MacInTouch Reader Reports

Hard Drives: Network Attached Storage

Jan. 2, 2009
Jan. 3, 2009
Jan. 5, 2009
Jan. 6, 2009
Jan. 7, 2009
Jan. 8, 2009
Jan. 9, 2009
Aug. 19, 2009
Sep. 4, 2009
Sep. 10, 2009
Nov. 30, 2009
Dec. 1, 2009
Dec. 22, 2009
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Dec. 29, 2009
Jan. 19, 2010
Jan. 20, 2010

Newer entries...
Jan. 2, 2009


Peter Farrell-Vinay

I have a Drobo which had 1TB + 2 off .5 TB drives in it. I tried adding another 1TB. It wasn't recognised. I hot-swapped two drives. The bay seemed to be the problem: Drobo rattled away but didn't recognise anything in that bay. It did however warn me that I was unprotected against a disk failure and announced "DATA PROTECTION IN PROGRESS". I swapped the drives back as they had been, and left it for 24 hours but nothing else happened: the problem bay refused to recognise the 1TB.

Finally this morning I powered it down, removed the power cord, replaced it and the Drobo slowly powered up. The errant bay finally recognised the 1TB and a progress bar appeared announcing it would be 5 (occasionally 9) hours before data protection would be complete.

Conclusion: Drobo doesn't hot-swap well.

Jan. 3, 2009


Randall Voth

One thing to keep in mind with NAS like Drobo is what do you do if the machine dies, possibly destroying the data in the process? I've been using a D-Link DNS-323 (and have solved all the problems they have with Macs -- someday soon I'll make an easy to install solution available).

What I do is have the DNS-323 serve 2 separate volumes, not RAID. Since the data is stored in EXT3 format, I can pop out the drives and read them on any computer. Backups of the data protect me from drive failure -- for backup I currently use another DNS-323 (with different brand of hard drives) and have all of the unorganized data stored on optical discs of some sort or another.

My plan is to send the second DNS-323 to my father's place for him to use once the audio/video project is complete, which will also protect me from fire. Then I'll backup any new data onto an external drive and shuttle it over there when I get the chance.

Many people do not understand that RAID is not backup and will not protect you from hardware failure, except from a single drive failure. Any proprietary format could easily leave you stranded. Unless you are maintaining an office server, where hot-swap is essential to keep business running, it is probably best to have a data format you can pop out and read in an external drive case.

Another comment about backups: I just pulled out my Logic Studio install disk can discovered a deep scratch. Fortunately my brother also has Logic Studio. I have since taken a 120G external USB drive and copied all my audio install disks and installers, including the current Logic setup from my home directory. Whew!

You simply cannot have enough backups in enough different formats!


Jerome Parmentier

I have had some exposure (I emphasize some, I'm not fully experienced) to Drobo and am trying to understand Peter Farrell-Vinay's issue with his Drobo. If I were to guess the issue that Peter is having, it is that he was swapping too many drives at once and not letting Drobo recover from each new drive swap.

In general, you should be able to increase the storage in a Drobo box on demand by swapping out the smallest drive in the Drobo, especially if all four slots in the Drobo are in use, however the system is designed to indicate to the user when more storage is needed utilizing the lights that correspond with each drive bay. In my experience you only add, or replace a smaller drive with a larger one when the Drobo indicates that it is running out of space. The Drobo will even indicate which disk you should replace. It is not necessarily to preventatively add more physical disk space to a Drobo unless you anticipate a huge jump in data usage in the very near term.

To reiterate what Peter has told us in wording that I find easier to understand, it sounds like the 4 bays were all occupied with disks. When all four bays are filled with disk the Drobo has essentially striped the array a la RAID 5. What folks need to remember about Drobo is that there is little to no user configuration unlike other raid systems. Because the Drobo as a RAID operates like an imbedded system (think fax machine or VCR), you kind of have to follow its rules for management. The plus side is that if you understand its rules for management, it will work very well and as advertised.

Going back to the issue at hand. Peter indicates that he removed 2 drives from the Drobo. If he did this at once on a conventional RAID array with 4 drives, the array would no longer function or protect data. I'm amazed that the Drobo was able to recover from this issue, or at least still have his data in tact because, as I said above, if I removed 2 of 4 RAID 5 drives from a server, the RAID array wouldn't work anymore.

To fix his problem, assuming that the Drobo is still acting poorly or has not re-striped his data, he should reinsert the original drives in their original slots and let Drobo return to normal. Then he should remove one drive (the smallest drive) and replace it with a larger drive. After replacing one drive the Drobo will begin to re-stripe the array. After the Drobo has re-striped the array only then should he remove the second smallest drive and replace it with a larger second drive. The Drobo would again fire up again and re-stripe the new drive.

However, once a Drobo has been given 4 drives to work with it pretty much will always have to have 4 bays occupied with disk.

So in short, on a fully populated Drobo box (4 drives installed), you can swap out the smallest drive and replace with a larger drive at any time. You can only swap out one drive at a time and you must wait for the system to re-stripe the replaced drive prior to doing any more drive swapping. If you are swapping drives to increase space prior to Drobo calling for a drive swap, then you must know which drive is the smallest and replace that one first.

Drobo is an excellent product. I administer a few RAID equipped servers and would kill to have the Drobo logic maintaining my RAID arrays rather than the current RAID technology that is in all servers available out there.


Danny Grizzle

Peter Farrell-Vinay wrote of problems with a Drobo recognizing a newly inserted mechanism. I own 3 Drobos, which I use exclusively as backup volumes for TimeMachine.

The Drobo is a clever design, but a couple of issues to beware of:

1) Drobo accepts raw drive mechanisms, with no requirement to mount in sleds (like the Apple Xserve). Raw drives are normally connected via a ribbon cable, but in the Drobo raw mechanisms are inserted into a slot where the the multi-pin connector is rigidly fixed at the back. The drive is secured by a side latch which catches the rear of the drive. This latch grabs the mechanism on one side only, a back corner on the far side from the mechanism's multi=pin connector. This latch does a good job keeping the drive mechanism physically secure inside the Drobo, but it does not do a good job keeping the drive pressed into the multi-pin electrical connector.

