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Old 03-10-2006, 05:49 AM   #1
iamback's Avatar
Join Date: Oct 2005
Location: Amsterdam, NL
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Default External storage - my solution

OK - so I have a film scanner (Nikon LS-50), an image browser (XnView), and a cataloguing program (IMatch). Next on the program: storage.

Since I'm postponing buying a new computer until I have a load of other stuff sorted out, and do need a lot of storage to put scans and derived images on (at least a load of them before I start burning them to DVDs) I decided to get external storage - and enough so I don't immediately need to burn to optical media. Requirements: a lot, and secure; and preferably easily extensible; and I don't really want to "spend" a lot of drive letters on a computer since I tend to highly partition local drives.

So I did a lot of googling...

The first thing that caught my eye was external drives with both a USB port and two firewire ports, so you can connect them to the computer via one USB port and connect them together with the firewire connection. Nice, but I thought that would still need separate drive letters. And they were relatively pricey.

Then there are network drives, or drives with both USB and Ethernet. Now while Ethernet is not as fast as USB 2.0, I had already been working with a networked drive with IMatch and PSP, and found the speed at least acceptable. And, no drive letters needed. Drives with an Ethernet port tend to be a little more expensive than plain USB external drives though.

As for security, there's RAID, of course - with automatic mirroring you are pretty sure to have at least one drive with your data if the other breaks (and drives do break). You can even get them with a SATA interface - but I don't have a new computer yet, so that's out anyway. They also come with Ethernet and/or USB interfaces. One problem: RAID boxes (with two drives) tend to be at least twice as expensive as two separate drives. But you can do "mirroring" with software, too - just a bit slower, and because of the time lag, slightly less secure - with a bit of discipline and properly scheduled synchronisation jobs that should not be a problem.

Then I found a place that sells this box (currently even discuonted) - I didn't know such things existed until I stumbled over it here! It's a little Samba server and it turns any connected USB storage medium into a network drive; with two USB ports you can connect two drives - but using USB 2.0 hubs (with power supply) you can attach up to eight drives! What a find!

So, I ended up buying (two local stores and one Internet store):
  • The OvisLink Samba server
  • Two Western Digital external USB drives, 400GB each
  • Two USB hubs with power supply
All together for less than EUR 650.
Of course, all that Googling and shopping took quite a bit of time, but this gives me a very flexible and extensible setup.

Then yesterday, when I got the last two pieces of my puzzle, I started installing - which also took nearly the whole day. The drives were no problem - I connected one first directly via USB to test it, and install the software it comes with (Retrospect Express, a pretty nifty backup package); and test the software a bit to see if it could do my mirroring. (In principle, it can, but I found it's not as flexible as SyncBack which I'll probably use.) The drives come formatted as one big FAT32 partition, compatible at least with all Windows versions and Linux; possibly also Mac? Since the Samba server requires FAT32 I just left that - I'll use subdirectories to organize the space.

Next was the little server. That took lot of time, mostly because I'm not all that experienced with networking - I can do some simple things, but I had to learn a few new tricks in a hurry. The rather Chenglish manual didn't help my understanding either, and it took quite a while before I figured out that you have to connect the server directly to a "client" PC first to configure it; it comes with software that will find the machine (provided you've set the IP addresses on that "client" machine first so it's in the same range as the server's default) and where you can do basic set up for IP addresses (good, so I could go back to the original address on Grace!); and then allow you to go to a web page which allows further configuration of the server; that's pretty user-friendly (alas, I found alter this works only in IE). Once I had figured out that I needed to connect it to the "Internet" network card in Grace, not the "LAN" network card - the web page setup button remained disabled - it wasn't really hard to set up. I've only done the basics, enough for now. It's now in the same workgroup as my other computers, and while I was at it I also gave Christiaan a fixed IP address (I kept losing the connection between Christiaan and Grace, so hopefully this helps). The internal software is GPL'ed Open Source; the documentation clearly gives a URL where the software can be downloaded.

All three computers can now see the Samba server which - true to my scheme of naming machines after mathematicians/physicists/computer people - has been christened Blaise.

One disadvantage - but no biggie - is that with this setup the drives aren't shown by their actual volume name: the Samba server just gives them a generic name, depending on which drive is detected first. Since I do want to know which is which I just put a little empty file in the root of each drive to show which one it is.

Attached to images showing Blaise (the blue box on the right) flanked by the two 400G drives and the two USB hubs on top; enough space left to put my desk lamp, a little speaker and little Ganesh statues back more or less where they were.

I've already copied my multimedia storage from one of Christiaan's external drives to one of Blaise's. No mirroring done yet.
Next: figure out a proper directory structure that allows easy management of all types of images I need to keep track of with IMatch. That will provide a whole new set of DAM problems to sort out - but that's OK. Hardware is sorted, for now. Phew!

I hate hardware!
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Marjolein Katsma
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