Network Attached Storage (NAS) has finally started dribbling into the consumer space, and we couldn't be happier. It seems as if a combination of all those years of nagging about backing up and the onset of streaming media has woken up the general public to the marvels of network accessible storage.
This thing is, for a NAS device, surprisingly sexy. The front is black plastic with a silver strip hidden behind clear plastic, and the unit's only button is a power button proudly bearing the D-Link logo. Beneath this are lights for each of the two hard drives that can be loaded in, and an activity light that lets you know when the NAS is doing its own thinking. This front cover can be easily slipped off to load two Serial ATA hard drives which simply slot in with no fuss. You will have to provide the hard drives yourself, as these are not included with the unit.
The top and bottom are ruggedised matte black plastic, with rubber strips on the bottom for feet. On the back there are hard drive release levers, a small fan, a gigabit Ethernet connection, power connection and a USB port which allows the NAS to function as a print server.
At its heart, the D-Link DNS-323 is an embedded Linux device. This is given away by the fact that the thing comes with a warning that NTFS and FAT32 aren't supported, a printed copy of the General Public Licence -- GPL is championed by free software and Linux adherents -- and that the drives are formatted in EXT2. For those who are scratching their heads at this, don't worry, all it means is that the device is almost as easy to use as simply plugging it in.
After mounting the drives in the front and plugging everything up, the unit auto-formats the drives -- so don't put in a hard drive with sensitive data on it. Using a quick access tool found on D-Link's supplied CD, it's easy to configure everything from network settings to drive mapping.
Clicking on the Configure button loads the device's web interface, which is well laid out and easy to navigate. It's certainly a departure from the drab interfaces we're used to seeing and it's well designed as well.
Here it can get a little complex for first time users, as the DNS-323 is both powerful and flexible. The array of options is actually quite impressive -- right down to user and group account control, and permissions, including quotas.
It comes server laden, running its own FTP server, UPnP AV server, iTunes server and DHCP server, making sure that all the data kept on the device is accessible to the outside world. The outside world is accessible to the device as well, as you can schedule downloads directly to the device over FTP, HTTP and local network shares, allowing you to schedule backups in a simple fashion. We would have liked to have seen a BitTorrent client here as well, although we don't know if the device is powerful enough to handle it.
If you're not comfortable with the technical side of backing up, Memeo's Autobackup software is included with the device. Sadly the .NET 1.1 framework component of the install was buggy and flipped out claiming it couldn't find a disk. It then cancelled the installation. After downloading the required components and installing them separately, the software proceeded to install fine which, although not amazingly powerful, can store multiple revisions of a file if need be. It does the job, but power users may find something like the free Cobian Backup more to their liking.
When things go strange, the device is able to send a nominated account an email -- whether the drives are full, passwords have been changed, the temperature is getting out of control or if a hard drive has failed. It's handy on the power saving as well, allowing spin down of the drives after a defined period of disuse.
Four modes of storage are allowed for the drives -- individual drives, Just a Bunch of Disks (JBOD, which can mash two mismatching drive capacities together to form one logical volume), RAID 0 (striped, meaning two drives of identical size are interpreted as one drive, giving speed benefits) or RAID 1 (mirrored, meaning whatever is copied to one drive is copied to the other). Realistically we expect most people to put the DNS-323 into RAID 1, as this offers the most safety when it comes to backups, and being a network device the speed benefits of RAID 0 are questionable as they'll be limited not just by the network connection of the device but of those devices connecting to it, as well as network congestion.
Using an Acer Travelmate 5720 equipped with Windows Vista, we hooked both the notebook and the DNS-323 up to a Netgear Rangemax Next Wireless Router and transferred a 1GB file across the network. Regardless of what storage mode we chose, it ended up taking around a minute -- but of course depending on your equipment, this figure will change dramatically.
The D-Link DNS-323 is an excellent device, one we wouldn't mind keeping in our own home. Now all we need is for D-Link to make a four disk version and open up RAID 5.