Network storage – The ugly side

I’ve read a few blogs posts recently regarding consumer NAS devices, specifically linux based ones (See entries from Peter Hardy and Matt Bottrell) and, for the most part, these have been fairly positive. So as a warning to others, I thought I’d pop up my experience.

A few weeks back I got a call from my Dad saying he’d bought a network HDD and wanted to know if i could come around and set it up for him. No problems, I thought, should just be a matter of plugging it into his (fairly basic) network and setting up mappings on the various machines he runs.

I head around and find a Western Digital ‘My Book World Edition’ 500gb drive. It came in some fairly slick packaging (Very Apple) and generally looked pretty good. The hardware part of the install was a breeze and within minutes I was installing the ‘MioNet’ software on his main machine. My instincts had told me that installing software for a device like this shouldn’t be necesary, but one of the things it offered was secure remote access via a browser, which could come in handy at times (my dad travels a bit and is forever asking me to pop around and email him files he forgot to put on his laptop). This is where the problems started. Upon installation and reboot of the machine, the network interface was completely gone. Nothing, nada, dead. I tried everything I could think of for the next hour or so but nothing I did would bring it back. Finally I uninstalled the software, rebooted, and everything was fine again. Not the most reassuring experience.
Nevertheless, I continued, Dad can live without the crummy software as the device offers a direct SMB share ability. I setup a few shares via the devices web interface and mapped them on 2 machines. Everything seemed fine. So we started the initial backup (About 30gb of data) but almost immediately noticed 2 things:

  1. The speed. At its best, this thing got up to about 4mb/s, pretty poor for something that was on a gigabit network (It is a gigabit interface on the hdd).
  2. After about 1gb of transfer, the copying terminated saying that we no longer had permission to write to the share. I tried creating a text file. No go. In fact, it wasn’t until we rebooted the unit (Takes about 90secs) that we again had write access… For about 2 minutes when it again cancelled the transfer and refused to let us make any changes to the drive.

Being somewhat stumped, I called Western Digital to see if we had a dud unit. I eventually got onto a rather stressed sounding guy who advised me that this was a known issue, to upgrade my firmware and cross my fingers (ie there was no promise the upgrade would solve the problem). He also advised that the 4mb/s was about the theoretical maximum throughput of the device due to a hardware restriction (The speed of its CPU). Now, putting the firmware issue to one side for a second, how can you knowingly advertise a device as having a 1000mb/s network interface when the rest of the hardware struggles to cope with 100mb/s speeds!?! I wanted to unload on this guy, but deep down I knew he’d heard it before and that a return of the drive was already looking likely.

Getting back to the firmware upgrade. This did eventually go through (Was about an 80mb download) however it downright refused to do this until I had blanked the drive. It continually advised that there were current connections (Despite me disconnecting all shares, rebooting PC/Device, plugging a laptop directly into the unit etc) and refused to do the upgrade with these in place. Long story short, the firmware upgrade made absolutely no difference. The problem having write access still occurs for transfers over about 800mb making proper backups all but impossible.

I was almost disapointed then to discover that this device actually runs linux. Presumably the Windows sharing is provided by Samba which makes me really wonder what is causing the access problems. The unit is obviously under powered hardware wise based on its transfer rates, so I’d like to think it is dubious quality hardware causing the other problems as well. Whilst I could delve in and start tinkering to try and fix things, this is a consumer device, that was definitely not purchased to be a tinker-toy, and I didn’t want to unkowingly change something that could potentially lead to data loss (now or down the track).
The result of this ordeal is that the unit will be going back shortly, it is simply unusable in its current state, and all I can really say to other people is to avoid this device at all costs. It really is a poorly designed package (HW and SW) that will cause you move grief than benefit.

3 thoughts on “Network storage – The ugly side”

  • If it’s any reassurance, I regularly use Samba to transfer many GB of files across 1000mb/s and 100mb/s networks from PC to server without ever seeing transfers stop unless I stop them myself.

  • @Blaise Alleyne

    Yes, that’s the current plan, the WD drive has now been returned. In this case my Dad had just purchased what appeared on face value to be a reasonable unit. He didn’t plan on hacking it and didn’t really care whether or not it had a community behind it, so the WD drive looked good on paper. I just thought I’d make this post to warn others incase they were considering the same drive.

    @Elwood Jetson

    Yes Samba is normally a first rate piece of work. In this case either it has been compiled and setup poorly or the hardware in this device simply isn’t up to scratch.

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