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Knocking NAS

Apr 17, 20034 mins
Data CenterSAN

* Readers relate frustration with Linksys NAS EFG80

Hearing from readers is always fun, even when they say I’m too generous in my ratings. Last week’s column “Weighing NAS options,” which looked at the Linksys EFG80 and Snap Appliance 1100, prompted a lively discussion on our forums (see editorial links below).

To summarize, readers related frustration with the Linksys network-attached storage (NAS) unit, citing printing and Windows XP problems. Several felt Linksys technical support doesn’t know enough about the products, and one reader said tech support never heard of the product. Another knocked NAS devices altogether, saying, “Five hundred dollars is too expensive. Customers can get a full-blown mini-PC for $400 with better configuration.”

Let’s take the last issue first. Of course a name-brand NAS will always cost more than adding another disk drive to an existing server or PC. But I couldn’t find a name-brand PC, mini or otherwise, that costs $400 or less, includes 80G bytes of storage and a secure file-sharing operating system, and provides file service within 10 minutes of cracking open the box.

Tech support for Linksys and Snap NASes is free via the Web sites, e-mail and telephone. Kudos to both companies for offering free phone support.

Linksys EFG80 product manager Chris Chapman says three phone support call centers have 25 technicians each familiar with the EFG80. If a customer got routed to the wrong agent, which he admits can happen, they should have been forwarded to someone trained in their product. As I write this, Chapman says he’s leaving messages for unhappy readers but hasn’t connected with any yet.

One reader had Windows XP problems. “ I hooked up the EFG80 with the default drive without issue. After hooking up and formatting the second drive, now each time I boot into Windows XP, a bubble (out of the systray) says, ‘Could not reconnect all network drives.’ I can then go through My Computer and see that the drives have red Xs through them. However, I can navigate through the drives and access the data. I called for support and was told it was a known issue.”

Yet, Chapman says he has seen no XP problem since “the first sample a year ago.” He also says some problems occur because Window XP Home doesn’t include all the same networking support utilities as XP Professional, and the Ethernet interface ships with a firewall enabled by default. True enough, but tech support told the reader this was a “known problem,” indicating there’s a dropped ball rolling around loose somewhere at Linksys.

Another reader: “After a long wait time, none of the tech support people can answer my simple question. I want to know why my EFG80, when acting as a print server, won’t let me print more than one copy of any document from MS Word or Adobe Acrobat? I’m running Windows 2000 Professional and using the EFG80 attached to my HP DeskJet 722c. The firmware is 1.0 R28.” I look forward to hearing Chapman’s explanation for this, once he speaks to the reader.

In the meantime, here are some network troubleshooting tips that might remedy problems during installation or even normal operation:

* Reboot Windows.

* Use known good cables.

* Reboot Windows.

* Check for new drivers or firmware from the product vendor and Microsoft.

* Reboot Windows.

* Verify you can see all your normal network devices before adding a new one. If you can’t see what you’ve already got, you won’t see something new.

* Reboot Windows.

* Check that your user name and password has been set on the NAS before trying to log in to the NAS. Make the user name and password the same used for Windows so they will pass automatically to the NAS.

* Reboot Windows.

* Check for special print-server drivers from your printer manufacturer.

* Oh, and don’t forget: Reboot Windows.

Last, if you haven’t yet bought a NAS and can’t decide between Linksys and Snap, consider each company’s background. Remember that Linksys is being acquired by Cisco. Cisco promises to keep Linksys autonomous, which indicates customer service and support will stay the same. In contrast, Snap Appliance came from the other direction, splitting from parent Quantum when Quantum left the hard disk business last October. Snap focuses strictly on the NAS business, while Linksys covers every small business network need.