I had an idea the other day. I was beginning to realise that my laptop was beginning to run out of drive space, and that I had far too many photos and ripped mp3s (from my own collection, for the benefit of any RIAA lawyers out there), and I didn’t want to have to make decisions on what to keep and not what to keep. So I thought about buying another computer to act as a fileserver – just a simple box with a great big hard drive and cheap processor, which I could access as a virtual drive on the laptop.
Trouble is, that’s a bit of a waste of all the extra hardware around the hard drive, as well as the trouble building it, installing it, keeping it secure, not to mention the extra power requirements. I was having qualms. Then Max told me of a new thing he’d seen – the Netgear Storage Central. Approximately the size of a toaster, it’s a budget NAS (Networked Attached Storage) device which plugs into a router, taking one or two IDE drives.
This is a great idea. More and more households are adopting home area networks, usually with wireless (the other week on a train from Edinburgh, two lovely middle-aged ladies from Cleveland were excitedly talking to me about the quality of the wireless network one of them had set up in their house), and with more and more photos, mp3s, movies etc. being recorded that users want to share. A NAS device plugged into the router would take the hassle out of the usual sharing of drives or folders (computer must be switched on, security issues, etc.) between people. The fact that it’s only ?60-70 (without any HDDs included, which makes a 160GB device roughly ?120) makes it even better.
So why haven’t I bought one? Because although it’s a great idea, it’s been done very poorly. To access the drive, you need a Windows-only proprietary client running in the background, rather than go through the normal sharing protocols (sorry Mac/Linux users). It has a custom formatting system, so if it goes wrong there’s no way you can rescue your data unless you buy another one. These would be bearable, if the thing worked, but from the technical support forums it’s clear that they don’t like wireless connections, the firmware is buggy and the devices are prone to overheating.
Which is a real shame, because I think there is a definite market for a cheap, simple network drives (with none of the complex partitioning or permissions stuff nor the high performance that businesses require) in the home. It would save having to buy a dedicated fileserver and would take up less room and energy. Sadly, it seems Netgear haven’t yet delivered the goods. I’ve gone back to the idea of a dedicated box (there are a couple of similar products out there but neither seems particularly good quality either) – either that or wait for them to produce a version that actually works…