This arrangement of a rigid mount in place of a sled or flexible ribbon cable is not perfectly reliable. In my case, I intended to use one Drobo as off-premise backup because the Drobo is easily transported. However, I found that moving the Drobo causes the drives to lose their electrical connection, even though the mechanism ejection latches hold the drives securely in place.

I finally gave up my plan of transporting the Drobo offsite daily.

2) Rebuilds. Drobo is marketed based on simplicity, so the Drobo literature does not get too deep into various RAID levels or detail how they achieve redundancy across multiple raw drive mechanisms, even mixed makes and capacities.

Although I am not aware of specifics on how they achieve this, all RAID strategies are fairly sophisticated. That Drobo utilizes raw mechanisms sold at retail (Office Depot, Walmart, etc.) is remarkable considering the extensive quality assurance and deep formatting that cause traditional RIAD mechanisms to be very expensive in comparison to cost of a raw mechanism. (I also own an Apple XRAID).

When Drobo goes into rebuild mode, due to a loose electrical connection or insertion of a new drive, expect the process to take days, not hours or minutes.


My experience with the Drobo has taught me to exercise a little extra care with this device. If I move the Drobo, before it goes back in service, I take a minute to firmly press each drive mechanism to insure it is firmly seated on the multi-pin connector. I do not assume the retaining latch for each drive keeps the mechanism perfectly square and seated on the connector pins.

Also, I recommend using the Drobo Control Panel to put drives in "Standby" before disconnecting a Drobo. I wait until the Drobo software unmounts the Drobo from my desktop before I disconnect the drive. This insures the Drobo completes all housekeeping tasks, and there are no timing issues (computer shut off before Drobo is ready).

Previously, when I have ejected the Drobo like any other external drive, or Shut Down the Mac without first detatching the Drobo, I have experienced rebuilds (lasting a day or two) after reattaching the Drobo. Obviously, this is something to be avoided. I wouldn't call it a strike against the Drobo, because obviously the Drobo is doing what it is supposed to do and protecting data. But it is annoying to me, and once a rebuild starts, there is no way I am going to shut down my computer until the rebuild completes. This can be a real inconvenience when the attached computer is a laptop and you have an airplane to catch.

Finally, when it comes to backups, there is no such thing as too much protection. If you use the Drobo for primary storage (mine are used for backups only), do not fail to backup the Drobo. You can get a 1TB external drive for just over $200 these days! I like Drobo a lot, but it is clear that Drobo is not perfect, and people have suffered total data loss. My final advice: backup the Drobo!

Jan. 5, 2009


Christopher Werby

I had a Snap Server years ago that had strange problems trying to save certain Mac files (Illustrator). Its power supply failed about two years into its life. Quantum Tech support couldn't replace the power supply for any price -- they didn't have any. Needless to say, that wasn't an ideal outcome and made me a bit wary about proprietary NAS storage solutions.

So when I went to add NAS recently, I found this thread very helpful. I looked at the Drobo and liked much of what I saw. But ultimately its main feature seemed to be that I could buy the device now and upgrade its storage size later with mismatched disks. Really what I wanted was to max out a device now.

For that, I finally settled on the LaCie 4big Network. The first one was DOA, but the second one has been in service for a few months now and I'm very happy with it. It's a cube with a single large blue light on its face, reminiscent of the red one seen on the HAL-9000. It's connected to an older XServe G5 using Firewire 800. It offers 4 TB of raw storage for about $1,300 which translates into a single volume of 1.8 TB, using a striped and parity-protected RAID with a hot spare.

I like the product a lot. It was very easy to set up and looks nice. I haven't tried to transport it -- I back it up on drives that I can pop out and transport off-site. I notice that LaCie has updated the line and now has the "5big" with 5 internal drives rather than 4. Raw capacities now go up to 7.5 TB.

It would be great if some NAS manufacturer would build in a method of creating mirrored sets of data that could be backed-up off site. I envision a device that would have the striped and parity protected live data and an additional drive or two that would be a mirror of the data (without parity and striping) that could be rotated with an off-site set and would automatically rebuild and continuously provide a backup of the live data.


Peter Krause

Really like my Netgear ReadyNAS Duo in a Windoze/Mac environment. It's plenty for most home/home office users.


Robert Mohns

Randall Voth writes:

"Many people do not understand that RAID is not backup and will not protect you from hardware failure, except from a single drive failure."


Here's a dramatic example of RAID not being a backup:

Journalspace has lost all 6 years of its users data. It was on a RAID, and the drives are functional, but the data is completely gone. No backups.

This isn't just about Drobo, or a NAS device, or a specific RAID implementation. The point is that there is nothing that can replace a good backup strategy. Things like RAIDs, Drobo, and ZFS are just ways to keep the machine going while the hardware is having trouble, but they too can fail, and they can't stop subtle data corruption, disgruntled employees, malicious attacks, or simple human mistakes.

A RAID can *store* a backup of a separate system, but it can't *be* the backup.


Rob Wyatt

As a former Drobo owner, I won't touch one those boxes again. I think much of the advise offered is sound. Always make sure to have at least one backup! I was drawn to Drobo because of the simplicity of setup. However, after it went bonkers - immediately following a firmware update - and took about 1.5TB of data with it (not backed up!), I changed my tune. This, by the way, was the second firmware update to hose my system. The first time it recovered after about two days. The second, it did not.

I contacted Drobo's tech support and sent the required Drobo diagnostics file. After a few days, I called back. "We're working on it." A few days later, the same thing. Finally, after TWO WEEKS of waiting, I gave up and started flaming them online until they refunded my purchase. I was able to recover much of my data using the excellent Data Rescue II, but all of my files had to be renamed, reorganized, etc. A very tedious process! Nothing like sifting through hundreds of video files called,, etc. Ugh!

