D-Link DNS-325 ShareCenter 2-Bay Network Storage

A network-attached storage device gives you ample room to store all kinds of digital files, from photos to spreadsheets. While you’re at it, why not load it up with high-res media files and stream them to your HDTV? To do that, you need a NAS built for the job: the DNS-325 ShareCenter 2-Bay Network Storage. The DNS-325 lets you install up to two hard drives and share files over a wireless or wired gigabit network. It’s fast enough to stream HD video and audio to home theater systems and other PCs connected to your network.

The DNS-325 works as a DLNA server for serving music and video, or as an iTunes server. This means that music or videos stored on the device can be accessed from any device that supports the DLNA standard, including portable players, PCs, home stereos, Blu-ray drives, PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360, and the Boxee Box by D-Link. The DNS-325 supports multiple streams, so you can have different music playing in different rooms.

It also comes with several add-on applications, including AjaXplorer, aMule, Audio Streamer, Blog, SqueezeCenter, and Photo Center. Ajaxplorer provides an enhanced interface for downloading files, viewing photos, and streaming audio or video files via a browser. aMule adds search capability to the unit’s P2P functionality. Photo Center lets you organize photos into albums and share them over the web. SqueezeCenter supports streaming music to a Logitech Media Squeezebox. Blog lets you create and publish a custom blog that can be accessed via the Internet. Audio Streamer transmits multiple music streams over the Internet. This is especially cool because you can set up your own Internet radio station.

But the DNS-325 is more than a lean, mean, streaming machine. It can back up files from all of the PCs on your home network without the need to plug in a USB drive to each computer. Moreover, it can back itself up to a second NAS device, or to an FTP, HTTP, or file server.

The system is not limited to working with Windows systems. It also supports the Apple Filing Protocol for Macs, Apple Mac OS X Time Machine backup, and NFS for Linux and the Internet. FTP is also supported to allow sharing files that are too big to email. There are some excellent alert and maintenance features included as well: The system can test the hard drives regularly to ensure they’re in good shape and scan the file system for errors. It can send test results and other alerts to an email address or to a cell phone as SMS messages.

The system is nicely designed to let you get to files from wherever you are. Files stored on the DNS-325 can be easily accessed over the Internet via a web browser, and the system supports configuring multiple users with differing levels of access to the system and to specific folders, so you can give controlled, remote access to family and friends. It supports peer-to-peer file sharing so you can set automatic downloads from the Internet. You can also insert a USB drive and automatically copy its contents to the unit with the press of a button, and the USB port lets the device function as a print server as well.

You might think a device this powerful would be difficult to set up — but it’s not. You don’t need any tools to install hard drives. The DNS-325 supports 3Gbps SATA drives at size up to 2TB, for a maximum capacity of 4TB, 2TB if you choose a RAID 1 configuration for added data security. The included software guides you through the process of installing drives, attaching the power supply and network cable, and switching the device on. Then it discovers the DNS-325 on the network. You then tell the software to configure it and set up networking. (DHCP is supported, so this step may not be necessary if your network has a DHCP server.) After setting an account password, you’re ready to connect to a Windows Workgroup (great for small home or business networks) or simple peer-to-peer file sharing.

Then you set up the disks. The DNS-325 supports using the disks as two separate disks (Standard Mode), using both together (JBOD mode), or setting up a RAID 0 or RAID 1 configuration. RAID 0 gives you more capacity than RAID 1 and is faster than Standard or JBOD mode, RAID 1 halves the capacity by mirroring them. But if either of the disks should fail the data remains protected and accessible. The system automatically maps a drive letter to the DNS-325, then formats the drives. Once that’s completed, you have the option of installing extra functionality, provided by AjaXplorer, Audio Streamer, Blog, Squeeze Center, and/or Photo Center software. The Squeeze Center must be downloaded, the rest are included. You can start these additional services right away or turn them on later. Once this is all done, the ShareCenter is ready to use. A web interface lets you access further configuration tasks.

The system lets you connect to a Dynamic DNS service so the DNS-325 can be accessed from the Internet. If you don’t have a DDNS account, D-Link provides one free. This allows you to access the DNS-325 remotely when you’re away from home, or to share files with friends and family. Then you set the time and configure an email address where the device can send alerts. The installer also allows you to test the email configuration before proceeding.

The DNS-325 comes with a number of green features, including the ability to set the unit to hibernate and spin down the disks after a preset interval of inactivity. It comes out of hibernation automatically when anyone tries to access it. You can also power off at set times, but there is no provision to power back on automatically. The fan is very quiet and automatically changes speeds as the temperatures of the drives demands.

The DNS-325 includes FarStone Total Recover Pro 7 with a license for one system. This software backs up a Windows system and allows both full and incremental backups of files or complete disks, and can recover the system to a new disk if the disk in the PC fails. It can even convert a backup into a virtual disk so that the same PC operating system and applications can be run from a VMWare system, which allows you to recover a system even if the hardware isn’t working.

All told, the DNS-325 offers as much functionality as many small file servers, including backups, the ability to run add-on applications, audio and video streaming, blogs, a web server, and more. Unlike most file servers, it is small, quiet, inexpensive, and very easy to set up. Priced around $200, it’s a great value and a useful addition to any network where streaming media is a priority.

Subscribe to the Business Brief Newsletter