A (perhaps useful) wireless hack

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Farpoint Group –

Just for grins, I recently decided to try a little wireless experiment. Like many of you, I've been exploring data backup strategies for my small business. Since I regularly need to back up about 40 GB of data, traditional tape just isn't viable any more. In fact, tape, being a linear-access technology, has reached the end of its useful life, as far as I'm concerned. I've switched to hard-disk backup, since I can just copy all of the files to a USB drive, and that's it.

But lately I've been experimenting with network-attached storage (NAS), using a standalone hard drive with an Ethernet port. The functionality is just like a USB drive, except that the NAS drive can be located anywhere on the network and need not be directly connected to a PC.

And the "anywhere" part of this got me to thinking - why not wireless-enable the NAS drive, allowing it to be located some distance away from the computers it's backing up? That way, in the event of fire, flood, or whatever major disaster might strike, my data could still be safe.

Well, being a wireless guy, I decided to build just such a beast. And I'm pleased to report that it's up and working, and was only a small hassle to get to that state.

I started with the Ximeta NetDisk 160, an inexpensive NAS box. The Ximeta uses a proprietary driver and is not a TCP/IP type of drive - you can only get to it via Ximeta's software. The latest version of this driver allows multiple PCs to see the drive, thus enabling all of the computers on the network to back up to it. In reality, I only back up my main office PC this way, but there's growth potential if I want it. The NetDisk has both USB and Ethernet connectors, providing even greater flexibility. I should mention my first NetDisk was DOA (this happens quite rarely with any product these days, so I was surprised), but the Ximeta folks cheerfully exchanged it.

The next part of the solution was to find a suitable WLAN client to plug into the NetDisk. As you probably know, most wireless adapters are of the PC Card, Mini PCI, or USB variety, and must be connected to a PC with an appropriate driver. What I needed was another class of adapter: a wireless bridge. While much less common than the other varieties, a bridge has an Ethernet jack on one side and antennas on the other. It connects directly to an Ethernet cable and, once it's configured, requires no software. These are sometimes used with ReplayTV boxes or video game consoles to provide network connectivity, since there's seldom an RJ-45 cable near where you need one in residential settings. Setting up a bridge, then, involves connecting it directly to a PC via the Ethernet cable, running the configuration software included with the product, and then plugging it into the device it will ultimately serve.

So, once I installed and configured the NetDisk driver, I set up the bridge I'd selected, a Belkin F5D7330 802.11g Wireless Ethernet Adapter. The software for this device is a bit primitive and clunky, but I ultimately got it set up properly. I connected the Ethernet cable between the Belkin and the NetDisk, turned them on, and voilà! - nothing happened. The first problem was that I hadn't configured WEP security properly (I'd checked the wrong box when configuring the Belkin), and, of course, such issues result simply in a lack of communication, not a message indicating exactly what's wrong. I fixed this, and tried again - and still nothing. It turns out that the Belkin needs to be powered on first, and allowed to fully boot up before turning on the NetDisk. This gives me some pause as to what I might need to do during a power failure, but that's what UPSes are for, after all. Right now I'm just using a surge protector, but a small UPS is in the future of this setup if I decide to stick with it. For surge protection and UPSes, I've always used APC, and I recommend that company's products.

The resulting configuration is now installed and happily purring away (at least until Mrs. Mathias finds it, anyway - she's not a big fan of technology in the living room). The total cost for 160 GB of wireless, network-attached storage was about $300 - very reasonable considering the amount of functionality embodied herein. I'm not sure how many people will ultimately need such a solution, but if you do, well, it works. [Editor's note: Maxtor and Linksys apparently believe that more people than just Craig are interested in wireless NAS: they're introducing their own product in this space.]

Disclaimer: None of the companies mentioned in this report are clients of Farpoint Group. We have no relationship with any of them, except as a customer. We paid retail (OK, with a rebate here and there) for everything discussed.

My wireless hack:

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