I've since invested in a Thecus N4100 Pro NAS. They run about $400, so less than Drobo. The N4100 Pro offers dual Gigabit Ethernet ports and a wide range of services including: RAID 0,1,5,6,10,JBOD, AFP support (hard to find in a NAS!), SMB, NFS, iTunes Server, photo server, UPnP media server, web server, IP cam server, and more. It also features something called Nsync which allows you to automatically sync two N4100 Pros via a secure connection.

The N4100 Pro is quite small, about the size of Drobo. It's black as well, although not as style-y as Drobo. It is, however, MUCH quieter. In fact, I can hardly tell when it's on. It's super silent. Configuration is handled via a very functional, if a bit plain, web UI. Setting up RAID, migrating, expanding, etc. is very easy and does not require a degree in Comp Sci. Drobo is definitely easier (ie: automatic), but Thecus has made RAID setup quite accessible to all.

Ultimately, I can see no reason to buy Drobo over a quality RAID5 NAS. I can access my Thecus from anywhere. Drobo owners have to pay another $300 for DroboShare to gain this functionality. Plus, a quality NAS like the N4100 Pro comes with all sorts of useful functions (ie: iTunes server) right out of the box. And, Gigabit Ethernet should be faster than USB or FireWire400 for file access.

I've experimented with a number of NAS and RAID boxes, from the flakey and unreliable Drobo to the incredibly noisy LaCie FireWire RAID, to the Thecus. So far I'm most impressed with the latter. It's been up and running for several months now and I couldn't be happier. One final note about Thecus: their tech support is very thorough and FAST to answer all questions. I've had a number of exchanges with them about various minor issues and feature suggestions (Bonjour, anyone!) and they've always been prompt to respond.

If you're interested in learning more, check out the product page for the N4100 Pro:

I don't work for them. I'm just happy to (finally) have a reliable, no-fuss NAS/RAID for storage!


Adam Wilt


"Ultimately, I can see no reason to buy Drobo over a quality RAID5 NAS."

There is one: RAIDs typically require that any replacement drives be exactly the same capacity (and often the same make, model, and even firmware version) as the other drives in the RAID set. Drobo uses a heterogeneous mix of disks; as long as it has a SATA connection, it'll plug in and work. This is a great benefit when a drive fails after a couple of years, and an exact replacement is no longer on the market.

I'm testing a Drobo right now with three drives: a 400 GB WD, a 500GB Hitachi, and a 750GB Seagate. It just works. While the transfer rates won't break any records, it handily survives my popping one of the disks out in the middle of a data transfer. When I pop it back in, rebuilds are surprisingly quick (it uses file-based redundancy, not block-based, so it only has to rebuild redundancy for those files that were unprotected, instead of every block on the new disk).

I do see horror stories about firmware updates causing Drobo to damage or destroy data sets, but I haven't got a good way to compare those against the failure rates of other RAIDs and NAS boxes, which I also see horror stories about.

All RAIDs and Drobo do from a reliability standpoint is replace one single point of failure (a fragile spinning disk) with another (the controller) that is somewhat less fragile. Storage can still fail. If it happens to you, and you don't have a backup, it doesn't matter whether it only happens once in a million units or once in every ten: your data is gone. Trust nothing; keep backups. And backups of the backups.

Jan. 6, 2009


Davide Guarisco

Adam Wilt writes:

"Ultimately, I can see no reason to buy Drobo over a quality RAID5 NAS."

There is one: RAIDs typically require that any replacement drives be exactly the same capacity (and often the same make, model, and even firmware version) as the other drives in the RAID set.

Well, more often than not, you *can* use different drive mechanisms in a RAID, but any excess capacity will not be used by the RAID. That is, if you replace one of four 250 GB drives with a 320 GB one, the RAID device will only recognize it as a 250 GB drive.

I also would be hesitant to purchase a Drobo. A few things speak against it:
- very slow
- proprietary architecture
- not cheap
- uncertain future of the company

Jan. 7, 2009


Ron LaPedis

I agree with Davide Guarisco that one of the major drawbacks of RAID is that all of the discs need to be not only the same size, but in the case of many hardware-based RAID units, you need to replace a failed drive with the same make and model. That means that you need to buy and store spare drives since they change so rapidly and you might not be able to buy the same make and model when you have a drive failure.

I have had no problems with my Drobo and really appreciate the fact that I can mix and match drives. I have a pair of matching 1 TB's, a non-matching 1 TB, and a 320 GB drive in the box.

However, like any proprietary technology if the company goes out of business and the box has problems, I probably am out of luck. Just another reason why RAID and *backup* are not the same thing.


John Scudder

Davide Guarisco comments that

"Well, more often than not, you *can* use different drive mechanisms in a RAID, but any excess capacity will not be used by the RAID. That is, if you replace one of four 250 GB drives with a 320 GB one, the RAID device will only recognize it as a 250 GB drive."

FYI this isn't completely true with the ReadyNAS product line. The NV (which I have) behaves as Davide describes, *except* that you can progressively replace each drive with a larger one and wait for the rebuild. Once you replace the final drive the volume will resize to use the extra space. The ReadyNAS Pro will allegedly use the extra space right away, no need to replace all the drives.

Jan. 8, 2009


MacInTouch Reader

Just wanted to comment on Davide Guarisco's letter about the "uncertain future" of the Drobo company.

Data Robotics is backed by top VC firms. Although I know only a few people there myself, I know many others there by reputation. I would have no trouble believing in the future of Data Robotics as much as any other vendor--the people who are behind the company are people who want to build successful products, companies, and win.

Drobo is not a mickey mouse product in someone's garage. It's a serious venture.

And of course, just because a company is big doesn't mean they will be around forever. Look at Motorola--9 years ago, Motorola had 160,000 employees. Now? Less than half of that.

The future of all companies, big or small, is uncertain. :-)

Jan. 9, 2009


Jerome Parmentier

Without having any connection to Data Robotics Inc., makers of Drobo, I'm just a user, I have to stick up for the concept of what they are trying to do.

