Setting up a home storage server has long been fraught with peril. I’ve in fact had a terabyte and a half of storage space lying in NAS blocks in the past year and never stored more than a few movies on any of these devices. There just wasn’t a good, sane way to keep things updated without going through arcane web interfaces or maintaining a network disk connection that — in the end — would always fail.
That said, meet the Lacie Ethernet Disk Mini. It’s not a brand new device but I’m here to talk more about the on-board software than anything else. This is because the HipServ firmware that resides on this particular drive is probably one of the best examples of a home server that could actually be used and installed by anyone who actually lives in a house and does not have a Master’s in Information Systems.
Set-up is simple: plug in an Ethernet cable and add power. The drive boots up. You insert the included set-up tools disc, name the drive, create an admin password, and the drive begins to show up as Windows share, viewable by almost any device in your home including your XBox 360 and PS3. It also acts as an iTunes server which is an impressive feat and one sure to please those trying to create a centralized media repository for the entire house.
The drive is auto-detected in OS X and iTunes and can be mapped as a Windows drive in XP and Vista. The model I tested had 500 GB of storage and was split into “My” Library and Backup folders and “Family” Library and Backup folders. All of the help documentation is available online and the drive even stores most of the desktop applications you need to interact with it over the network.
The drive includes back-up software for both Windows and OS X. The desktop software is far from perfect but it’s acceptable. Besides — most of the good stuff resides on the web and over UPnP.
When you’re away from your computer, the drive lets you log into it at https://www.homelacie.com/homebase/signin. Once you’re in, you can upload and download media, photos, and files using a standard Browse/Upload screen or a Java-based drag and drop application. Dedicated players for most media let you view pictures and music online.
The OS doesn’t offer many bells and whistles like slideshows or playlists. It’s designed as a repository and to play very nicely with a number of devices. iTunes and gaming console UPnP compatibility alone are worth the price of admission on this system — which is, nicely enough, only $190 online for the 500 GB model.
The drive also interacts with UPnP devices fairly quickly. Dragging a file over to the music library brought it up on iTunes about five minutes later. Not perfect, but not bad either.
The problem with most home network drives is that they tried to recreate the ease-of-use found in services like Flickr and .Mac while using limited processing resources. By creating a simple, easy to navigate web-based service LaCie and HipServ have created one of the better home storage servers I’ve seen.