The product literature for this external storage device dubs it the “9-in-1-station”, and for once the sales literature is not exaggerating. The design philosophy was clearly to come up with a storage drive that could do everything its inventors could think of short of predicting tomorrow’s weather and making the coffee.

It can be set up as a file server, an FTP server, an automated download server, a web server, a print server, a disaster recovery server, a mirror server, and a multimedia server. It’ll even do the old-fashion backup server job too, though that ends up sounding like far too conventional a role for such a talented piece of hardware.

That’s a lot of servers in a small metal box, but does it do any of it well?

The basic specification of the TS-101 is high; fast Serial ATA drives up to 500GB in capacity (with a spare SATA interface), a Gigabit Ethernet, and a incredibly clever one-touch backup feature, of which more later. Intriguingly, the product literature mentions the option to add 802.11G wireless and integrated anti-virus at extra cost, though presumably the WiFi would require some unspecified hardware upgrade.

Taking only minutes to get up and running using a well-laid out web interface, initial configuration is markedly less fussy than with many drives of its kind. Establish a connection, map one or more drives to server directories and, if required, load a client backup stub. The designers have got round the issue of noisy cooling fans by chucking the whole idea out in favour passive cooling through the drive's metal case. The case gets a bit warm though, to be fair, this is what it is supposed to do.

It looks like a basic storage server, and in some ways it is a basic storage server. But it turned out to have a few tricks up its sleeve that elevate it above the typical. A good example is the error notification via email. If something goes awry while this server is sitting at the core of a small company workgroup – a failed backup for instance - then the admin will need to know about it sharpish. This should really be standard on all backup drives, but for some reason it hasn't yet caught on with all vendors.

The backup capability turned out to be advanced too. The drive itself can be backed up to a remote QNAP-based SAN, or simply mirrored in RAID-1 using a separate drive connected via the unit’s external eSATA (external serial ATA) port. Client PC backup is taken care of with a supplied backup utility, so you’re pretty much covered for everything except servers. Client backup feature will work remotely across a WAN link, so can support workers in the field.

The clever one-touch backup feature, mentioned previously, makes quick backups precisely that. Just connect a USB device such as a digital camera, USB drive, or card reader (any device using VFAT basically) and a single press of the copy button transfers all files on that device to a default directory on the TS-101.

Fancy clogging up the Internet’s arteries? Then you might find a use for the built-in BitTorrent downloaded server. We assume this is aimed at power home users rather than the small business crowd, but you never know.

This is a racy bit of storage kit masquerading as a dull external storage device. We'd qualify it as a SAN-on-the-cheap just for its variety of backup features, the best of which is its RAID-1. Any company sticking the term “SAN” on a drive should be able to explain what happens if the backup drive itself fails. Replicating the data to another SAN is one option, but the RAID feature is an important second layer.

We've never come across the company before, a newish Taiwanese outfit. Unknown they might be, but with the TS-101 they've turned out a highly capable product that would suit a small company or department looking for uncomplicated (probably remotely) manageable network storage.

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OUR VERDICT

Network-attached storage usually comes at a price, and it is not wise to over-economise where such devices are concerned. Get the most redundancy you can afford and then worry about performance.