Drobo is a reasonably well executed, and I must say, successful attempt to bring RAID-like protection and stability to end users for desktop and small workgroup storage purposes. Drobo employs RAID-like concepts in creating a data storage system that is at least somewhat fault tolerant. I think they have done a very good job of breaking and improving on some of the long held limitations associated with RAID, such as:

1. Hard disks must be in a proprietary sled or enclosure for hot swapping purposes.

Drobo breaks this by creating an enclosure unit which accepts bare 3.5" SATA disks without any sleds or enclosures.

2. Hard disks in a RAID array need to be, at least matching capacities if not matching model.

Drobo breaks this by being able to utilize any 3.5" SATA drive of any capacity and integrate that capacity with other drives in the array. Let's say I am an IT administrator in a small business and I have a box of new or lightly used SATA drives laying around possibly from some computer upgrade project or as spares for desktop use. I can take these drives of mixed and somewhat limited size and combine them together to create redundant storage of greater capacity than any single drive. For a cost conscious business, this capability can help an organization better use unutilized assets and can help control the deployment cost of a network storage device.

Additionally, should one of these drives die, you just replace it with another drive of comparable or larger size and Drobo will integrate that drive into the array, re-create data redundancy and make the extra space available. All of this is transparent to the end user(s) whose data is stored on the shared Drobo.

3. RAID arrays can only live in a workgroup class or better server, or in an expensive rack mount/server room style NAS appliance.

Again, Drobo crosses this threshold of traditional RAID because it can be utilized as a stand alone external drive attached to one computer, or attached to a server and shared over a network, or even attached directly to the network with proper accessories. The result again is a much lower cost approach to a high capacity, redundant storage solution.

How many small offices purchase a workgroup server for thousands of dollars to do nothing but provide storage? I can think of many in the back of my head. It is so much more cost effective to purchase a Drobo and a few SATA drives of acceptable capacity and then increase the capacity of Drobo as your storage needs increase, than it is to purchase a server just to store data. Most servers in small offices and workgroups never really do any data processing, just data storage, so having a full server is kind of overkill or storage needs.

Would I replace a datacenter-class storage solution with Drobo? No! Drobo is not intended to replace "heavy iron" storage systems made by the likes of HP, Dell and others. There is, however, a huge hole in the market that could use RAID on a budget and small scale and I think that Drobo fits that hole very well.

Consider, as people create larger and larger libraries of digital media collections (mp3s, videos, pdf documents), and they need that data to be stored in a fault tolerant way, the need for personal RAID-like storage becomes even more apparent. But this new level of personal data storage can't be difficult to administer and shouldn't have any significant pitfalls to prevent it from being reliable or at least easily manageable.

Aug. 19, 2009


Jim Noble

I bought the Iomega StorCenter ix because of its AFS support. It does run Linux and it uses ext3 as a file system.

It mounts beautifully on my network, and is configurable from the desktop, although it helps to have some experience with the concept of "shares".

However, I can't back up my iTunes Music folder because of illegal file names. Every time I try, the backup interrupts and the process ends with an alert message about a file that is unrecognized.

The problem is, I have 16 000 tracks and can't possibly root through them all looking for illegal characters. I'm sure there are lots of "/" and "&"s in there.

Has anyone else tackled this issue?

Sep. 4, 2009


Brad Kopernicus

I have a small network of 5 Macs running 10.4. There is a WD NetCenter drive on the network, and all users share the documents stored there using smb. The login name is not important as long as the password is correct. Recently I added a Mac running 10.5. It can see most of the files but some of the directories appear to be empty - only from that Mac as the other Macs can see them at all times. My "ls -al" listings show the same permissions on accessible and non-accessible directories. Does anyone have any suggestions about how to fix this?

Sep. 10, 2009


Brad Kopernicus

[I previously wrote]:

"I have a network of Macs running 10.4. There is a WD NetCenter drive on the network. Recently I added a Mac running 10.5. It can see most of the files but some of the directories appear to be empty - only from that Mac as the other Macs can see the files at all times."

I found an answer. I used one of the 10.4 Macs to rename the problematic folders (folder -> folder-old), copied the folders via USB stick to the 10.5 Mac, and used the 10.5 Mac to put the folders on the shared drive. Now all the Macs can use all the files.

The strange part is that once I renamed the folder, the 10.5 Mac could see the originals, too. I wonder if there was some hidden character in the name that the 10.4 Macs ignored but the 10.5 Mac tried to validate.

Nov. 30, 2009


Wade Anderson

Has anyone yet tested the Acer easyStore H340 with a Mac? I anticipate that it could be used with SuperDuper as a backup device and shared storage.

HP officially supports Mac on (albeit limited) with their Windows Home servers, but less is out there about doing the same with the Acer product. It actually has decent reviews when placed against the HP version.

The reason I am considering this over other NAS solutions is that the Windows server version can be used for other purposes.

Dec. 1, 2009


Marc Elias

I have an Acer easyStore H340, using it with both Macs and PCs for a number of months now... I have not used it as a Time Machine backup, but I'll give you the quick lowdown on how it works...

On the Mac, you simply point the Finder to the IP address of the server (sometimes, if you're lucky, it will show up in the Finder sidebar on its own), and you can log in and mount any of the shared folders. They mount and operate like any SMB drives, and that part seems to work quite well. Microsoft's Remote Desktop Connection software will (if you're lucky) connect to the H340 and let you log in and administer it remotely. Beyond that however, this unit isn't at all Mac compatible, from my experience.

- Inexpensive for what it is (which is why I bought it)-- a full-on headless Windows computer, so if you know anything at all about Windows, you can get it to do some pretty impressive things, such as run your favourite downloading programs, etc. Attach a USB DVD burner and you can burn backups with your favourite Windows burning program, for example;
- Once you get it configured and working, which isn't fun, it will remotely back up your Windows PCs in a reasonably efficient manner, and the Windows Home Server connector software (again, once you get it working) isn't a completely horrible way to administer a server;
- The hardware itself is nicely designed, easy to add drives to and runs fairly coolly and quietly;

- Mac Unfriendly -- The proprietary connector software doesn't run on a Mac for administration or automatic backups;
- Frustrating, arcane and finicky -- Windows Home Server is a very annoying system that relies on obscure and difficult ways to do simple things. I'm not a rookie at using computers or networking, but every single thing I have wanted to do with this thing has necessitated hours of Google research to see how bigger nerds than I have managed to accomplish it. Any change whatsoever in my setup (such as a new router, or an upgrade on a connected PC) has ALWAYS required a COMPLETE REINSTALLATION of the server software, even just to get it working with a PC. Infuriating. Your data is not lost during this process, but everything else is.
- Not RAID -- the drives in the H340 are not in a RAID setup, they are simply added to a storage pool... You can specify certain folders to be "duplicated," which adds some layer of security, but causes space problems when you start reaching multiple terabytes of information...

