Table of Contents
Review of the Netgear Stora MS200
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.
Overview and Specifications
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:
- 1 TB hard disc installed. The second is for RAID support, which it configures automatically according to the User Manual.
- Linux based.
- Provides both Media and Backup server capability.
- Low power; 12 W in use and 8 W when the disc spins down.
- Automatic disc idle after 12 minutes of no activity. Power scheduling also available.
- Access to media and backups through a browser and also via the network (SMB/CIFS).
That's the good stuff. The bad stuff might put many off:
- The only way to configure it is via the browser interface, eg, by typing http://www.mystora.com or http:/<Stora IP address>. That means that admin access is available via the internet!
- The number of users is limited to 3 out of the box. To get more, you have to purchase a 'Premium Subscription' for $19.99 per year. This gets you a whole lot of other services, but the only one I would want is the additional users.
- As usual, the instructions, setup software and support seems to be Windows and Mac only. As of 2010-06-14, I have an outstanding support query, so the jury is out on support!
- You can access the media from outside the local network by browsing to www.mystora.com and logging in to the named device. This is sold as a plus by Netgear, but I'd rather it didn't do it really.
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.
DNLA / UPnP Capable Player
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.
Simple Backup Suite
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:
- (Obviously), they need to be network capable. Someone recommended Back in Time, but this doesn't seem to be able to store its backups on a remote drive, so is not suitable. It is also more of a desktop sync program, (as is Stora Desktop Mirror), rather than a proper backup utility, so it stores uncompressed copies of everything and keeps the files synchronised to the originals. There are no incremental / full options and of course if you accidentally delete a file and then sync before you notice….
- It isn't possible (AFAIK) to install anything to run on the Stora, so client server applications like Amanda are not suitable.
- It needs to be simple; it's only a home network, not a thousand device server farm!
Simple Backup Suite met these requirements, but getting it to work wasn't all plain sailing. Here's what seems to work:
- Install Simple Backup Suite from the repository. (It's package name is sbackup. Don't be confused by simplebackup, which is a shell script.)
- Run Simple Backup Config and set it up as described in the tooltips. At the 'Destination' tab:
- Select 'Use a remote directory (SSH or FTP)' (SMB seems to work too). The Stora supports secure FTP, so that could be used too, although I never tried it.
- Use Dolphin (or some other file manager) to browse to the 'MyComputers' area on the Stora, logging-in in the usual way to get access.
- Copy and paste the path from the Dolphin Location Bar to the Destination path field in Simple Backup Config.
- Modify this path to the form: smb:Username:Password@stora/MyComputers/BackupDestination. - Press Test and ensure that the triangle to the left of the path changes to a green button. * Trigger the Backup by pressing 'Backup Now'. Note: See Issues below. If all that has been done correctly, then the past backups should be available via the Simple Backup Restore tool. ===== Issues ===== As hinted above, all this wasn't without a certain amount of stress and there are still some open Issues, apart from the general 'bad stuff' mentioned in the Overview. ==== Backup Storage Location ==== I raised a Support Query on this and although the support response was initially very quick, it was also very useless. After that, my query was escalated from the monkey to the organ grinder and then to engineering. I think I might be the first to try to do what they say is possible in the User Manual…. Eventually, the request was closed without a meaningful response! When I initially logged into the Stora with Dolphin, I could see all the folders mentioned in the Use section above and one other called 'ComputersBackup$'. No matter what I did, I couldn't log in to this 'hidden' directory. Here is what the User Manual says: 'Your can configure the Stora to be the destination for Windows Backup for the PC, Windows Vista and/or Mac OSX TimeMachine backups. By enabling this feature a special hidden section on the Stora is assigned to contain the backed up files. This section is not visible to the user because the contents are not usable by the user directly and can only be used for restoring backups.' What I found was that even with Windows, I couldn't log in to this directory, because I didn't know the Username for it. It is really, really hidden in Windows of course, so most people won't know anything about it, but it should be accessible using Windows Explorer if the path \\stora\ComputersBackup$ is entered. Except it's not, because the documentation doesn't provide the Username. So what I think everybody does is to put their backups into the MyComputers directory (as I described above), which is unfortunately, not just visible to the file manager, but it's also visible to anyone who logs in from the internet… As stated above, this issue was never answered by Netgear, but I eventually found out through the forums, see below, that the Username is ComputersBackup (it seems to be case sensitive). Now I can use the hidden area of the Stora, I am reasonably happy with it, notwithstanding the bad stuff. ==== General User Support ==== The direct support provided by Netgear to new users seems to be worse than useless, see the previous Issue. The initial response was very fast; I was told that it was being escalated within about 8 hours and the second escalation was about 26 hrs later. It was escalated to engineering four days after that and then the Issue was silently closed. I only found out that they had closed it because I was asked to complete a survey about how well it had worked. Needless to say, my survey response was less than complimentary. As far as FAQs and Forums are concerned, these are pretty much aligned to Windows Users. There are a few threads about Linux in the Forums with a rough split between people who are appalled (appalled I say) that Netgear should advertise Linux compatibility without any software or support and those who say Linux users shouldn't need any support…. I think Linux users are quite good at helping each other, and there are a few useful threads in there. The biggest problem with the forums is that the Search functionality is very poor. If I search for 'Error #2035', I get all the posts that contain the word 'Error' and all the posts with '#2035', which adds up to a lot. That one is fairly easy to fix, but I've spent ages trying to find particular problems without success, only to stumble across the problem by accident later… ==== Browser Errors ==== When logging in to the Stora with Firefox I had some very annoying errors. These didn't seem to occur if the browser was launched from the Stora Agent App on Windows, but they did if the www.MyStora.com URL was typed straight into the browse bar, even in Windows. I assume that the problems are somehow overcome by the Stora Agent. The errors are: * If Firefox is running NoScript, there is an ABE cross-scripting error. The only way round it seems to be to disable ABE protection. Of course this doesn't occur with other browsers, because they don't have NoScript. * Two dialogue boxes pop up after log in: - The first one says 'The following error occurred: Unable to load resource module from http:<Stora IP Address>/flashclient/assets/locale/Resources_en_GB.swf?ver=22.214.171.124'.
- After clicking 'OK', the second one says 'The following error occurred: Error #2035'.
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:
- Log into the Stora with the Browser and go to the Preferences page.
- Go to User and set the language to something other than the one you use. Press Submit.
- Set the language back to your own and press submit.
- Try it. It worked for me.
Bulk Upload through the Browser
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.
Problem with Simple Backup
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