Networked storage, certainly nothing new to the professional or to the office, is taking on new dimensions for the consumer—at home, in the office and on the road. Brought on by cheaper storage and an obsession with multimedia, the interchange between media capture devices and the display of that media now drives what were once technologies available only to the enterprise, bringing those features directly into the home.
In most circumstances, the ease of migrating media between devices inside the “home network” is becoming less complicated. This is brought on, in part, because of new dedicated hardware and software systems that bridge the issues of sharing video clips, photographic images, text and other documents, those that get continually generated every day, to platforms specifically tailored to the media and entertainment marketplace. And as the cost per gigabyte to store that data goes down, the desire to keep it all, and share it liberally, expands.
Solutions to handle and manage the collection, storage, distribution, sharing and displaying of the countless sources available were shown last month at CES 2008 in Las Vegas. Some of these devices and their associated systems are now in their second and third generation, meaning the technologies are taking off and the acceptance as products for use in the home are moving forward.
Still, some of the opportunities shown for the consumer may certainly be applicable to the small office or potentially even the sole proprietor video editing boutique or advertising agency. The targets for manufacturers like Seagate (and Maxtor) and Netgear as well as others, include both SOHO (small office-home office) and the private household—not unreasonable given that the office, through telecommuting, is present in the office park, the studio, the home and anywhere between.
The clever individual who sees value in keeping document ex-change fluid and flexible will quickly see that these storage and networking products, and their associated interfaces, can make life easier and more secure. Beyond traditional file sharing, these systems allow a user’s personal movies or digital photos to be shown on the same displays that already exist in the living room. Furthermore, over a Web interface, files can be securely exchanged, reviewed or edited by those delegated with permission certificates without the need for remote access interfaces that are often complicated or impossible to access inside certain office environments or outside their firewalls.
Examples of systems and devices shown at CES included an integrated solution from Netgear that is comprised of an NAS (network attached storage) “cube” that permits the users to install their own hard disk drives, and connect those drives as single volumes to the home or small business network with CAT5 cabling. The ReadyNAS provides extra storage that can be shared with computers on the networks. Unlike a USB drive, the ReadyNAS connects to the network and is simultaneously accessible via all connected Windows or Mac computers.
Using a broadband Internet connection, and a home router, the ReadyNAS can provide secure access to stored files on a remote basis. On the ReadyNAS Duo version, an optional spare hard drive can be added that protects against drive failure and can be set up to make a duplicate copy of all data, on all connected computers.
| Netgear’s Digital Entertainer HD EVA8000, which connects to your HDTV.|
A server play-out unit (Netgear’s EVA8000), looking more like a DVD player, can be attached to the network over CAT5 or via an integrated wireless access connection (802.11g from 1 to 54 Mbps). The unit’s output is connected to a flat panel display over HMDI. Media files, including HD up to 1080p, can be shown with the system directly serving media (with no PC required) to devices such as the Sonos Digital Music System, Logitech Squeezebox, Apple iTunes, Sony Playstation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360.
Network-attached PCs can access media over the Internet by using an officially licensed embedded BitTorrent client and downloading can occur without the need for an additional computer. Through a Web-based interface, the system facilitates the download management from computers; and through a special Netgear Digital Entertainer interface, allows management from the EVA8000 set-top interface, which in turn streams movies, videos, music, Internet radio, and photos from networked PCs and storage devices to an HDTV display. It should be noted that streaming of HD content is currently restricted to the wired interface due to bandwidth constraints on the wireless access, but can be scaled to SD for viewing if desired.
While the Netgear approach is similar to many offerings, another combination HD media receiver and server solution from XStreamHD includes a dual receiver with both a satellite input and an ATSC tuner. The discrete server unit manages satellite content (from a subscription service) and DTV signals, then stores, feeds and enables an electronic program guide, that transfers HD video and audio at a gigabit per second over GigE; essentially a complete, self-contained DVR and video-on-demand system utilizing a virtual personal library of content to multiple receivers throughout the home, or the office. The system is DLNA v1.5 certified and includes dual slide-in Seagate drive bays with 500 GB to 2 TB options; and an external storage subsystem with an eSATA interface.
Removable and/or replaceable hard drives for media exchange from several manufacturers were prominent at the show. The beauty in this now common approach is that you can take a 500 GB drive with you when moving from the office to the home. Or, even more beneficial, a complete backup drive can be taken to a secure location, and another HDD reinserted into the system.
More on the backup storage stage, Maxtor’s side of Seagate showed a suite of hardware and software solutions that included a network based server with integrated storage depot with as much as 1,000 GB of storage that simply plugs into the network and becomes a shared store and backup system. With the Maxtor Shared Storage II network drives, additional features become active. Their software solution provides a secure, convenient way to access and share content via a Web connection—without breaching network firewalls.
Gone are the complications of activating a remote access system. The folders and files can be offered to selected users through a permissions scheme that lets external users gain access to only those files which they are authorized to view, retrieve or modify. Using the Maxtor Central Axis technology (expected to be available in March), this shared and secure topology is designed for existing Maxtor Shared Storage II solutions, and will be available from the Maxtor Solutions Web site as a free download; and will allow users to store content offsite on Seagate’s storage platform.
Seagate’s FreeAgent family of storage products now offers increased capacities (up to 1 TB drive sets), and provides cross-platform compatibility supporting MAC OS X, Windows XP and Windows Vista operating systems. These coupled products allow for secure, offsite and sharable storage of digital assets for home and small office environments.
Seagate further promoted its new PipelineHD Series Hard Disc Drives, a family of purpose-built HDDs for digital video recorders. Initial capacities will provide up to 1 TB of storage, allowing DVRs to capture nearly 200 hours of HD programs or 1,000 hours of SDTV.
SIMPLE CONNECTIONS, MULTIPLE FUNCTIONS
Microsoft ensures its customers who employ their Windows Home Server platform that they provide the simplest functionality for connecting PCs and other devices—including the Xbox 360 to a common multiple drive enclosure—that can be placed in a closet, away from other devices. Microsoft’s system is intended, like the others, to store media files, and in turn allows playback to large screen displays through the Xbox 360 or shared over the Windows Media server and operating systems. Xbox 360 further provides a path to the HD-DVD recorder for HD media and data backup. Although external tape drives are not yet supported, it was pretty obvious that is on the roadmap.
Home networks, whether extended into the small office or not, seem to be much more achievable this year than in the previous years. Taking the office environment into account, one of the more practical functions of some manufacturers’ home entertainment systems is what is referred to as the “follow mode,” a feature that lets a user begin watching a program in one location, and then move to another location to continue that program experience without having to double record the content. Of course this also means the feature can be watched in multiple locations at the same time, as well.
Networking for media purposes has now reached proportions and a price point that is well within the reach of most consumers. It extends the functionality and practicality of the PC—offering new and achievable performance with both wired and wireless access. You no longer need to tie up the valuable compute power of your home (or office) computer to simply play back media; instead you will in the near future be able to utilize dedicated servers and purpose-built playback devices, with trick modes and DVR record capabilities—and not have to be a network administrator to reach basic performance expectations.