D-Link DNS-323 2-Bay Network Storage Enclosure ReviewNemo - January 1, 2009
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As we saw when walking through the configuration and setup options, there are several additional features offered by the DNS-323. While reviewing the unit I tested most of these features and have some general impressions.
RAID 1 Functionality and Drive Failure Recovery
To me, one of the most important features of a NAS appliance is the ability to set the unit up as a RAID 1 array so that data is mirrored to both drives. This offers an additional level of protection for your data in case one of the drives fails. In order to test the ability of the DNS-323 to recover from a hard drive failure without losing data I formatted the drives as a RAID 1 array and simulated a hard drive failure to see what would happen. The DNS-323 does not support hot-swap functionality so I was hesitant to pull out a drive while the unit was in operation due to fear of damaging the drive. Instead I simulated a failure by powering the unit down and removing one of the drives from the unit to see what would happen.
When I restarted the unit there was no indication of a 'failure' on the front panel LEDs (which should be amber to indicate a failed drive) and no email alerts were sent out. This is to be expected because this was not a true failure. When I checked the Status page on the web UI, it showed the total number of drives as 1 and a volume type of RAID 1. However, Sync Time Remaining reported 'Degraded' which is what you would expect with only one drive available in a two-drive RAID 1 array. I checked the data using a mapped drive through Windows and all the folders and files were present and accessible with only one drive of the RAID 1 array available. The next step was to power the unit down and replace the 'failed' drive to see what would happen. After the system booted I noticed a lot of hard drive activity as indicated by the LEDs on the front panel. Sync Time Remaining showed just over two and half hours as the unit automatically started resynchronizing the mirrored drives. The files were still accessible during the rebuild and upon completion everything was back to normal.
Another feature the DNS-323 offers that is new to version 1.05 of the firmware is the ability to start out with a single drive and later add a second drive and migrate to a RAID 1 array without losing your data. The unit passed this test as well, although it is always prudent to back up your data before attempting the change.
One of the features we have talked about yet is the ability of the DNS-323 to act as a network print server. During our initial look at the unit, I'm sure you noticed there was a USB port on the rear of enclosure. The sole purpose of this port is to be able to connect a USB printer. There is no configuration involved on the DNS-323 side, you simply plug a printer into the port. You'll have to install the printer drivers on each local machine and add the printer through Windows. To test this feature, I connected a Canon MP780 to the USB port on the DNS-323 and added the printer through Windows. Browsing for the printer on the network, it showed up under the default sever name as 'lp' designated as a generic USB printer. Checking the Status window on the web UI showed the Printer Info section now displayed the correct information with the manufacturer listed as Canon and product showing as MP780. Once I added the printer and chose the driver, printing was just like using a direct-attached printer. I did get a pop-up notification from the Canon driver that it couldn't communicate with the printer, but the warning quickly disappeared and the document printed normally.
Users / Groups / Network Access
The DNS-323 is targeted toward home and small office environments and does not support Windows Active Directory as might be found in a work environment running Windows Server machines. D-Link provides similar functionality through the Users / Groups, Quotas and Network Access features. Setting up users and assigning them to groups was very straightforward. I was able to easily create a list of test users and add them to a test group. The default setup of the DNS-323 is for all users on the network to have full read/write permissions for all files and folders on the volume. Obviously, this is not an ideal setup, so you should take a few minutes to create users and give them only the necessary privileges.
Setting up the DNS-323 to act as an FTP server was also fairly painless while this may be somewhat of a challenge for the totally non-technical user. You will need to know how to create users and assign specific access rights and also how to forward ports on your router. The user manual covers port forwarding and uses a D-Link router as an example of how to do this. I had no issues with setting up the FTP server on both the standard port 21 and a non-standard port. I tested the functionality using the FireFTP add-in for Firefox and was able to access the folders for which the test user had permission. There aren't any extra bells and whistles in the FTP server and you can't monitor connected users or log activity, but it does provide a way to access and share files over the Internet.
The unit also offers the ability to turn on iTunes server functionality by simply specifying the folder where your media files reside and click a radio button to enable the server. I set up a folder off the root containing a large amount of music files. I downloaded and installed iTunes on a client PC and as soon as the application launched, the DNS-323 was detected as showed up under the Shared Music section. Some users of previous version of the DNS-323 reported issues with using the unit as an iTunes server with music libraries greater than 4GB. The latest version of the firmware, version 1.05, reportedly fixes that problem. I loaded the test folder with more than 10GB of files. Once all the files were in place, iTunes dutifully reported 10.34GB of music files and there were no problems in accessing and playing the music.
You can configure the DNS-323 to send out e-mail alerts for various conditions including space status, hard drive failure, system changes and overheating issues. You will need to provide an SMTP server name in order to use this function. Setting it up was easy and I was able to get e-mails reporting space used and remaining on the volume. Since the other alerts were based on critical issues such as hard drive failure, I was not able to test those (fortunately). The wording and content of the email is not user selectable. As a nice touch, the e-mails are signed “Sincerely, Your DNS-323”.
Using DDNS allows you to subscribe to a dynamic DNS service provider and address your server from the Internet using a domain name even though you have a dynamic (changing) IP address. Enabling this feature will keep the dynamic DNS provider apprised of any changes to you dynamic IP address supplied by your ISP. I created an account through DynDNS.org and was able to use the domain name to access the FTP functionality of the unit. However, this is where I encountered my first issue with the DNS-323. DynDNS blocked and then deleted the host name I created due to too frequent updates being generated from the DNS-323 when the IP address hadn't changed. Apparently this is a bug in the DDNS algorithm in the 1.05 firmware. You don't need this feature to use DDNS, however, as there are other alternatives such as routers and software agents that perform the same function.
The last feature I tested was the BitTorrent manager, another new capability added in the 1.05 firmware. In order to set this up, you must first use the Easy Search Utility, and not the Web UI, to install the BitTorrent program and create a folder on the DNS-323. Downloaded files are placed in the separate area on the DNS-323 and this is also where seeded files are located. Once the program is installed, you need launch the WEB UI and choose Downloads and then click on the BitTorrent tab. For testing purposes I located a file from the Fedora Project for a torrent for the Fedora Core 10 ISO image. I entered the file name and started the download. The DNS-323 began the download with no problem. By default, it also began seeding the file as well. The operation was very straightforward and once the download was complete, it continued seeding the file. There are several settings you can change to limit bandwidth, change the default port and limit the amount of time for seeding the file.