Networking

Expand your network with the Linksys EtherFast Network Attached Storage device

If you're managing a network and discover that you're quickly running out of storage space on your file server, here's how the Linksys EFG120 EtherFast Network Attached Storage device can come to the rescue.

If you're managing a small to midsize network and have recently discovered that you're quickly running out of storage space on your file server, chances are that you're considering expanding your network by adding some form of Network Attached Storage (NAS). As you've begun to explore your options, you've probably discovered that there are actually quite a few SOHO NAS devices now on the market that offer a variety of features and range in price from as little as $400 to as much as $1,500.

I recently had the opportunity to set up and use the Linksys EFG120 EtherFast Network Attached Storage device on a network and walked away from the experience thoroughly impressed with both the device's feature set and the ease with which I was able to get the device up and running. The EFG120, which can be picked up for around $750, comes with a 120-GB hard disk and a whole slew of extra server-type features designed to allow you to expand the capabilities of a small to midsize network, or even offload some of the tasks already provided by an overworked network server.

Taking a look at the device

The Linksys EFG120 is a fairly compact device that comes in a sturdy enclosure measuring just a little over 9 inches wide, 11 inches tall, and 3 inches deep—about the size of a big three-ring binder. The unit weighs about 8 pounds and can lay horizontally or be attached to the base, which allows it to stand in a mini-tower configuration, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

With the base attached, the Linksys EFG120 stands in a mini-tower configuration.

As you can see, the device has two drive bays into which mount removable drive trays. The first tray contains a standard 120-GB IDE drive, and the second tray is empty, as shown in Figure B. This allows you to easily expand the storage capacity simply by adding another IDE drive. You can add another 120-GB hard disk to double the capacity, or add a 250-GB hard disk to take the capacity up to 370 GB.

Figure B

The drive cradles hold standard IDE hard drives, making it easy for you to expand the storage capacity of the EFG120.

(Keep in mind that if you need more storage space, you might want to consider the Linksys EFG250, which comes with all the same features except that it sports a 250-GB hard disk in the first tray. You could then add another 250-GB hard disk in the second tray for a total of 500 GB.)

On the back of the device, as shown in Figure C, you'll find a standard RJ-45 jack that allows you to connect the device directly to your network. However, what makes this built-in Ethernet card a cut above the rest is that it's gigabit-ready with support for 10/100 Mbps, as well as 1000 Mbps connections. You'll also find a standard parallel port, which allows the EFG120 also to be configured as a network print server.

Figure C

Looking at the back of the EFG120 reveals that the device can function as a network print server.

The fact that the device's outward appearance reveals that the EFG120 can function as both a NAS device and a network print server is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, since this device is packed with extra features. To begin with, the EFG120 comes with onboard software that allows the device to be configured as a DHCP server, an FTP server, as well as a network backup device. And if that isn't enough, the EFG120 also comes with built-in hard disk maintenance software for self testing, disk error scanning and fixing, and defragmenting.

To top it all off, the EFG120 conforms to the Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) standard. This means that once you connect it to your network, any Windows system will instantly recognize the device and allow you to take advantage of the features that it provides without having to install any special software on the client side.

Making the initial connection

The first step in setting up the EFG120 is simply to connect the device to your network and the power supply. You then turn on the EFG120 and wait for it to run a brief self test and its boot-up procedure. After a few minutes, during which all the lights on the front of the unit blink on and off, the Ready/Status LED lights up.

Almost immediately, the Windows XP systems on the network will display a notification window alerting you that a new UPnP device has been added to the network. An icon for the EFG120 then appears in My Network Places on Windows XP systems.

Running the Setup Wizard

Once the EFG120 is up and running and connected to the network, you can begin the actual configuration procedure, which you can do from any system connected to the network. To do so, you just insert the installation CD, and the Setup Wizard displays its main menu and prompts you to click the Setup button. The wizard locates the EFG120 and displays the default configuration settings, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

Once the wizard locates the EFG120, it displays the default configuration settings.

As you can see, the EFG120 installed itself on my network using the server name LKG0F727F and a static IP address of 192.168.1.77. To change the EFG120's basic configuration settings, click Yes to proceed.

The next screen in the wizard prompts you to change the IP addressing scheme. While the EFG120 is assigned a static IP address by default, you can reconfigure the device to use an existing DHCP server in order to receive a dynamic IP address. (I personally prefer to assign hardware devices static IP addresses, so that I always know where they are on the network addressing scheme.)

Leaving the IP address set to a static and clicking Next will take you to a screen that allows you to choose a specific IP address, subnet mask, and default gateway in your particular LAN segment. You can also change the name assigned to the EFG120.

If you chose to use a static IP address, the next screen will present you with the option of enabling the EFG120's onboard DHCP server. If you go this route, you'll then specify the range of IP addresses that you want to make available to your network.

The next screen prompts you to set the date and time as well as choose your time zone. You will then be prompted to save the settings.

At this point, the EFG120 is ready to go to work, and all of its storage space is now available on the network. However, when you go to My Network Places, you'll discover that the EFG120 establishes its own workgroup under the name of Workgroup, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

By default, the EFG120 establishes its own workgroup in order to immediately share the hard disk on the network.

Of course, you'll want to change the default name to match the workgroup name. You may also want to divvy up the vast amount of available hard disk space among your network users. To perform these operations and access all of the other features packed into this device, you'll use EFG120's built-in Web-based management utility.

Investigating the Web-based management utility

The EFG120's built-in Web-based management utility makes it very easy to configure the device's various settings. You can access this utility by opening My Network Places on a Windows XP system and double-clicking the EFG120 icon. Alternatively, you can open your browser and type the IP address assigned to the device in the Address box.

