One of the most puzzling things about storage for a workgroup or small business is that networking components and hard disks are inexpensive, yet Network Attached Storage (NAS) is very expensive compared with the cost of its parts. Enterprise administrators understand that the cost includes management tools that let them control the NAS as a managed resource. But for departmental or small-business use, especially in organizations that have few or no dedicated IT personnel, all the customer sees is a very big price tag for adding network-attached hard disks as additional storage.
Adding storage to workstations has become much simpler with the general availability of USB 2.0- and 1394-attached hard disks. In both cases, the bandwidth is sufficient to make an external enclosure practical for any use. A quick look at the Web shows prices for 250GB hard disks at well under $200 and enclosures for USB or 1394 devices for less than $50. Ready-to-plug devices can be had for about a 10 percent premium over the cost of buying the components individually.
For example, my desktop computer has two USB 2.0-attached 120GB disks and one 1394-attached 250GB disk. But to make that storage available to other users on the network, I'd have to make sure that they have accounts on my computer and that my computer is always on. If I need to reboot, I'd have to ensure that any user attached to that storage isn't doing anything that would be affected by the storage going away.
In a small-office or departmental environment, the only solutions to this problem have been to invest in NAS devices or to add storage to local servers. The local-server solution can be significantly less expensive, but it's the technical equivalent of putting all your eggs in one basket. The more expensive NAS solution adds some redundancy for storage devices and provides an independent device that doesn't rely on your existing network hardware.
Recognizing the need to provide a storage solution to small-business users, Linksys has come up with an inexpensive approach. For $99 (the suggested retail price), Network Storage Link lets you attach a pair of USB 2.0 hard disk enclosures directly to your network and share those disks with all network users who run Windows clients. (Network Storage Link is a Windows-only solution at this time.) Add a pair of 250GB hard disks, and you'll spend only about $500, compared with approximately $2000 for similarly configured NAS solutions from other major vendors.
As a complete, simple, and inexpensive NAS solution, Linksys is offering a bundle that includes a Maxtor OneTouch USB hard disk. If you take advantage of the bundle price for the Maxtor disk, you also get Dantz Retrospect backup software, which lets you automatically back up files from each client computer to the storage attached to the Network Storage Link.
The Network Storage Link NAS solution has some limitations, such as nonstandard networking software, the ability to attach only two hard disks, and its inability to integrate with Active Directory (AD). But given its low price and ease of use, you're unlikely to find a less expensive, simpler method to add as much as half a terabyte of shared storage to a small network or workgroup.