I bought the EasyStore because (fabulous Canadian retailer) NCIX was selling it with a bonus 1 TB HD for a very low price... I added two more 1 TB HDs, and it is acting as a backup of my music library and serving video to my Popcorn Hour player connected to the TV upstairs. As a simple networked SMB storage server, it works very well. I have also figured out (thanks to an online community of WHS users) how to install and run things such as uTorrent and SabNZBd, although it was by no means point-and-shoot.

Would I do the same again? No, if I had known what kind of product WHS was, I would have bought a simple NAS to store media and waited until I could afford a Mac Mini running OS X server for everything else. If I were smarter, I might figure out if the EasyStore could be reformatted to run something else -- such as Windows 7 or Ubuntu -- and then it might become something much more friendly than Windows Server 2003, which I hate like poison.

That being said, a Mac Mini and a good RAID setup like a Drobo costs no less than three times what this rig cost, so you have to take the chunky with the smooth.

I hope this helps, feel free to ask any more questions, and as always, YMMV.

Dec. 22, 2009


Jeff W

I'm looking for some sort of centralized online storage for students doing video editing with Final Cut Pro on 10 Macs in a small lab at my college. My budget is very small, so an Xserve or File Maker Server option is out of the question. Have others tried this with a Drobo or LaCie 5big NAS? Do you have other recommendations? Thanks!

Dec. 23, 2009


Paul Bush

I deployed three LaCie 2TB RAID NAS after trying unsuccessfully to make my users comfortable with server-based file sharing.

I needed something robust and fault-tolerant while I was preoccupied for several months with remodel and LAN reinstallation in two new office buildings.

The LaCie have performed flawlessly, the browser-based config is relatively straightforward for a computer person, and the users -- both Mac and Windows -- have accepted the drives. Windows users use My Network Places; Mac users use SMB.

One Windows workgroup uses their shares for collaborative file sharing. Recently I successfully integrated the LaCie NAS with Retrospect 8, for additional redundancy.


Stan Greenspan

A couple of cheaper solutions are available to you than the LaCie.

First, consider either an Airport Extreme Base Station or a Time Capsule. Either one can take USB hard drives and powered hubs and each will serve up to 50 clients. While the wireless networking might be slow, each has 10/100/1000 ethernet and can be easily attached to an existing network. You can choose to use the wireless if you wish, and they do make pretty good routers. Very simple setup and management. You could easily build a file sharing service without all kinds of problems that a server brings to the uninitiated.

Second, OSX on an older Mac will provide simple sharing. Just hook up an old Mac, turn on file sharing and setup the clients to connect. You can have them all log in as the owner or set up a second account that only has access to the drive you wish them to see.

Third, OSX Server may be a bit of overkill if you want to keep it simple, but the new min Server is getting great reviews. You get the full server capabilities and the cost is not much greater than the LaCie, *plus* you can hook in any flavor of computer, Mac, PC, Linux, without a lot of trouble.

Good luck!


MacInTouch Reader

Old PC, FreeNas, gig ethernet, large hard drive.


Tracy Valleau

Leaving aside that NAS is *far* too slow for video editing (hence assuming he's just talking about storage) then I've been using the D-Link DNS323 on my gigabit ethernet network for a couple of years now without a lick of trouble.


Warren Stone

Jeff W asked

"I'm looking for some sort of centralized online storage for students doing video editing with Final Cut Pro on 10 Macs in a small lab at my college. My budget is very small, so an Xserve or File Maker Server option is out of the question. Have others tried this with a Drobo or LaCie 5big NAS? Do you have other recommendations? Thanks!"

I have two of the Promise Technology NS2300 NAS enclosures, both set up using the internal RAID 1 controller. The enclosure is available for <$200 and you add your own hot swappable SATA drives (up to 3.0TB). The enclosure supports both smb and afp out of the box with a 10/100/1000 Ethernet port. They have worked well for me. There is a 4 drive enclosure available also (NS4300) but I haven't used those. I'm not affiliated with Promise Technology, just a satisfied user.


Sterett Prevost

Re: Jeff W & 10 Macs at college:

Whatever solution you settle on, I suggest the storage be a "large" size because video editing files tend to be quite large. In a similar environment with a student weekly newspaper in the mid 90s, the biggest difficulty I had was getting the students to consistently use their *own* folders on the server drive and edit the files on their own Macs, then save to the server drive. Fortunately, the DTP files weren't that large, but even then, as they tried to edit their files while the file was still on the server drive, corruptions and lost work occurred from time to time; I can imagine the situation being much worse with video files being edited while still on the server drive.


MacInTouch Reader

Jeff W asks for advice on using a low-cost NAS for centralised online storage.

Based on our experience I'd say avoid a low-cost solution. We have 3 x 14TB Thecus N7700 NAS boxes fitted with 7x 2TB WD20EADS Caviar Green drives. Google for prices, but you'll be amazed how low per TB this works out. This was the recommended configuration when we bought. They are reasonably fast and support dual Gigabit Ethernet, eSATA and iSCSI. To take advantage of the 14TB you have to format as ZFS, we chose RAID5 to maximise capacity and give a reasonable level of redundancy.

After a few months one of our units reset itself wiping the entire RAID5. The file data is still there, you just cannot access it since the index is corrupted. We now have a data recovery service working on this - the cost is well over 6 times the cost of the box plus drives. Yesterday another one failed exactly the same way - the system simply resets the RAID Thecus blame WD drive firmware, and after we contacted them they removed the WD20EADS from their drive compatibility list. The problem seems to be a conflict between the NAS software and the WD drive firmware, but it is difficult to say who is to blame. We use the same WD20EADS drives in Mac Pros and have no problems with them at all. This raises the question, what kind of testing do Thecus do? It looks like they rely on user feedback for their drive compatibility list, and don't extensively test themselves.

