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Are you thinking of adding more storage space to your SOHO network? If so, chances are that you’ve considered the most obvious choice of adding a hard disk to the computer that acts as the file server. However, that’s usually a time-consuming operation that could very well lead to server downtime. With that in mind, you may have considered adding a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device to your network. However, you may not have been able to find a NAS device that’s within the same price range as a standard hard disk or one that doesn’t offer more complex features than you need on your SOHO network.

Fortunately, in 2003 a company by the name of XIMETA was formed to offer a good solution for those looking for an affordable and simple way to add more storage space to a SOHO network. By combining the best features of an external local hard disk with those of NAS technology, XIMETA developed a technology they call Network Direct Attached Storage, or NDAS for short. The company describes it as “a disk storage technology which allows direct connection to your network without a server, IP address, or a protocol.” Here’s how XIMETA’s NetDisk can help meet storage needs, along with how to set up the device in Windows XP and add it to your network.

How’d they do it?

To achieve this feat, XIMETA used a patented chip and software technology to design what is essentially an external USB hard disk that can also be connected directly to a network via an Ethernet connection. Their NetDisk product appears and functions like a local hard disk even when it’s connected to the network via Ethernet. In fact it appears in My Computer!

And, in keeping with the SOHO target, the NetDisk is very affordable. The base model offers an 80-GB hard disk and carries an average street price of about $140. In addition, 120-GB, 160-GB, and 250-GB models are available with average street prices of $190, $240, and $390, respectively. The NetDisk supports Windows 98 SE/ME/2000/XP, as well as Mac OS X and Linux Red Hat 8.0 and 9.0.

An overview

Before we discuss using the NetDisk, let’s take a brief look at the technology behind this unique device and discuss a few shortcomings. It’s important that you keep in mind that the NetDisk is specifically designed for a SOHO network consisting of between two and 20 computers, and so working with these shortcomings should be a feasible task.

As I mentioned, the NetDisk doesn’t work as a server, doesn’t need an IP address, nor does it use network protocol to communicate over the network. Instead, the NetDisk works by using a special chip, housed in the case, that along with proprietary software that emulates a SCSI connection over Ethernet.

While this indeed gives the device some unique properties, such as allowing the NetDisk to appear as a local drive on each computer, it also brings with it some shortcomings that might seem out of place for a network-oriented device.

To begin with, before any computer on the network can access the NetDisk, you must install the appropriate operating system-specific driver and the NetDisk software on each system. Then you must configure the software in order for the system to be able to access the drive. Of course, this means a physical visit to every computer on the network. A pain, but feasible in a two-to-20 -computer network.

The second shortcoming, which has to do with write access to the disk, only comes up in a network that has multiple operating systems. If the computers on the network are running a combination of Windows 98SE/ME and Windows 2000/XP, all computers can simultaneously read data on the NetDisk, but only one computer at a time can write data to the NetDisk. Write access is passed from one computer to the next as needed.

However, if all the computers on the network are running Windows 2000 and Windows XP, the write-access restriction is nonexistent. The NetDisk driver for the Windows 2000 and XP operating systems will allow all computers to simultaneously read data from and write data to the NetDisk.

The third shortcoming is essentially an administration issue: There is no way to password protect or otherwise prevent users from accessing the NetDisk Administrator Tool. While there really isn’t much trouble that a user could cause, it would be nice to be able to lock down the NetDisk Administrator Tool in order to enforce the read-only policy. (As I’ll explain later, you can configure a user to have read-only access to the NetDisk; however, with the right information in hand a user can easily add write access to his or her configuration.)