Load Me Up, Load Me Down

The second-generation HP Media Vault.
The Bad

That's not to say that all is wine and roses. There are a lot of niggling little problems with the HP Media Vault that keep it just on this side of perfect.

The first, and perhaps the most irritating, is that despite the easy kernel-level support for NFS, HP has chosen to strip this functionality from the Media Vault. The Media Vault only serves up files over Samba, and although Samba is nice, it requires extra tweaking and software installation for Linux and Mac clients compared to NFS. HP could have broadened its market at virtually zero expense simply by leaving NFS in the system.

HP also has, alas, not organized its documentation in a way that's particularly friendly to those of us who don't—or can't—use the included administration software. This is a shame, as administering all but the most advanced functions of the Media Vault is simple for anyone with a Web browser and an SSH connection. With a little digging around—and the help of the good folks at HP's Marketing department—I found the Web admin panel, enabled SSH, and got the server up and running. See the Configuration without Windows sidebar for instructions on how to configure your Media Vault if you want to do it the old-fashioned way.

To get full functionality out of the server, you have to use HP's bundled administration software, and this software doesn't play nice with most operating systems. More to the point, it plays nice only with Windows XP and Vista—it won't even install on Windows 2000 or older systems, and it doesn't work with Wine. This is a problem if you're wanting to use some of the more advanced newbie-friendly features, such as the iTunes server or the auto-generating photo albums and video playlists.

However, if you're willing to go without those things, most everything else can be accomplished from the Web admin panel. And, if you're a better hacker than I am, you can configure the iTunes server manually over SSH using the instructions on the Firefly home page (www.fireflymediaserver.org).

However, to my mind, the most egregious problem is that currently no firmware restore exits, nor any hardware reset, nor are there any operating system restore disks either bundled with the product or available for download. This means that if you screw up the system, you're screwed. And, as the root partition is writable, screwing this thing up while you're hacking it is easy. One misstep, and you've bricked the device, and there is no recourse short of shipping the item back to HP, and it's unclear whether the repair would be covered under warranty.