While network-attached storage (NAS) provides many advantages for small-midsized businesses (SMBs), it also presents many challenges. In addition, Buffalo Technology might not be the first name you think of when it comes to direct attached storage solutions. So, can the Austin, Texas-based company deliver when it comes to managing and protecting critical businesses information?

What is it and who is it for?

Buffalo Technology’s TeraStation Windows Storage Server (WSS) is a mid-range desktop NAS device designed to provide fast and reliable data management to small businesses running Windows environments. The wholly-black chassis is made entirely of plastic, but it’s relatively sturdy and protects the internal workings adequately. The TeraStation houses four hot-swappable SATA hard disk drives (courtesy of Samsung) and attaches to a wired 10/100/1000Mbps network.

Users interested in this type of device are small to medium-sized offices wanting to deploy a dedicated file and print server to address storage requirements. Businesses can also use the TeraStation to consolidate multiple file servers to reduce costs, as well as backup, restore and replicate data without taking machines offline.

Pricing & setup

The TeraStation is available in 2TB (£899 ex. VAT) and 4TB (£1,200 ex. VAT) capacities, with each model supporting RAID redundancy of up to four separate hard drives for managing critical business data. By default, the TeraStation is configured with Drive C, a mirrored array across drives 1 and 2, and Drive D, a RAID 5 array across drives 1, 2, 3 and 4. Other configurations are available, but changing the RAID configuration will erase all data on the drives.

Setting up and using the TeraStation is relatively painless, though network experience certainly helps when it comes to configuring shared folders using Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 Express Edition. The unit connects to a router using a wired Ethernet connection and the supplied NAS software (Navigator2) lets the TeraStation obtain an IP address automatically via DHCP. Or, you can configure the IP address, subnet mask and default gateway manually.

The 2-line monochrome LCD monitor provides feedback on the status of the TeraStation, but the display isn’t very bright and its viewing angle is very restricted, requiring you to stand almost directly in front of the unit to read it. Buffalo provides a user manual on the supplied driver disc, which can also be downloaded in PDF from the company’s Web site, but it doesn’t go into great detail beyond Quick Setup.

A row of four LEDs above the LCD monitor provide instant status feedback: if there is a message about the current status, the amber Info LED is illuminated; the red Error LED is illuminated when an error occurs; and when the LAN Port 1/2 is connected these LEDs glow green. In all instances, you need to check the LCD display for more information. A Display button switches between different display modes. Confusingly, there’s a Function button, but this doesn’t do anything on this particular model in the TeraStation range.

A Lock (two keys supplied) opens the front panel so you can replace hard drives or initialise the unit. Opening the panel also provides access to the Recovery Button (to perform a system recovery) and four further Status LEDs (illuminate green when the corresponding hard drive is accessed or red when an error occurs on a hard drive). At the rear of the unit is a UPS Port for connecting a Serial UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply), two USB ports for adding external drives, and an Anti-Theft Security Slot for attaching a cable lock.

Does it do it well?

Specifically geared toward business use (with its focus on workgroup and domain settings), the x86 hardware platform is a new feature for Buffalo but allows the TeraStation to efficiently use four quick-swap SATA hard drives. More evidence of the TeraStation’s commitment to business use is the focus on file security, with Window’s NTFS file system enforcing detailed permission conditions to file and folder access. The Active Directory support helps the user search through files for easy system management.

With transfer rates of up to 62MB/s, and with the redundancy of four separate hard drives in RAID 5 or RAID 1 modes, even if a hard drive fails, your data should be safe. With Hot Swap and Hot Spare functionality, if a drive does fail, the TeraStation switches the failed drive to a spare drive, enabling you to safely remove and replace without losing any data, or down time.

Thanks to Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 Express Edition, advanced availability features such as point-in-time data copies, replication, and server are available. And because Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 is preconfigured, the TeraStation can be deployed out of the box in minutes on Windows, Mac and Linux clients. FTP services can be activated on selected shares and secure FTP transfers are also supported.

The TeraStation integrates with existing infrastructures, so enterprises can make full use of commonly-used network environments and standard management software, as well as the Active Directory service. NAS Navigator2?the TeraStation’s client utility?lets you easily find and configure the TeraStation on the network, and Memeo Backup lets you easily back up data from a workstation to the TeraStation—although it’s a pity it couldn’t stretch to more than a single-user licence.

Where does it disappoint?

The Power Button at the front of the TeraStation WSS does the job, but it feels cheap and is noisy when clicked—we would have preferred a proper power switch—regardless of the fact that you have to turn the TeraStation off from within Windows. The large fan might do a good job of cooling the hard drive efficiently, but it’s far from silent.

The LCD shows important TeraStation information and disk status, but it’s not the clearest display we’ve ever seen and its viewing angles are restrictive. Another grievance is that the NAS Navigator2 software has to be installed on every client machine wanting to access the TeraStation.

Admin headaches could be further exasperated if a user accidentally disables the TeraStation’s LAN port in Windows Storage Server. If this is done, the user will not be able to access the TeraStation and a full system recovery has to be performed in order to be able to use the TeraStation again.

Would we recommend it?

The TeraStation is far from being the cheapest way to add up to 4TB of storage space to a network, but it’s built for business with business features. As a result it’s a solid NAS for dedicated file and print server duties. Based on Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 Express Edition, it integrates effortlessly with existing Windows infrastructures and supports heterogeneous file serving as well as backup and replication of stored data. The TeraStation WSS is also a good solution for consolidating multiple file servers into a single solution that enables cost reduction and policy-based management of storage resources. The only real criticisms are price and build quality. [7]