Load Me Up, Load Me Down

The second-generation HP Media Vault.

The HP Media Vault 5150 is a Linux-based network-attached storage (NAS) device that aims to be the end-all-be-all for home and small-office network file management and media service. It boasts not only a large capacity (700GB or 1.4TB depending on how you allocate it), it also has a hardware RAID-1 option and USB ports for attaching additional storage. Its internal drive bays use SATA drives, and the internal capacity theoretically is upgradable to the limit of SATA drive technology, and it hooks into your network through Gigabit Ethernet. Running out of bandwidth, therefore, is not in the cards.

What It Does

The HP Media Vault runs an SMB server, serving up browsable shares to the network. Due to its large capacity, it's very useful for a number of purposes, and it comes outfitted with a number of helper applications that allow home users to maximize the benefits of having such a device around. These bundled applications allow users to run an iTunes server, share photos on-line with automatic gallery generation, expose selected directories to the Internet and stream media to properly enabled appliances that hook up to TVs and stereos. In other words, in addition to being an all-purpose backup server, this thing aims to be your TiVo, your jukebox, your photo server, your document server and your Web server, all rolled into one with an automated backup cherry on top.

All this functionality is administrable through a handy-dandy suite of programs bundled with the device that runs on any modern Windows box. It makes efficient use of open-source programs for nearly all its features, and it is generally a well-engineered little piece of technology. Certainly, home brewers who are looking to create their own NAS appliances could do worse than look at what HP has pulled off with this little gadget.

The Good

The Media Vault lives up to its hype rather handsomely. It's pretty easy to administer with the bundled software—easy enough that an average computer user should have very little difficulty getting up and running and secured. The documentation that ships with it is aimed entirely at novice users, walking them step by step through the self-explanatory configuration screens and leaving, as far as HP is concerned, nothing to chance.

The automatic backup function is a particularly nice touch—although underneath the hood, it's little more than an active cp script running in the background, the interface on it is slick and should make data protection miles easier for the average Joe. As someone who climbed out of the hell of doing sysadmin work in my younger years, I must confess that I think it's rather like giving condoms to teenagers—it's better that they have the ability to protect themselves, but most of them probably won't think of it when they're in the heat of the computing moment. Still, we can hope.

The UPnP/DLNA server option, which is what allows the Media Vault to act as a streaming server for set-top boxes, actually works only with a limited number of devices, as the standard is pretty new. But, it seems to work with those devices seamlessly. A number of programs also receive DLNA streams, most particularly VLC and MythTV, which means Linux-savvy home users can use the Media Vault as a streaming server all on its own instead of configuring a separate streaming server for their media automation systems.

The Media Vault ships in a completely unsecured state—no password is required to log in or configure the device. To my mind, for a device aimed squarely at the average Joe end of the market, this is the perfect default. I've seen people I otherwise care for very much turn into incomprehensible babbling masses when confronted with a factory-set admin password—they generally don't know enough to look for a sentence like “factory default login”. Of course, this is a double-edged sword, as there's nothing actually compelling users to set a proper password or to take the additional available steps to secure the box, so there will doubtless be a number of unsecured servers coming on-line in the coming months as the Media Vault is adopted by its core audience.

Attaching external storage to increase the capacity (or to back up) the Media Vault is also dead easy. Simply plug in a hard drive, allocate it with the administration utility, and assign it a mountpoint. Once that's done, you're ready to rock and roll. The Media Vault supports ext3 and FAT32 filesystems natively, and it supports NTFS on a read-only basis.

Finally, a number of nice little options are available, such as control over hard drive spin-down intervals and LED brightness—both of which are very nice if you decide to set up the device in your bedroom.