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Wouldn't it be grand if you could get the advantages of centralized file and print sharing without the hassle and expense of administering a big Windows file server? Maxtor thinks so, which is the rationale behind the Shared Storage Drive, a low-cost, file-and-print-sharing solution for home and small-office users. After putting it through its paces, we think that "grand" is just the word for it.
Go For a Long Drive
Take the drive out of the box and the first thing you'll likely notice is its extraordinary length (more than 10 inches). It looks like a stretch-limo version of a standard external hard drive. The kit also includes an Ethernet cable and a power adapter.
Set up consisted of plugging the drive into a router and turning on the power. Because the Storage Drive uses DHCP, it work automatically with just about any TCP/IP network.
After connecting the drive, we ran the Maxtor configuration utility on a Windows computer within the network. The utility found the drive and performed initial chores such as giving the drive a network name, setting up an admin account, and configuring the first user.
Once we configured the drive, the utility published a number of shares (resources or folders that more than one person can access) called Public, config, Printers and Faxes. You can also set up any number of personal shared folders for each employee.
Each shared folder on the drive comes pre-populated with folders such as My Photos, My Documents, My Music, etc. A utility built into the drive called Drag and Sort works with these folders to automatically put documents of the correct type into the appropriate folder.
For example, if you copy a batch of different files into your personal folder, Drag and Sort automatically moves the Word files into My Documents, Mp3 files into My Music and JPEG files into My Pictures — a neat idea that can help you keep your files organized. If you prefer more control over where you store your files, you can turn off the Drag and Sort feature.
Managing Users and Shares
Once you've finished setting up the drive, you use the drive's built-in Web utility to manage the drive. You can access the utility from any computer on your network as long as it's running Windows and IE 6.0. The utility will prompt you for the admin password you entered during configuration.
The drive allows two basic types of access to the shares — public and limited. Anyone can access a public share, but shares with limited access require the name and password of the person authorized to access the share.
By default, the drive comes with a public share named Public, which is open to anyone on your network. As you'll see in Figure One, we changed the status of the Public share to limited by pressing a single button. Clicking the Modify button lets you determine exactly which people can access the newly limited Public share.
While you can restrict access to shared folders, there's no way to set space quotas. You can't, for example, restrict one person to just 25 or 50 percent of the available storage space.
Additional Drives and Printers
The Shared Storage Drive has two USB 2 ports that you can use to attach additional external storage space or to connect a printer. Unlike the Shared Storage Drive itself, you can't create new shares on an external USB drive, which shows up as one big space. You can, however, use the management utility to manage the additional drive as you would any other.
You can also attach a USB printer to the Shared Storage Drive. The printer will automatically show up in the list of shares. With a true Windows print server, you could install the printer driver with the printer share, and all the PCs on the network could print from it. However, with the Shared Storage Drive, you have to install the printer driver individually on each computer that will use the printer.
Figure One — The drive's management utility lets you see all the shared folders it can access, including those (like FAT in the screenshot) that are on external USB drives. You can change a shared folder from Public to Limited and back again with a single click of a button.
What About Macs?
Maxtor's Quick Start software CD only supports Windows, but the Shared Storage Drive is compatible with Mac and Linux as long as you map the share to your drive.
We noticed, however, that the drive icon disappeared from the Mac desktop after twenty minutes or so and that some strange temporary files showed up in the shares.
300GB Maxtor Shared Storage Drive: $399.95 MSRP
200GB Maxtor Shared Storage Drive: $299.95 MSRP
We heartily recommend the Maxtor Shared Storage Drive. It's a welcome replacement to peer-to-peer Windows file sharing in small offices. You don't have to worry whether the computer hosting the printer or folder you want to access is on, nor will you experience decreased performance when someone else accesses a share on your computer. This is the best investment you can make in your small office network.
Bob Ryan works in IT in higher education. He has been writing about technology for over 20 years, including editorial stints at inCider, BYTE, and FamilyPC.
Article originally appeared on SmallBusinessComputing.com.