I have a fairly heterogeneous home network, with half the family dual booting some flavour of Windows and Linux and the rest of us running Linux standalone. As far as backups are concerned; they were either not done or they were done on an ad hoc basis to a spare partition on the same machine. I knew that this wasn't ideal and toyed with the idea of setting up an old machine with a server installation of Ubuntu and connecting it to the network. The problem was that all my old machines are noisy and consume a fair amount of power, so I kept putting it off.
Then Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices became available, so I looked at those. The trouble is that they were fairly pricey until recently, so I put that off too. What brought things to a head was when my daughter's laptop was the victim of the 'Great Exeter University Virus Infection' in early 2010 and I ended up having to try to sort out her machine, so the Uni would let it back onto the network.
(As an aside, I don't think her machine was ever infected, but Exeter's IT department insisted that all Vista machines be patched to a certain standard and she was unable to do it (and neither was I so I decided to re-install Vista from scratch).)
As a result of this exercise, I became convinced of two things; first Vista is a horrible OS to use, and second; it is extremely difficult to do a proper backup, because it seems incapable of copying large numbers of files without getting into some kind of infinite loop which it never comes out of. Since there was never any chance of getting her to ditch Windows altogether, I promised to upgrade her to W7. However, I needed a better backup solution so that we could safeguard her data before the upgrade and the Netgear Stora MS200 seemed to be a good choice.
This article covers my experiences getting things to work.
The device is packaged in a plastic case with space for two disc drives inside, but only one is populated. The version that I bought is the MS2110-110UKS and I got it from Amazon for £129.99. It's basic specs are:
That's the good stuff. The bad stuff might put many off:
To be fair, this device is quite cheap for what it does, so I don't blame Netgear for trying to drum up a revenue stream via subscriptions, but the whole thing gives me the colly-wobbles.
Full specs may be found at the Netgear website (http://www.netgear.com/Products/Storage/Stora/MS2110.aspx?detail=Specifications).
The box includes a Windows-only Setup CD, which is supposed to autorun when placed into the drive. Mac users are exhorted to download the Mac equivalent, but Linux users are assumed to be clever enough to work out what to do without any kind of instructions! This is interesting because the Netgear specs say that Linux is supported. It is, but only if you don't need your hand held.
Since I like a bit of hand-holding now and then, I initially stuck the disc into a Windows machine and waited for things to happen. In fact not a lot did and even after I had launched the program manually, I was repeatedly told to turn off the firewall and virus scanner. That didn't help. I now suspect that the problem was that the installer was detecting that the network is behind my router and it meant that I needed to open that up. I doubt that many Windows users would have worked it out and I didn't either so went back to my Linux box to visit the Netgear support page. While I was there. I suddenly wondered what would happen if I put the Stora's IP address into Firefox. I found it out from my router and lo and behold it went through the setup wizard without a peep!
When all the whirring had finished, I was able to access the Stora through my browser and by using Dolphin in Kubuntu. I won't say that it has all been easy, but it works. More about that below.
The easiest way to access the device is via the browser interface. There are some issues with this; see below, but generally it is straightforward and the User Manual is valid regardless of the OS or browser in use. The User Manual is a download from the Netgear site; the 'Getting Started' paper document is useless for anything except working out what to do next.
If a file manager is used, then the Stora can be accessed by browsing to the relevant directory and logging in using the appropriate credentials. As mentioned above, the only feature that cannot be accessed this way is the Configuration section, which is a web page.
Once the login has been successfully negotiated, the 'Landing Page' is provided. This gives access to three areas; the Preferences, the Media Library and the Albums section. The Preferences page is fairly self-explanatory, and I only have one issue here (in relation to the backup facility, which has to be enabled here, but is missing some essential information needed to get it working, see below). The Albums area is effectively the same as having Playlists and allows the user to add music, movies, etc for later viewing. I've played with this feature, but have little real use for it, so can only say that it seems to work.
The Media area is sub-divided into three further areas; the FamilyLibrary, MyLibrary and MyComputers. Within the FamilyLibrary and MyLibrary areas, there are more folders; one each for music, videos, photos and documents. The MyComputers area is used for backups (see below), so I'll cover that later. Items in the FamilyLibrary are made available to all users, providing that an administrator (there can be more than one) has allowed this in their account settings.