Either way, you'll see the Web Management home page, shown in Figure F, which contains several tabs. Of course, the Linksys Web tab provides quick access to the Linksys Web site for support and product information. On the User Guide tab, you'll find a condensed version of the paper manual included in the box—you can find the full electronic version on the CD in PDF format.

Figure F

The EFG120's built-in Web-based management utility makes it very easy to configure the device's various features.

As you can imagine, the Administration tab is where all the configuration takes place. Of course, the EFG120's Web Management home page is password-protected in order to keep the device's settings secure. Right out of the box, both the administrator username and password are set to admin. You'll want to begin by changing the password assigned to the admin account, which you do from the User Password tab.

When you access the Administration tab, you'll find the LAN Settings page, as shown in Figure G. Here, you can change the IP configuration of the EFG120 as well as enable and configure its DHCP feature and configure DNS server addresses.

Figure G

You use the LAN Settings page to organize the EFG120's TCP/IP configuration.

Moving over to the System Information page, shown in Figure H, you'll find the Information section where you can change the default name assigned to the EFG120 in the Server Name field, as well as change the default workgroup name to match your workgroup. You can also rename the shared printer—if there is one.

Figure H

You can change the workgroup and server name on the System Information page.

You'll notice that the Enable Guest Logins feature is enabled by default. This setting, along with the Convert Failed Logins To "Guest" Logins setting, allows anyone on the network to access the network storage.

However, giving network users free reign over heaps of network storage will quickly become an administration problem. You'll probably want to disable the Guest settings and take advantage of the EFG120's Users And Groups features.

Creating users, groups, and shares

To make network attached storage easy to manage in a stand-alone device, the EFG120 provides you with a pretty comprehensive set of tools for distributing storage space via users and groups. In fact, the EFG120's Users And Groups features will not only allow you to create users and groups along with private shares and folders, but also to set read and write access and limit the amount of storage space by setting up disk quotas.

The Users Information page, shown in Figure I, allows you to set up the user accounts by filling in the fields in the Properties section.

Figure I

To set up a new user account, you simply fill in the fields in the Properties section.

Once you create the user accounts, they appear in the Existing Users list where you can select them and then click the Groups button. You then see the User Membership page, shown in Figure J, and can assign the user to any of the existing groups.

Figure J

The User Membership page makes assigning users to groups an easy operation.

Selecting the Advanced link reveals the Groups Information page, shown in Figure K, where you can create Groups, assign membership, and set access permissions by clicking the Members and Access buttons, respectively.

Figure K

On the Groups Information page, you can create new groups and assign access permissions.

Although you can create shared folders when you create user accounts, you modify existing shares as well as create new ones from the Shares Information page, shown in Figure L.

Figure L

You can fine-tune and create new shared folders on the Shares Information page.

Managing the disk(s)

As I mentioned, the EFG120 includes a full set of disk management utilities, which you access via the Disk Settings page shown in Figure M.

Figure M

You can keep the EFG120's hard disk(s) in shape with the onboard disk management utilities.

While the 120-GB hard disk that comes with the EFG120 is fully formatted and ready to go, you can reformat it, as well as format any additional disks placed in the secondary drive tray, using the buttons in the Format Disk section.

While the EFG120 will check itself on boot up, chances are that you'll rarely reboot the NAS. Fortunately, you can manually perform the S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology) test at anytime or schedule it to occur on a regular basis. This test is designed to warn of any impending hard disk problems before a failure occurs. In addition, you can stay on top of the hard disk performance by scheduling regular Scandisk and Defrag operations.

There's even a standby mode that by default is configured to occur after 30 minutes of inactivity. However, you can reduce the standby time period to 10 minutes or boost it up to one or two hours. You can even set it to never go into a standby mode.

Clicking the Disk Log button at the bottom allows you to view a history of disk maintenance operations. If you prefer, you can configure the EFG120 to send you e-mail alerts when there is some problem requiring an administrator's attention.

Built-in backup

Since data backup is a crucial operation for any file server, it's nice to find a backup solution built in to the EFG120. When you install a second hard disk in the device, you can enable the built-in backup feature simply by accessing the Backup Settings page, as shown in Figure N. You can then select the Enable Data Backup From Disk 1 To Disk 2 check box and establish a regular schedule.

Figure N

The EFG120 features a built-in backup solution that includes a scheduler.

If you want to set up a rotating backup, you can purchase additional disk trays from Linksys—the Network Attached Storage Hard Drive Tray (EFGHDT2)—for under $30. You can then add your own hard disks and effectively create a set of removable drives for a rotating backup solution.

In addition to backing up the data stored on the hard disk, the Backup Settings page also allows you to manually back up and restore all the EFG120's configuration settings.

Using the print server feature

Using the print server feature of the EFG120 is as easy as connecting a parallel printer to the device and running the Add Printer Wizard on any Windows workstation. The only difference is that you'll need to install the printer driver locally.

The FTP server

By default, the EFG120's FTP server feature is enabled. This makes it easy for you to transfer files via an FTP client both internally and externally. While I did experiment with using an FTP client to transfer files on my intranet, I didn't test the FTP server access from the Internet.

An easy solution for NAS

All in all, I found the Linksys EFG120 EtherFast Network Attached Storage device to be easy to set up and configure—the whole process was complete in just a little over an hour. Furthermore, I've discovered that the comprehensive set of features—especially the built-in backup solution—found in the EFG120 make the device a really powerful addition to any small or midsize network.

About Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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