In my previous column, I explored the concept of home media servers. During the past month, I've been digging into the various ways that media servers can be used in home networking. I unearthed two very different approaches.
One takes the enterprise network attached storage (NAS) concept and brings it to the SoHo/SMB market. Specifically, media servers following that approach integrate high-performance microprocessors running full TCP/IP networking stacks. The benefit of the true NAS approach is that once such a storage device is connected to a network, it becomes usable without software modification to client devices. Although vendors like Network Appliance and EMC dominate the corporate NAS market, it is instructive to look at the offerings of more consumer-oriented brands.
Linksys, for example, offers the EFG120, which is a true NAS device with 120 Gbytes of storage, an extra drive bay and a built-in print server.
Another approach provides access to networked storage without the considerable TCP/IP protocol-processing overhead. The Ximeta NetDisk product mentioned in last month's column is a good example in this category. This solution requires proprietary driver software to be installed on any client in order to access the storage appliance. A secondary limitation is that the devices are only visible in a single subnet; some would claim this to be a benefit, though, since it provides added security.
At first glance, it seems that TCP/IP would be the only way to go. Probing deeper, there are pluses and minuses to both approaches. The true NAS approach provides the most flexibility, but it is expensive because of more-complex hardware requirements; the EFG120 costs $6.25/Gbyte, versus $1.56/Gbyte for the Ximeta NetDisk.
Today, most people connect their digital media devices to their PCs and, in turn, connect their PCs to a home network. They have only one subnet. So, in the near to medium term, the inconvenience of installing some drivers on a couple of PCs is a small price to pay to get the same storage and sharing solution at one-quarter the cost.
In the longer term, virtually transparent peer-to-peer networking of digital consumer electronics will become the norm. Installing proprietary, albeit lightweight, drivers will simply not be an option. Higher volumes and relentless silicon cost reduction ultimately will help the TCP/IP approach prevail.
Jeremey Donovan (firstname.lastname@example.org) is chief analyst at Gartner Dataquest.