When I lost a secondary MP3 drive to disk failure a while back, it was like being hit upside the head with a blunt object – a reminder that I had no good way to back up my main MP3 collection, and I could easily lose all my music at any moment (and not just the music, but five years worth of collection tweaking work). This month, finally filled the 160GB main music drive to capacity. Meanwhile, the drive that hosts backups for Birdhouse, plus Amy’s and my home backups, had been flirting with capacity for a while. Decided I couldn’t put it off any longer – time for a fully redundant, high capacity network-attached RAID.
Had been pretty sure I’d go for the Buffalo TeraStation Pro, as it’s easily the most affordable product in the category. But the morning of the day I was going to place my order, literally, caught a passing reference on TWiT about the Infrant ReadyNAS NV – an absolute rave from Leo LaPorte. Googling “Buffalo vs. Infrant” turned up this thread, which scared my pants off. Already knew the Buffalo products weren’t super Mac friendly, but I hadn’t realized their support was so bad. Public forums abandoned by support reps for more than a year, users struggling to get a shred of support from Buffalo. In contrast, Infrant seemed to provide fanatical support, frequent firmware updates, were on a rapid cycle of feature releases…
The Infrant products cost about 20% more, but it became quickly apparent it would be money well spent. Especially when I started reading up on their X-RAID technology – a RAID variant that allows for non-destructive expandability. X-RAID is basically RAID 5, but when a RAID fills up, just replace its disks one-by-one, re-building between each replacement. When the fourth one is done, the extra space magically appears, no data lost. Very cool.
Decided on the ReadyNAS NV, configured with 4x250GB Seagate SATA drives. The unit arrived yesterday, and I’ve been busy tweaking the system’s bazillion options, re-jiggering my iTunes library and backup systems, and migrating data. Only glitch was that the NV shipped in RAID5 mode while I ordered it in X-RAID mode, so had to rebuild it. The process took about an hour, but was no big deal.
Not finished tweaking, but so far I’m blown away by the system. The quality of the bundled software and services, the construction of the unit, the performance, the quality of communications with the Infrant staff… everything about this experience has been stellar.
In X-RAID config, I’ve got about 680GBs to work with (parity plus overhead chews space, but that’s the price you pay for data integrity). Created a pair of shares (one for backup and one for general use), broadcast them via AFP, set up automounts for Amy and I, and everything’s humming.
Surfing through FrontView (the NV’s web-based administrative interface), the feature set is almost intimidating. It quickly dawns on you that this is not just a set of drives strapped together with a little firmware – this is a full-fledged Linux client and server, pimped out into a serious custom storage ride. Highlights:
Ability to create any number of shares and broadcast them over CIFS/Samba, NFS, or AFP, several share security models with fine-grained user/group access options (or guest access), built-in https web server (not just for admin access, but for remote file access). Built-in DAV server. Built-in SlimServer, built-in iTunes streaming support (so you can stream directly from the NAS rather than having to keep a computer running at all times), discovery over Bonjour or AppleTalk, support for home media servers such as Twonky, built-in FTP server, built-in rsync capability, built-in printer sharing. Built-in backup capabilities (able to create and schedule backups either from or to the device against remote FTP, NFS, websites, and rsync servers; button on front panel of NV initiates backup immediately (though I plan to keep using my existing rsync scripts for now)). Automatic email alerts for dozens of event types (temperature and quota overruns, UPS, disk failures, etc.), scheduled power on/off and disk spin-down, optional file system journaling, built-in USB ports (with ability to automatically detect photos on inserted cards and copy them to a photo library)… the list goes on.
All of that is packed into a clean-looking silver/gray box that seems almost impossibly small – barely larger than four hard drives sandwiched together.
Updating the RAIDiator operating system enabled a ton of new features that weren’t present in RAIDiator 2.0, which the unit shipped with (the 3.0 beta I have installed now presumably isn’t included because it’s beta, but I’ve had zero problems with it so far, other than a glitch in the FrontView menuing system). The firmware update process was painless.
Two issues I need to grapple with. The first is the noise level. The NV is not exactly loud, but it is loud enough to notice, and to diminish the enjoyment of music. Ultimately I’d like to re-locate it to a closet, but that will mean drilling a hole or two in the floor for ethernet, and would love to avoid that. Some users are into fan modifications, but would rather not go there. The other is transfer speeds. The NV itself is perfectly fast, is gigabit capable, and its AFP implementation seems quick. But both my iMac G5 and Amy’s Mini have 10/100 chipsets, so we’re pretty much stuck with the situation until future machine upgrades, which are likely a couple years out. No problems playing or ripping to iTunes with its library on the NAS, but you definitely feel it with large file copies. Probably just something we’ll have to get used to.
Short version is that I’m wondering how we survived so long without a NAS. Went into this thinking simple thoughts: “Unf. Need. Big. Redundant. Storage.” Now my head is swimming with the possibilities. Had no idea how powerful a tool this could be. Considering that I never have to worry again about disk failure, life is good.
Remembering now that in 1994, I paid twice this much for a 2GB(!) SCSI drive, thinking I’d put an end to my storage needs forever.
Music: Johnny Cash :: Dirty Old Egg-Suckin’ Dog