Another problem we quickly ran into is how do you backup a 14TB (10.5TB RAID5 formatted) NAS. The snapshot functions of ZFS are useless since they only make a copy on the same NAS. You could try nSync but once your file backup hits a few TB this will take days, and become useless.

If you learn anything from our sorry experience it should be that you get what you pay for. If you need a large amount of reliable shared storage, expect to pay a lot of money.


Constantin von Wentzel

As NAS' go, I have been very, very happy with the ReadyNAS series, now sold by Netgear. Great implementation, speedy (25MB+ on AFP with jumbo frames), reliable. All that said, I wonder just how this lab is supposed to work. If the idea is for all students work off the NAS for their film project, I'd back away unless the data files are tiny.

I doubt there is enough network bandwidth to cover all of the needs of a single workstation, let alone 10. Even retrieving/backing multiple GB per station will take time. I'd allocate 30MB/s as a best case scenario for each network port on the NAS. So your ten clients would, at best, have 3MB/s available each. With smaller file sizes, that total drops to maybe 10MB/s - and only if every client uses jumbo frames via a gigabit switch, etc.

A less expensive "sneakerware" solution might be a RAID 1 hard drive array that is taken from station to station at the beginning and end of class. At least there you get 70MB+/s of transfer.


MacInTouch Reader

The reader wanting to get into a NAS inexpensively should look at the miniStack NAS from Newer Technology. The enclosure itself is only $50, and you can bring your own hard drive to the party! Perfect for an educational setting for FCP students.


Bruno Forcier

An Xserve is out of the question not because it's expensive but more because it's not meant to be a centralized storage system for video editing (unless you invest in an XSan, Metasan or SanMP environment for managment).

In order to get affordable storage for 10 Apple workstations w/ Final Cut Studio, my recommendation would be to get:

a)2*normalized (college approved configurations) Wintel PCs w/Windows XP Pro 64bit or Windows 7, and 2 GigE ports each, iSCSI activated (free on Windows).

This is required for file access. Also, 2 machines need to be present in the case of the failure of one. You can also get 2 Mac Pros for that goal but there is a major price premium...

b)10*licenses of Atto Xtend SAN (ask Atto directly for educational pricing if available) to allow iSCSI initiation on OS X (Snow Leopard was supposed to support iSCSI natively but it still does'nt as of 10.6.2 ;-) )


c)12*licenses of MetaSAN iSCSI (ask Tiger Technology directly for educational pricing if available)

d)1*form of iSCSI storage empty box (like an Enhance Tech T5i or better with your choice of enterprise SATA drives but stay away from Seagate and go with Hitachi if you can afford the premium)

e)1*additional GigE switch w/ at least 16 ports for the private network (MetaSAN is like XSan, it needs a private separate network, no vlan on same topology, separate subnet an absolute)


f) 2 consumer UPSes like the BR1500LCD from APC

g) 1 day of labor

me! :-)

Joke apart, if you are based in Eastern Canada, you can always ask Macintouch to forward you my coordinates...

Hope this helps


Stephen Clark

For Jeff W: Netgear makes some nice products but I've never priced their smaller NAS devices, shown here:

Hard drives are pretty cheap now, while the means to connect them can get pricey. You probably want security also, so I wouldn't recommend Drobo.


Pete Wilson

Jeff W says

"I'm looking for some sort of centralized online storage for students doing video editing with Final Cut Pro on 10 Macs in a small lab at my college."

Assuming the actual editing is done with local copies then I'd think many products would serve well. A NAS can read at 30 MB/sec (for big files, with jumbo packets, on gigabit ethernet).

I've had good experience with the ReadyNAS NV+ (for general purpose work and Time Machine Backup - not video). It reads at 30M/sec, but only writes at 10-12 MB/sec for big files.


Randall Voth

Jeff W - NAS's are fine for backup, but not doing actual video work. Copy speed is between 10MB/s and 30MB/s unless you get a really fast server, and then you may get 60MB/s. Far slower if everyone is copying at the same time. You do the math with your file sizes.

Why not add some FireWire cases and big drives?


Jo Yoshida

A couple months ago I finally ripped all my CDs to flac files and stuck them on a D-Link 2-Bay DNS-323 NAS enclosure connected to my router. The unit contains two 1 TB drives in RAID 1 and the whole set up has been working well. It even has a USB printer port which can be hacked to support an external drive. The DNS-323 is about $150 and D-Link has been responsive with firmware updates.

Dec. 24, 2009


Jeff W

Thanks for the helpful responses to my question about an inexpensive NAS. To clarify, students will use the system only for storage. Our current setup has external hard drive for storage, but that causes problems if two different groups have stored their projects on that computer. Hence, I'm looking for a central storage option for them. From what I am reading, it looks like I'm between a rock and a hard place since the solution I need for speed is beyond our budget.

Dec. 28, 2009


Bruno Forcier

To answer Jeff's additional comments:

My revised recommendation would be a lot easier and cheaper to deploy....

1) Get 1 external hard drive of the smallest capacity in w/Quad interface per student.

2) Make the student responsible for the care and maintenance of his drive.

3) Have the College AV store manage the inventory of drives.

This is the cheapest solution that will get you the best outcome.

I have deployed this solution at over 10 Colleges / Universities / High Schools over the years.

It works and it's affordable.

Some caveats:

1) Expect higher calls to repair then regular home or corporate use (upwards of 10%) because of the nature of users

2) Make the users responsable of their backup strategy (expect some dog ate my 'paper' excuses)

3) Not as rock solid or as feature full as a video-centric solution


Steve Hubbard

For a low cost NAS solution, I suggest the Qnap range of devices. These come in various sizes of enclosure (1, 2 and 4 disks) and work well with Macs. They support AFP, SAMBA and iSCSI file sharing connections out of the box. ISCSI is particularly useful as it is possible to resize partitions on the fly, without losing data.

