January 11, 2011 5:05 PM   Subscribe

Twofer: Are there NAS devices that can double as an external USB drive? Any Squeezebox-compatible NAS recommendations in general?

I'm in the market for a home NAS. Something for backing up important files, storing photos and acting as a Squeezebox Server. Due to my work, though, I spend most of my day on a laptop that is connected to a remote VPN server. When connected to the VPN I cannot access any other device on my LAN, which is generally what you want with such a thing.

I cannot change any aspect of the VPN connection -- it's tied to the laptop, so I can't create another connection somewhere else in my subnet and share it, and the organization is not about to make any exceptions for me.

I'd like to be able to access the device as storage when connected to the VPN, but I also want it on my LAN for other devices to use (wife's computer, Squeezebox). What I'm imagining is a USB drive / NAS hybrid, where my laptop is connected via USB and mounts it like an external hard drive while others in the house would use ethernet. (I recognize that while attached to the vpn I wouldn't be able to use any web services that the device offers, but that's fine -- I just want to be able to copy files to a mounted drive letter.)

Does such a thing exist or am I in dreamland?

Regardless I'll probably get something, so if you have happy NAS experiences with Squeezebox Server please post away.
posted by rouftop to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The Squeezebox Server software downloads page lists 2 models of the Netgear ReadyNAS - the ReadyNAS NV/Duo and the ReadyNAS Pro as being supported. However, a quick search leads me to believe that neither of them can act as both a NAS and a direct-attached USB harddrive.

( I have no direct experience with using a NAS with the squeezebox - my desktop is always on, and has an internal raid-5 array with my music collection on it. )
posted by namewithoutwords at 5:16 PM on January 11, 2011

How are your linux skills? I just bought and have configured quite nicely the D-Link 323. It's cheap, runs linux, and is easily configured to do all sorts of things, including ssh and http using fun_plug. Apparently you can also run a Squeezebox server on it.

Now, I dont know about the 'USB' drive functionality you're looking for, but you could always use ssh/scp to access files on it once you've got ssh up and running. Open it up publicly (use a free DynDNS domain name if you want, or just your network's public ip, opening up the appropriate ports on your router), and scp files from it to your laptop while connected to your VPN (assuming your VPN allows access to the internet.) It's not quite a secure as having it on your own private network, of course, because technically you are opening it up to the internet.

That being said, I love this particular NAS. For the price, it's awesome, for all the uses mentioned above and more I haven't get thought of or tried. It's essentially your own private (slightly underpowered) linux box with oodles of storage.
posted by cgg at 5:24 PM on January 11, 2011

I've got a DNS 323 after the mefi recommendations I got, but the problem you have is the USB requirement.

Basic USB gives you two exclusive options for a given port:
* It can connect to devices and give them power, or
* It can connect to computers and take power from them.

More people would prefer to plug in a drive and copy data into the NAS from it, or just increase total storage, so your use case loses out to the more popular one. Technically there's HostAB, but seems like nothing actually supports it but random phones I don't own. Moreover, what you asking for probably violates the spirit if not the letter of your VPN policy.
posted by pwnguin at 5:48 PM on January 11, 2011

I'm not entirely understanding what you want to do from your laptop? If Squeezecenter is running on the NAS, are you wanting to run Softsqueeze on your laptop to listen to music from it? Or are you wanting to run the server on your laptop, treating the NAS as the file store?
There are actually quite a few NAS's that'll run the server, the cheapest route is I think to use a Sheevaplug. The forums at Slimdevices have a lot of information on setting things up on alternative devices.
One thing I learned from running the server on a early ReadyNAS is that you really want a server that has lots of horsepower, or your scans are going to take FOREVER, even with a modest library. Looking in the forums for what other people's experiences are with their NAS's running the server. As cgg mentions, most NAS's are underpowered for general-purpose computing. What I do now is use a cheap NAS (an Iomega IX2-200) and an old computer as the server which NFS-mounts the files off the NAS. Most modern NAS's will let you mount a USB drive, so you could always use a flash drive to transfer between the laptop and the NAS if what you're intending to do is use the laptop to download music off the net to put on the server.
posted by Runes at 6:19 PM on January 11, 2011

@Runes: I'm a freelancer, but my laptop belongs to the company I've been working with. As such they can take it back at any time. Still it's most convenient for me to use this laptop for some of my business needs, such as creating invoices, filing taxes, etc. As I generate business paperwork I need to store it off of the laptop. Having to leave the VPN to do so is somewhat disruptive as I often have connections to machines on the corporate network that I don't want to sever.

We also have a squeezebox that currently connects to a desktop vista machine. But that thing is a power hog and has loud fans, and despite all my tinkering I can't get it to stay awake when it's streaming music unless I disable sleep entirely. Not ideal. I like the idea of a low-power always-on squeezebox server. How much power is enough?

@pwnguin: I don't think it violates anything really. There's nothing I can do with the setup I describe that I can't do with my own box -- something still has to launch daemons etc.

@cgg: That's a really neat idea, using DynDNS. Never occurred to me. It will slow things down quite a bit as the bits travel from my laptop through the corporate network and back... buy hey, the electrons need the exercise. Plus I always need excuses to use Linux.
posted by rouftop at 8:18 PM on January 11, 2011

I doubt you'll find a solution that allows simultaneous access to a single hard drive by some kind of server and your USB-connected laptop. The whole point of a file server is to arbitrate between multiple clients accessing files on an underlying disk; the server can't do that if the underlying disk is also subject to unpredictable changes from some other device like your laptop.

And any solution that presents the NAS to your laptop as a file server via USB, instead of presenting it as a disk drive, would almost certainly look like some kind of network device from the laptop OS's point of view. It would therefore be subject to the same kind of restrictions that stop you accessing stuff outside your VPN whenever the VPN is up.

Seems to me that your best bet is to buy two big fat hard disks the same size - one embedded in a NAS, and the other connected to your laptop - and then mirror them using something like Unison or SyncToy, which you'd need to run while the VPN is down. This solves your backup problem, too.
posted by flabdablet at 11:28 PM on January 11, 2011

If you do end up cheaping out and just exposing your NAS to the Internet so you can get at it via the VPN, I recommend enabling an sftp server inside the NAS (any NAS that runs Linux will do this pretty much automatically, because the same OpenSSH daemon that gives you shell access also gives you sftp) and using WinSCP on the laptop (which I'm assuming, since it's corporate, runs Windows). WinSCP is free, competent, easy to set up and easy to drive, and sftp (which is nothing like ftp) is clean and secure.

And tell OpenSSH to allow clients outside your own subnet to connect only using public key authorization; no password-based access allowed. That will ensure that the only machine capable of connecting back into your NAS is your laptop, on which you will save the corresponding private key.
posted by flabdablet at 11:44 PM on January 11, 2011

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