Promise NS4300N - Inexpensive NAS

I do not typically crack under peer pressure, but I was talking to friend last Summer. He and I were lamenting on our inability to store the ever growing digital content in our private lives. Why the sheer size of the video files that you store from your favorite bittorrent client can be enormous. Not to mention the frightening prospect of hard disk failure. Though, the cost of modest hard drive is roughly $0.10 - $0.50 cents per GB, the cost of NAS is still not available at commodity pricing.

He mentioned that he'd purchased a device from Fry's at a price point of $299. Yes, the price was tempting enough, but what sold me on the NS4300N was the fact that it ran a customized Linux kernel under the hood. The heavy lifting is handled by open or well understood protocols NFS, FTP, SMB, and rsync. Additionally it is capable of RAID 1, 5 and 10. Regardless of the temptation, I was really torn between building my own Linux RAID box and deploying software RAID and taking the lazy route (ie turn-key) and purchasing a box like the NS4300N.

I spent time perusing the local LUG mailing list and most folks warned me against a pure hardware RAID solution, as you become beholden to a hardware OEM. I suppose their warnings fell upon deaf ears because I decided that saving a few hours was more valuable than freedom. Geez, did I just say thought? RMS and Eben Moglen would not be happy ;) Strike One.

So, I did a few hustles and saved up enough loot to purchase four 1TB Samsung SATA drives.
Once I finally got time to setup the box, I discovered two critical gotchas.

As trivial as it sounds the plastic carrier trays should have directional arrows on them. Took me about 5 - 10min to figure out how the HD should be installed in the orange carrier trays.
Secondly, the most annoying gotcha is the fact that Promise forces you to use Windows to setup the NS4300N. Huh? Maybe I missed something, I thought it was running a Linux kernel under a thin layer open protocols? Why on Earth would you force me to use a proprietary OS to run an install program? Surely, there must be simple install scripts that you could place on CD.

This is the age old problem that I have I ranted about here in previous entries. Because the GPL v2 is fairly liberal (certainly not as liberal as BSD licenses), companies have been able to skate by and essentially disregard Linux desktop users. The irony is that the device would be virtually useless and certainly much more expensive if they were not using Linux kernel under the hood. Some folks would call this Tivoization.

I suppose this is the price you pay if you want turn-key. Promise offers no "official" means of accessing the root account on the box, nor do they really want you to open the device. After taking a look on back panel, I noticed it had some weird torque style fasteners. However, I have done more extensive digging and discovered that many folks have been hacking this device and adding greater value to the NS4300N. Methinks, Promise could learn a lesson from Linksys and begin to embrace the idea that people are going to create value where it didn't exist previously.

Rants aside, I was able to setup the appliance fairly easily. Although the setting up RAID 5 seemed take the better part of 1hr, to set it up and install latest firmware

After scanning the box, I discovered the following services

21/tcp open ftp
80/tcp open http
111/tcp open rpcbind
139/tcp open netbios-ssn
443/tcp open https
445/tcp open microsoft-ds
515/tcp open printer
657/tcp open unknown
658/tcp open unknown
670/tcp open unknown
1026/tcp open LSA-or-nterm
2049/tcp open nfs
MAC Address: xxxxxxx (Promise Technology)

So, you can see NFS, Samba, and https services running just to name a few. The device is also capable of serving as a print server. I understand that Promise provided telnet in earlier firmware revisions, which folks reverse engineered to access the root account. Probably the reason that service was removed in the latest firmware release. You'll also note that ssh does not appear to be running either. However, I think Promise is running a bit of obfuscation, I believe the service is probably running on a obscure port. It will eventually be discovered.

While the box is fairly capable of behaving as a backup device for my network, I will give it a thumbs down until I have sufficiently hacked it.

NFS doesn't seem to work as advertised. If I can't ssh into the box and access the CLI, then it is useless to me. IMHO, Samba is only marginally useful for an exclusive Linux environment. I don't own any windows machines. The office loaner notebook computer doesn't count. I will never understand why companies decide to dumb down technology for ease of use. I understand that Promise was responsible for many advances in RAID technology. I'm sure that some that knowledge found its way into the Linux community, but I have no idea they would be so protective of this NS4300N. The price point is excellent and quite competitive. Only problem is the execution and delivery. They've crippled the device for the sake of intellectual property which they partially own. I simply wanted a back-up device and means to gain much needed redundancy for the data on my network. I report back as I peel the onion.

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    This page contains a single entry by AG published on February 10, 2009 7:46 AM.

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