Integrated Drive Electronics (IDE) rather than SCSI, spin at 7,200 rpm, and have only a 2M-byte buffer. As the price of drives drop, Buffalo could improve performance by upgrading its Ultra ATA/100 drives to SATA and leveraging the 8M-byte buffers standard with drives using that interface. The lone Ethernet port on the TeraStation auto-senses between 10M-, 100M- and 1G-bit speeds, and supports Jumbo Frames. Again, this was an interesting mix of high- and low-end features.

A client-based management utility shows status and lets you change the IP address of a TeraStation, but is really useful only to launch the browser-based administration utility. The Web utility does all the heavy lifting, including setup, network configuration, disk maintenance, user and group management, print server management and status screens. The TeraStation can respond to smart UPS shutdown commands, and also can e-mail up to five addresses with a limited number of status messages (such as an OK message every 24 hours, system backup completion and emergencies). User and group management options strictly follow Windows workgroup or domain network rules, limiting their effectiveness in larger installations that rely on Microsoft's Active Directory or any other directory service, but allowing enough control for small businesses and workgroups.

Client back-up support is critical for small to midsize businesses and home users Buffalo targets, yet TeraStation only meets these needs halfway. The supplied back-up utility lacks the ability to perform incremental backups, storing full back-up sets each iteration rather than copying changed files since the last full backup. Restoration works only at the folder level, so restoring one file means restoring all the files in the directory, unless you restore to a new location and manually pick out a file. You can manually drill down the back-up file structure and drag a file, but both options are far behind better back-up software. Buffalo just made a deal with Tanagra to include its Memeo back-up software in the second quarter, but it's only a 30-day trial (about $30 to purchase).

Company: Buffalo Technology, www.buffalotech.com Cost: $999 for 1T byte; $1,999 for 1.6T bytes; $799 for 0.6T bytes (600G bytes). Pros: Small, sleek, quiet; huge storage space; excellent NAS value for RAID storage.Cons: Poor client back-up software; no native Linux support (SMB access only); USB-attached drives didn’t work.
The breakdown   
Capacity/value 25%5
Backup 15%3
Documentation 10%3
Features 10%5
Scoring Key: 5: Exceptional; 4: Very good; 3: Average; 2: Below average; 1: Consistently subpar

Backing up the TeraStation includes more options and controls than the client back-up utility, especially to a second TeraStation or attached USB hard drive. Incremental TeraStation backups are supported, as well as compressed and encrypted transmissions over a network. USB-connected drives also can be used for backup, giving some level of off-site storage option when using a portable drive. One annoyance is that the over-the-network backup only works to another TeraStation unit.

Second, the USB-attached drives never communicated properly with the TeraStation (we tried two different drives, one from Iomega and another from Olixir) so we couldn't try the USB backup. Buffalo's free technical support couldn't explain the problem. But we did test one of the first three TeraStations in the U.S., so this could just be a rough edge that will get smoothed over. Nevertheless, Buffalo deserves kudos for free technical support and a free phone call.

The TeraStation fills the near-enterprise gap quite well, giving enterprise-like storage space at small-business prices, but at the expense of some enterprise controls. That said, the sight of a sleek silver case on a server rack or bookshelf holding a terabyte of disk space (or 1.6T bytes in the largest size) still amazes us. Configuring this unit as RAID-5 for the highest performance and fault tolerance costs only $1.25 per gigabyte (750G bytes total). This level of storage space, reliability and performance has never been so affordable for small businesses or the home entertainment fanatic who has everything digital and now has the disk space for it all.

Gaskin is an author of books and stories about technology in Dallas. He can be reached at readers@gaskin.com.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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