ISCSI management at the server is done from the QNAP web based management GUI. Crucially for this application it is very easy to set up connection privileges for each virtual volume that is created. To connect to an iSCSI disk from the Mac one needs a copy of the GlobalSAN iSCSI Initiator, which is freeware.

On my home network I use the baby QNAP NAS - the TS-119 - which works well as a backup for my Aperture library, and another ISCSI volume for music. I connect to it using iSCSI using the method I have described and it works very well.

Dec. 29, 2009


Robert Mohns

Jeff W writes:

"Thanks for the helpful responses to my question about an inexpensive NAS. To clarify, students will use the system only for storage. [...] From what I am reading, it looks like I'm between a rock and a hard place since the solution I need for speed is beyond our budget."

Would it be possible to find out your budget, so we could target suggestions to match? (In my day job, I find it wastes a lot of time to try to propose solutions to a client that won't disclose their budget. "warmer, warmer, cooler, cold..." is a fun kids game but not good problem solving. :)

Also, it's still not clear to me how much storage you need for the student projects. Is a terabyte enough? Or do you need to provide 10TB of online storage?

I have some ideas -- But what are the minimum storage requirements and budget constraints?


Bruce Robertson

The QNAP devices are nice in many ways; but be aware of the significant problem with their USB ports. You cannot read any Mac formatted device plugged into the USB port on QNAP machines.


Ryan Aumiller

Hi Ric & Co - Happy Holidays

Jeff W's inquiry into storage options (NAS) for a lab dealing with Final Cut mirrors the scenario we have here at the school I work for. Here's some thoughts to share with respect to our research and your prerequisite for an inexpensive solution:

Without a substantial investment in network infrastructure (10GB backbone), you won't be able to sustain the read/write necessary for multiple users to perform video editing across the network. Even with jumbo frames enabled, there is only a modest increase in throughput for multiple simultaneous users in our testing across ethernet. I'm assuming this would be the likely case for multi-user iSCSI across ethernet (though I haven't endeavored to try). In addition, this would also require a much more powerful (and expensive) switch capable of supporting the necessary sustained throughput. Any honest discussion of a SAN for video likely is predicated on the requirement that you're using fiber, which would also likely be beyond your budget. Given these expensive hurdles, I'm going to assume that any benefit of network-based centralized storage for video editing won't be practical for you.

But don't despair (as I did initially) :-)

What we ended up doing is installing a large internal 7200 rpm SATA drive and created partitions for each student (5 partitions per system) across the entire lab. Whether your user accounts are local or network-based, you can assign ownership of that partition to a specific user for security. In our case, with network accounts, an admin logs in initially and uses "Get Info" to assign a specific partition to a standard user. We also name the partition in the user's full name. You'd follow the same procedure if your user accounts are local - but it's necessary that you assign a log-in account for each user for whom you wish to assign a partition on that system. You could also partition and assign ownership to your external firewire drives, but the internal route will be much better performing and secure.

If necessary, you could have one partition be the boot (system) partition, but it's certainly preferable to have that be a separate drive, if possible. For clarification, we did initially have a single drive doing it all with SATA 1 capable PowerMac DP G5s, but installed secondary drives for the partitions and the performance is better. Any recent SATA 2 capable Mac would likely work with a single drive for your needs, if necessary. You could also Netboot a basic "diskless" system setup dedicated for 10 Final Cut users if you're using Mac OS X Server. Once booted, there isn't any excessive I/O between the clients and the server, especially if Final Cut is being directed to use partitions for project storage and cache.

As to Bruno Forcier's suggestion to assign hard drives to each student, that's exactly what we do. We initially used OWC and distributed 80 USB2/FW400 drives to our incoming Freshmen as part of a kit, but they required that the students (owner) contact them directly and all drives to be returned to them for repair - which is just too disruptive to the students who can't afford weeks without access to their data. Not to mention the confusion with expecting the students to deal with tech support and the RMA process. Given that 95% of the time, it's a bridge-board failure (not the hard drive itself), I approached Rocstor who was more than willing to provide me spare boards to expedite the repairs of their drives. When I run low, they send me more without any fanfare. I can't tell you how fantastic this relationship is. When a drive goes down, I can have the student back up in minutes. We've been using Rocstor drives for 2 years now. Our current drives are the small, stylish Airhawk series, with FW800/400 and USB2 interfaces. The internal drives are 2.5" 7200 rpm SATA. We've had approximately 6 or 7 failures of bridgeboards and 1 hard drive out of the 75 initially distributed. Our bridgeboard failure rate I must attribute at least partially to the widespread difficulties well documented with the Power Mac G5 series firewire. We never seem to have issues with these drives in our other (more contemporary) labs. Rocstor has been extremely responsive and communicative in all cases.

Oh, and we establish a policy of "your data is your responsibility". The students are responsible to drag copy their work from their partition to their external hard drive for backup. FYI - we have the internal partition for capture and initial workspace because it's much less problematic given that it's a fixed internal drive and isn't subject to the student's improper mounting/unmounting practices (grin) like the externals are. This also eliminates the "all your eggs in one basket" scenario of having them capture directly to the external drive - which they often connect mistakenly using USB instead of Firewire. It's (more than) enough that we expect them to backup their own data. ;-)

I hope this helps and feel free to ask more questions, if necessary.

Thanks to MacInTouch and Happy Holidays to all!


Pete Van der Goore

Why hasn't anybody mentioned FreeNAS? I'm no BSD geek but I have it installed and running on an old Gateway that my kid was throwing out. I think in is is Pentium II with 256 megs of memory. The only things I have paid for are the drives (4 500 gig SATA) and a raid card. It just works. You can setup the drives to do windows share and/or Apple File Protocol plus all the Unix stuff. It's all managed by a web page that pretty straight forward.

Jan. 19, 2010


Wade Anderson

Greetings. I purchased the new version of the HP MediaSmart Server, Model EX495 (available on Amazon). I'm using this opportunity to share my experience with MacInTouch readers.

