Netgear has launched a £90 SAN box, based on technology from start-up Zetera, that it claims will change storage in homes and small businesses.

The size and shape of a toaster, Storage Central connects to any Ethernet switch, and can hold two IDE drives of any capacity, so users can put together their own mirrored storage and reconfigure and upgrade it at will: a 500GB system would currently cost around £300, and a Terabyte would cost £600.

"This technology has moved from the high-end data centre to the living room," said Zetera chief executive Chuck Cartwright, who founded the company with Bill Frank, the former chief technology officer of Western Digital, and inventor of the IDE interface.

The product undercuts more flexible and less responsive NAS equipment, from companies such as Buffalo and Maxtor, said marketing officer Doug Glen: "NAS is file based, and ours works with blocks. You always get better performance from a block-based device."

The device is aimed at consumers who are starting to accumulate huge amounts of storage on home networks, thanks to MP3 files, and the personal video recorders (PVRs). Their requirements are expected to increase rapidly as more demanding applications come on stream: "A 160GB drive can hold 40,000 photos, or 90 hours of DVD quality video, but only 13 hours of high definition video," said Kartik Gada, manager of the Storage Central product line at Netgear. "A hundred movies at that definition would take 2.5TB, and that is a predictable requirement for a typical user in five years' time."

Users need a networked storage box, as it lets them share those files between a lot of devices, including media-centres, and the increasing numbers of PCs on home LANs. The inclusion of mirroring allows them to ensure files like personal photos are stored more reliably, said Gada.

The box ships with SmartSync software, that includes wizards to help users set up and manage volumes. It also allows the size of drives to be altered while they are in use, and lets the user choose which drives are shared with other users. Other software is planned in 2006 to allow Macintosh and Linux systems to access and manage the drives.

Although designed for a consumer market, the product will also work in branch offices that do not have much professional IT support, said Glen, displacing what he said were inflexible NAS products from the likes of EMC.

The range will be extended in future, to include a Gigabit Ethernet attached version, and higher capacity models for business users, although Gigabit isn't a priority, said Glen. "There are Gigabit Ethernet NAS products out there that can't light up Fast Ethernet." More importantly, future business versions will have redundant power supplies built in, instead of the current power cube.

The two companies are also considering whether to add other features such as optical drives. "We've thought about adding other things, but this brings in the widest variety of users," said Gada. "If you bundle something the consumer already owns, they may dismiss the product."