Linux and The Linksys EtherFast Instant GigaDrive
Manufacturer: The Linksys Group, Inc.
Price: $695 US
Reviewer: Bill Ball
The explosion of small-business and home-office networking has made on-line storage, print service and IP addressing critical issues for many installations. Enter Linksys with a Red Hat Linux-based solution, the EtherFast Instant GigaDrive. This product provides 20GB of instant storage to your Linux or “other operating” system LAN without the hassle of adding a keyboard, monitor or mouse.
Linksys has been a Linux-friendly hardware manufacturer for a long time. Most network-savvy Linux users know that Linksys was the first company to list Linux as a supported operating system on the outside of its networking products' boxes.
I recently spent the afternoon playing with this new network toy from the Irvine, California-based company. The GigaDrive is one of those new breed of small network storage boxes you plug in to a hub on your LAN, turn on, web administer, use—and fall in love with.
Hooking up this compact device to your network is a snap. In this review, I will cover some of the basics and features of this new, first-generation, Linux-based networking product.
The box weighs five pounds, measures 8'' wide, 11'' long and 3'' high and includes a parallel port and an RJ45 jack. A small switch is used on the back when you connect the GigaDrive to a LAN hub or directly to a PC. Indicator LEDs on the front show remaining hard-drive capacity, power, status, hard-drive activity, NIC activity and whether DHCP service is being used.
The GigaDrive is basically a single-board, 45.26 BogoMIPS Pentium computer with (contrary to earlier reports on the Internet) only 16MB RAM, and a spacious 20GB drive running Red Hat Linux 2.0.36. The file system is installed on a 154MB root file system, and a 33MB swap partition is configured as a separate partition. The rest of the 20GB drive is devoted to a Linux EXT2 native file system, leaving nearly the entire drive available for storage of your LAN's or users' data.
When in use, several megabytes of memory remain free, as the majority of memory is used by normal Linux processes, such as the LDP printer dæmon, Apache, the AppleTalk atalkd dæmon and Samba's smbd dæmon. The default swap partition should be barely (if at all) used under load.
A small, 30-page manual, Windows NT install disk and CD-ROM for Windows-based installation are included. The machine is initially configured by running, of all things, a Windows-based setup and configuration program. Why support for Linux-based configuration and installation is not included is beyond me. A convenient Win client provides initial setup, such as IP assignment and setting of the date and time.
Linksys has prepared this device as a hands-off Linux system. This means that (supposedly) your only interaction with the GigaDrive is meant to be through a Netscape web page. After connecting the unit to your LAN, pressing the power button and waiting a few minutes, you can set the GigaDrive's server name (I called mine “gigi”), system date and time, IP address, Windows workgroup name and AppleTalk zone.
You can also configure the GigaDrive as a DHCP server, in which case you'll need to specify a range of valid IP addresses. The GigaDrive can also be configured to obtain its IP addresses from another server.
After assigning an administrative password, I could manage the GigaDrive remotely, using a URL like this:
The Connect window lists the GigaDrive, presents information on your unit and offers an Administer button. Click this button to administer the GigaDrive, and you'll see a dialog with numerous buttons to configure the system and administer users or shares on the drive, as shown in Figure 2.
The configuration buttons provide changes to networking, the system, utilities and status information. These are handy for changing the IP address, setting network features (such as turning DHCP on or off), adjusting date and time settings and troubleshooting. The GigaDrive can even e-mail you if there's a problem!
The storage management buttons allow you to browse the visible or “public” portions of the GigaDrive's hard drive and administer groups, shares and users. If you're new to Windows networking, you'll want to read the GigaDrive manual for a quick tip on how groups, shares and users are viewed by Samba, which provides networking storage and printer sharing. Plug a printer into the GigaDrive's parallel port, and you have an instant networked printer and print server. Windows users will find the GigaDrive and any attached printer under Network Neighborhood.
Although I was initially disappointed that only Samba was supported, I found that performing a Linux SMB mount was just as easy as using NFS, if not easier. With the ability to mount your remote share, there's really no reason to use FTP or another means of file transfers.
Although one normally avoids creating SUID root programs, a simple
# chmod 4711 /usr/bin/smbmnt # chmod 4711 /usr/bin/smbumount
will allow you to quickly and easily mount public shares locally like this:
# smbmount //gigi/public backupAfter entering your password, you'll find all your public shares on the GigaDrive files mounted locally (in this case, in the local directory named “backup” from the GigaDrive named “gigi”).
I knew there had to be more to the GigaDrive besides a simple web-based interface. Heck, I wanted to be able to use TELNET to log in to the machine and peek around its insides, behind the facade of CGI scripts. But I worried a little about what would happen if the system became corrupted or a problem developed with the GigaDrive.
I e-mailed Linksys tech support with some questions and received a speedy reply, which shows good customer support. According to Linksys technical support, if the GigaDrive “crashes, you would have to RMA it... at this time there are no restore disks for the gigadrive to restore it yet.”
This is quite interesting, because when I looked at the Windows CD-ROM included with the GigaDrive, I found out that the CD is actually a Red Hat Linux 2.0.36 install CD with a custom install program to restore the GigaDrive's file system on a new drive!
It took me about 20 minutes to figure out how to enable TELNET on the GigaDrive. One way to do this is to remotely run a simple, undocumented CGI script installed on the drive. After another 20 minutes, I was able to get the Red Hat system's root password, figure out a special TELNET user password and then TELNET in to the GigaDrive, gain root access and create my own user account “behind” the Samba and web-based interface. From there, it was a simple matter to copy favorite libc5-based clients, such as the pico text editor, onto the Red Hat file system. This will also be necessary if you want to install (unsupported) NFS or FTP service on your GigaDrive.
Now, before you throw your hands up in horror (“Oh my God! Anyone can get into our GigaDrive!”), you should know that cracking the root password won't do any good unless you can gain TELNET access (root TELNET access is denied through a TCP wrapper, and TELNET is disabled by default). The base Red Hat 2.0.36 system on the GigaDrive also uses shadow passwords, and you cannot get the special TELNET user password unless you know something about your GigaDrive—I'm not going to say what.
The GigaDrive is quite secure when properly installed and configured. There is no way a casual or even determined cracker can gain access, unless you leave your own password on your desktop or under your doormat.
I really like my “gigi” GigaDrive, and I really like Linksys for its hardware support for the Linux community. I heartily recommend the GigaDrive for any home, home-office or small-business user who needs quick, inexpensive, on-line and secure storage for a small network. You can also find the GigaDrive at a discounted price if you shop around, which makes this Linksys product a winner in a growing field of instant-storage devices.
Bill Ball (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the author of numerous books about Linux, but still doesn't know what to do with his multiple copies of shrink-wrapped Microsoft operating system software and CD-ROMs. He is a member of the Northern Virginia Linux Users Group.