Is there anything useful that can still be said about the phenomenon of cheap network-attached storage devices? There is now a multiplying horde available for purchase, all worthy in their own way but doing much the same job for remarkably low cash outlay.

Techworld has reviewed several in recent months, from the Buffalo LinkStation and TeraStatio Pro, to the TS-401 from QNAP.

But still they appear like those skittles in an automatic ten-pin bowling alley, with Iomega’s new Storcenter being the latest one to pop up. The spec looks inviting, but could we find any way to knock it down?

Confusingly, the Storcenter is actually the company’s revised version of the product (there is a third, wireless-based version too). As well as raising capacity over the original version to 500 gigabytes, the storage now comes as two hard drives in order, very sensibly, to allow for use in RAID 0 (striping, good for performance) and 1 (mirroring, good for redundancy) configurations for improved resilience.

It’s also acquired a Gigabit Ethernet interface to head off the criticism that many 10/100 network-attached storage drives deliver less than inspiring real-world performance. Note, this means upgrading the hub/ switches and NICs between the drive and the PC to the same level to gain that boost.

The other difference is the different drive enclosure, which is now a larger, but still desk-friendly brick featuring a low-noise fan arrangement and heat-absorbing enclosure. The firmware is identical between the two drive versions, though a new version was recently released, v.1.27. This is claimed to improve performance, to add a built-in FTP server to add to the print server feature already included, and a curious but possible useful feature whereby connecting a digital camera or flash card will now initiate file upload.

This is an excellent product in typical Iomega fashion but it is really aimed at the clued-up home user rather than the small business user. SME networks really need the sort of multiple RAID levels provided by Buffalo’s TeraStation Pro, and an entirely different software package for multi-PC backup.

But we figure it’ll do its simple job pretty well. It comes with disaster recovery software for a single workstation, a good basic backup utility of Iomega origin, and a cut-down version of Adobe’s Photoshop Album and Musicmatch’s Jukebox. It even installs cleanly and comes with Linux drivers for Redhat 9, Mandrake 10, Debian 3.0, Gentoo, FedoraCore 3.

It is heartening to see what 300 notes now buys compared with even a year ago. Granted, those products were better than a hard disk backup drive, but this year’s crop are shaping up to be the sort of backup technology that offers more serious data security.

OUR VERDICT

Get a Gigabit Ethernet interface and, very important, some redundancy.