Rack-mount storage libraries are quickly becoming popular for both on-line and backup purposes, so it’s no surprise big-name disk manufacturers like Maxtor are getting into this market. The MaxAttach line of network storage has been available for a while now, and seems to be gaining in popularity. The MaxAttach NAS 4000 sent to us for review includes 240GB of disk space designed to attach to any Ethernet network.

The MaxAttach NAS 4000 is a single rack-mount height unit, blue metal clad, that slides into any standard rack quickly. The back panel has a power connector, a 10/100Mbps Ethernet connector, a rocker main power on-off switch, and a push-button power switch. The front panel has four LEDs: power, network activity, drive activity, and status. Connecting the MaxAttach NAS 4000 is simple: install in the rack, connect power and network cables, turn the unit on, then leave for three minutes while it initializes and comes up. The MaxAttach NAS 4000 package includes two CD-ROMs, one with drivers and the other with Reflect-It!, a backup utility. Installing the drivers on a Windows machine is simple, taking only a minute. Once launched, the MaxNeighborhood utility searches out any attached MaxAttach units, displays their names and IP addresses, and lets you launch an HTML-based configuration and management routine.

We did have problems with the HTML routine launching under Internet Explorer 5.0. On two different Windows NT 4.0 machines, a Windows 98 machine, and on a Windows ME machine, IE5 locked up half way through the launch. We cut and paste the URL into Netscape Navigator and it worked fine. Unfortunately, the utilities Maxtor provides seem to insist on using IE5. Java is required for the utility to operate. Once launched, the original configuration routine lets you set name, IP address, and passwords for the MaxAttach NAS 4000. You can also set up the disk arrays any way you want. Our four-drive unit was shipped as a single mirrored set of spanned disks but we changed to a pair of spanned disks with no mirroring to check the procedure. The change took a few minutes, followed by a reboot. Moving back to a mirrored set of spanned disks was just as easy. Backups are a good idea, of course, when managing the disk setup! You can also use the MaxAttach NAS 4000 as four individual disks. We didn’t fail any of the drives in the MaxAttach NAS 4000 because they are tighly packed in the chassis, but the mirroring software seems to work perfectly.

The Reflect-It! software is a utility for Windows based machines that allows network-based backups to the MaxAttach NAS 4000 on demand or at preset times. A full backup of a client system to the MaxAttach NAS 4000 takes a while, depending on the network traffic and amount of data, but then incremental daily backups are quick and easy to perform. We found the Reflect-It software excellent for backing up to the MaxAttach NAS 4000 for our clients and laptops, allowing fast and safe storage of data. Recovery of files and directories from the MaxAttach NAS 4000 was just as simple, using a click and select interface. We like the Reflect-It approach so much we’re seriously considering changing from backup tapes every night to mirrored MaxAttach NAS 4000 units in a rack. They are faster, more convenient, and cost effective too (high-capacity tapes are expensive).

We left the MaxAttach NAS 4000 in our server rack for two weeks, performing ten different client backups every night. In addition, we moved several large video files back and forth from the MaxAttach NAS 4000 to a video server to test throughout and performance. As expected, the limiting factor in transfers is the network, not the MaxAttach. A 100Mbps network connection is highly recommended for large volume transfers. Ideally, a faster interface such as gigabit Ethernet will replace the 10/100 Ethernet in the future.

Although disk arrays like the MaxAttach NAS 4000 are not inexpensive, and they tend to be slower than directly-attached drives on a single machine, the availability of high capacity backup for the entire network is an excellent idea. The cost of the MaxAttach NAS 4000 compares well to other network arrays, and competes with backup devices. The configuration software is very good, Reflect-It is a winner, and the whole package is easy to install, configure, and administer.

MaxAttach NAS 4000
Maxtor Corporation
510 Cottonwood Drive
Milpitas, CA 95035
(408)432-1700
(408)432-4510
http://www.maxtor.com

Summary: Convenient high-capacity network backup device. Easy installation and configuration. Good utilities.