Feed Me

september 13, 2007

I was thinking about doing a NAS setup at home for a while. A small NAS device would let me keep the storage online all the time so that all of my boxes can be backed up at anytime. I really don't like having locally attached storage since most of the machines in the house are notebooks. And, though my storage server works well, it is loud and sucks electricity like an alcoholic at a bar. I tried the Linksys NSLU2, which is pretty cool (since you can build a nice small quiet Linux server out of it), but there were two serious flaws. First, it was really painfully slow -- data transfer never got past 3MBps, and usually hovered around 2MBps. That is very painful. Second, since the storage was attached to the NSLU2 via USB, there was no way for the NSLU2 to spin down the drives. That is a good cause of wear on the drives and also makes for a noisy environment. I also gave the Vantec NetStar LX a spin and that way did not work out. The box would timeout on large transfers, it was rather slow (around 3MBps) and it could only accomodate one drive -- ruling out any redundancy. Oh, the backend storage for that the Vantec NetStar LX used was FAT32, that sucked. The Vantec NetStar LX went back within a week of purchance. I was researching the Linksys NAS200, which is the follow-up to the NSLU2, because of its Linux hackability. The NAS200 is a two-drive NAS enclosure for which one brings their own drives. Since the drives are installed into the NAS200, that means that the drives can be spun down. And, since the NAS200 takes two SATA drives, that means that I can have redundancy when it is setup for RAID1. The problem? The NAS200 is saddled with a slow processor and the transfer speeds are not much better than the NSLU2. What a shame. During my research into the Linksys NAS200, I ran into the D-Link DNS-323 which looked like a viable candidate. So, I started researching the D-Link DNS-323, which was also Linux-based and was also hackable -- though, I don't really plan on hacking around with it anytime soon. The D-Link DNS-323 has a Gigabit connector in the back, two SATA drive bays, and a fast processor. Other people have tested the DNS-323 on a Gigabit network and have seen performance near 16MBps. I have been using it for backing up machines today on a 100MBps switch and have seen transfer rates around 8-9MBps, not bad considering it is a NAS appliance box. The web interface for the DNS-323 is decent. The setup was simple -- slide the front face up and forward, that reveals the two SATA drive bays, insert two SATA drives, put the cover back on and then visit the web interface. There are four options for how to configure the drives: Single drives (each drive formatted to be used as single volumes), JBOD (smash the drives together into one large volume), RAID0 (alternate writing data between the two drives for speed), or RAID1 (mirror the drives so that if one goes down, there should still be a good copy of the data on the other). RAID1 of course causes for the loss of half the storage inserted into the DNS-323. I stuck two Western Digital Caviar SE16 500GB drives in there and went with a RAID1 setup. The box itself runs Linux and uses md to do software RAID. If you stick two different sized drives inside (say a 320GB and a 500GB), then the software is smart enough to RAID only the lowest amount (320GB) then stick the rest of the storage into a single volume. Formatting the RAID1 volume took 15 minutes and then the thing was ready for use. My box came from the factory with firmware 1.02. There is a new firmware which corrects a series of problems, 1.03. I would recommend that you upgrade to 1.03 before putting any data on the drives. The DNS-323 supports SMB/CIFS mounts, so all Windows, Macs and Linux boxes should be just fine. On my Linux boxes, I am using fusesmb for browsing. The box is surprisingly fast and that is a good thing. It is pretty quiet also, there is a fan in the box, but it is not very loud. The box does get warm to the touch though, so I am a bit nervous about just how well that little fan is doing back there. But, so far, so good. I like the box a lot. It was easy to get setup and it works really well. I forgot to mention, there is also a UPNP AV and an iTunes server built-in. I tried the iTunes server quickly and it worked out well, the DNS-323 showed up on both my Mac and Windows iTunes and served up music without a hitch -- I am still trying to get Rhythmbox on my Linux boxes to see it though. Lets see if the D-Link DNS-323 is a long-term NAS solution. It certainly has the performance that I crave.  Oh, and total storage in the house?  2.4TB.

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