For reference, here is the 'lay of the land' of my systems to serve as a reference point.

iMac Core Duo, 1.83GHZ, 1.5 GB Ram, OS 10.4.11
Macbook Core 2 Duo 2.0 GHZ, 4 GB Ram, OS 10.5.8. This is our primary machine; soon to be upgraded.

Dell DL630 2GB Ram Windows XP Sp3.
Toshiba NB205 230 Netbook 2GB Ram Windows 7 Starter

DLink DGS-2208 Rev 4 8 Port 10/100/1000 Desktop Switch
Verizon FIOS MI-424 Wireless Router (4 Port 10/100, 802.11G)

The Server and all machines (above) in question all have confirmed gigabit (1000) connections, using Cat5e and better cables (Cat 6 for the longest runs). The router and an HP network capable printer (100 speed connections) are also connected to the switch. The switch appropriately does not "throttle back" when these are operating.

Server: HP MediaSmart EX495, 1.5TB 7200 RPM Seagate SATA300 drive; with 3 open drive bays (will add additional 1.5TB drives for file replication in the next week). 2.5 GHZ 64Bit 2 Core Intel processor, 2GB ram, current release of Windows Home Server OS (WHS is a modified version of Windows 2003 Server, Small Business Edition with a 'user friendly' interface). HP recently performed several updates to their client software that makes it more 'Mac friendly' as well as allows direct "Time Machine" backups with OS 10.5 or better (no hacks required)

Backup Software: WHS built-in (for my Windows XP, 7 starter machines); SuperDuper! 2.6.2 (for OS 10.4 machine); Time Machine (for OS 10.5 machine)

Setup & Configuration Findings: The initial setup requires a Windows PC or Mac running Parallels/VMWare. A client app is installed on the Windows PC and a plethora of updates commence from HP and Microsoft's website. Depending on your internet connection, prepare to wait an hour or so for this to all update and complete.

Once the machine has been configured and you have added a "Mac" share folder on the server (for Time Machine) and in my case, another folder for older Mac OS X machines to utilize for backups, you can begin to leverage it in a cross-platform household.

For Windows machines, getting things to work for backups and other purposes is quite easy and backup performance is fast. For Mac, things are a bit more varied. I went through several iterations on my 10.5 machine of getting the HP client software to properly recognize the server/authenticate. Also, there are known bugs with how 10.5 handles SMB shares, only intermittently showing them in the 'Shared' finder sidebar. I found this to be much more reliable/consistent when I disabled file sharing on the 10.5 machine and selected the 'workgroup' settings on the WINS tab (more detail here). This now allows the HP server to always show up properly in the shared finder sidebar as well as automatically log in if you save the password in your keychain.

Windows XP and 7 backup performance over gigabit connections is excellent, superior in this case to Mac. Time Machine on 10.5 (initial load) averaged about 1GB per minute (14-15 megabytes per second) which is about half of typical USB 2.0 'real world' speed. This is not a raw file copy, but rather the actual transfer speed with the overhead of hard drives, Time Machine etc. The Windows backups were about twice as fast.

SuperDuper! over the OS 10.4 machine using SMB was brutally slow even over a gigabit network. My machine with about 120 Gigs of data took 15 hours to copy! This likely is due to in this case you have to get creative for SuperDuper to work in this method. In this case, to make it reliable over SMB, you configure a "sparse" disk image in SuperDuper and save it on the MediaSmart WHS server in a separate share. (I called it "Macsuper"). Details to do this can be found here.

Thus, it does work (even if not supported by HP) and if you pony up the $27 for the software, you can do incremental backups that only take a few minutes once you have endured the initial pain.

Next Steps:
My next tests will be with the full media sharing (itunes, photos, video, etc.), adding redundant hard drives (data protection), and remote/web access. I will also time raw file copies to confirm performance variances between a like-sized (processor, memory, hard drive) Macbook and Dell laptop.

Initial Conclusions:
For a cross-platform home that needs the ability to have a lot of storage with reasonable performance, printer sharing, web services, streaming video/audio, etc. the HP MediaSmart Windows Home Server isn't a bad option. It supports up to 17.5 Terabytes of storage and has superior external interfaces (eSATA) to Apple-based options.

If Apple offered a similar cross-platform solution that is as expandable for this pricing, I could even forgive them limiting it to 10 seats (as this device is). Perhaps - they could take the existing Mac Mini board, place it in a mid-tower case, add an eSATA connector, and shave off the cost a bit by swapping out a slower processor. That would likely be a superior full "media hub" for households and I would buy it in a heartbeat. For now, the solution is left to the Windows hardware manufacturers. (Linux based NAS solutions available today seem to be 'iffy' and even so, often utilize a single, non-redundant hard drive). Hardware RAID is also an option, but the cost per megabyte is higher than the MediaSmart solution and the machine is less flexible.

One other note. HP markets this same solution in the corporate market (small business) as the HP StorageWorks X510 Data Vault. The hardware is the same; only a few software tweaks. The Mac Mini Server is a good start, but is Apple really missing out on small business customers who are less attached to large PC-centric investments?

Jan. 20, 2010


Mike Kraemer

I have tried a similar setup with the HP EX485 but I am running Win7 x2 and 10.6 x2. I can not install the HP software on the Macs; the install almost finishes but a warning comes up which says the HP..... kext file can not be installed.

I have followed the threads on numerous boards, and some Mac users have reported that the Time Machine backup, once done, could not be restored from the HP. Waiting for others (with 10.6) to take the plunge and report.


Davide Guarisco

Wade Anderson raves about the HP MediaSmart Server. It's nice that is supports Time Machine backups. However, it does not offer AFP file sharing. Therefore it is not an acceptable NAS for me.

I don't know why Wade thinks that Linux based NAS solutions are "iffy": I built my own Linux based NAS box. It cost me less than what the HP MediaSmart costs (adding the price of 4 TB of hard drives), and it offers AFP, SMB, and a plethora of other services (incl. iTunes server). I can configure it to my heart's content. It has worked flawlessly from the start.

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