The UI is a bit clunky, but providing that the right plug-ins and codecs are installed, it is possible to view / play most kinds of media simply by navigating the menus that pop up when a folder or item is clicked. It all seems to work fairly well, but there are limitations to the functionality and so the DNLA / UPnP media server is a better bet.
The DNLA / UPnP media server has been provided to allow the user to access the media through an appropriate player on a remote device. One example given is the PS3, and I can confirm that this works fine. However, the mileage obtained from this method will depend on the Player that is used, although all compatible players seem to provide access to the media, even though they sometimes don't do much after that. However, my favourite player, (Amarok), does not support DNLA / UPnP, so I had to find an alternative. According to the specs, there are more than a few players that do and I tried RhythmBox and Totem with mixed results. I never quite got RhythmBox to work; it would see the files on the server, but refused to play them. Totem worked quite well, but I found that it only served up music by the Stora assigned filename, (a meaningless alphanumeric string) until the file had been played, when the proper name and artist appeared. I could have lived with that, but I found that it then forgot them again when the player was shut down. Also, movies played with a colour cast (on my box at least), so I started to get a bit despondent.
I then stumbled across Moovida, (it's in the Ubuntu Repositories), and this works pretty well. I miss the Lyrics and Wikipedia features of Amarok, and the media buttons on my keyboard don't work, but all the same it does a pretty good job. The UI is really strange, but I gather that there's a new version in the pipeline that has a much more user-friendly interface (it's already available on Windows, although I've never used it).
As I said in the Introduction, I only really bought this device to give me a backup solution and so although I've found the media server interesting to get working, I don't have a real use for it (I've gone back to Amarok for the time being anyway). My experiences with using this for backup are therefore much more relevant to it's purpose for me.
Windows users are reasonably well served with backup solutions and can use the built-in Windows tools or a supplied application called Stora Desktop Mirror to back up their systems. There doesn't seem to be any limit on how many different backups a single user can make, presumably because it is assumed that each user might have several computers. I have one issue with the backup solution provided by the Stora and this affects all users; Windows, Mac or Linux.
No backup software is provided for Linux, but since Linux distros generally come with quite a few backup packages anyway, that isn't really a problem. However, there are some constraints and I've actually only identified one Linux backup package so far that seems to work OK.
The one Linux Backup solution that I've been able to get working so far is Simple Backup Suite. Although there are lots of solutions out there; they need to fulfil certain functions:
Simple Backup Suite met these requirements, but getting it to work wasn't all plain sailing. Here's what seems to work:
Eventually, after a great deal of searching through the forums on the Netgear site, I found the fix. Apparently this comes about if the Stora is set up through a browser, as I did, instead of by using the supplied (Windows-only) CD, which didn't work for me in Windows anyway. To repair this, the language modules need to be refreshed:
It's supposed to be possible to upload files to the Stora via the browser interface. In fact, only single files can be done this way in Linux based browsers. There is a Java Applet which allows bulk upload of many files or directories by drag-and-drop. This works using Firefox on Windows but not with any browser I've tried under Linux, which is interesting since Java is supposed to be cross-platform.
In fact, I've found it easier to use Dolphin for upload, so it hasn't been a problem.
This is actually a problem with Simple Backup and not the Stora server. In Lucid Ubuntu, Simple Backup has been broken and pressing the 'Backup Now!' button kicks off a background task, but does nothing. There is a fix for this in the pipeline, but in the meantime the backup should be started by typing 'sudo sbackupd' in a shell.
Despite the Issues and the lack of Linux support, I have to say that I like it! I can put up with the lack of support, and I've overcome the three-user limit by creating a User for general family use, leaving one for myself and one for my son, who will use it more than anyone other than me.
Now I've worked out how to access the hidden backup folder, I'll give it 8 out of 10. Of course, if anyone ever compromises the Netgear site and steals all the passwords, then that would go to -10 and I have to say that this aspect of the way the device is administered is slightly worrying. Having said that; this is no more risky than someone hacking into a server company's database and grabbing their customers details, so I can live with it