|Introduction and Specifications|
You'd be hard pressed these days to find a small business or even family home that doesn't have at least a few computers being used by a number of different local users. This multi-user scenario poses at least a couple of potential complications for managing all the files and data that gets created, stored, and used by the different users: How do you share files with the other users on your network and how do you seamlessly back up files that are stored on the different user systems?
Network-attached storage (NAS) is the answer, and the new Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition Dual-drive network storage server aims to provide simple solutions to these and other file-sharing and backup challenges--as well as a number of useful features that serve the needs of small business and home users. In fact, home users should not be put off by the "Business Edition" moniker; this NAS device is well-suited for homes with multiple, networked users. In our opinion, the Business Edition part of the product name was added on so as to differentiate this NAS device from Maxtor's previous iteration of the device, simply called the Maxtor Central Axis, which is still widely available.
The Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition is actually more than just an updated version of the Maxtor Central Axis. The previous version featured 1TB of storage capacity, while the new version supports up to 2TB. The Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition includes two user-swappable, 1TB hard drives and the device supports RAID 0 and RAID 1. By default, the device comes pre-configured to RAID 1, which provides 1TB of total storage capacity. RAID 1 is a mirrored array where identical information is written to both drives simultaneously. Should one drive fail, the data is still safe on the other drive. Note that this is data redundancy, which is a sort of a data failsafe, but it should not be considered data backup--redundancy and backup are two different things--users should still be backing up their data, which the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition also lets you do. The Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition also features a redesigned, larger chassis than its predecessor, and includes two USB 2.0 ports (as opposed to the single USB port on the previous version) for additional storage, removable backups, or even networking a printer.
In addition to the small 12-page Quick Start Guide, the Installation CD also includes very detailed and extensive electronic guides for Windows users, Mac users, Admins, and for the free Seagate Global Access service (more on this later). The Maxtor Manager software is nearly identical in functionality for both the Windows and Mac versions. We focus on the Windows version in this article, but Mac users should expect the same features.
|Design and Build Quality|
The Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition comes in a slim, flat-black chassis that sits in a removable, clear plastic stand. Despite its sleek looks, it is surprisingly heavy at 6.7-pounds. The font of the chassis features a small LED panel, which indicates power, drive activity, and device status. The front also includes vents that deceptively look like they are doors that provide access to the drives inside, but this is not the case--the drives are removable only by powering down the unit and opening it up. The vents were likely added after numerous users complained that the previous version of the device got very hot. Most of the time we found the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition remained relatively cool or a bit warm--but never hot. We also found that the unit ran very quietly; a faint low-whirring can be detected when the drives are active. The back of the unit includes a Gigabit Ethernet port, two USB 2.0 ports, power switch, AC adapter jack, a Kensington Lock slot, a cooling fan vent, and a thumbscrew for opening up the case.
Unless a drive fails, you should never have to open the case. But if you need to open the case, you first loosen the thumbscrew on the back. Once it is loose, the entire side-portion of the case can be pulled off (as the case should be laying on its side during maintenance, from this perspective, it is the top portion that slides off). Each hard drive is held in place by four Phillips-head screws. The SATA connectors at the top of the case include a triangle symbol and a square symbol, respectively. These symbols help you identify which drive needs to be replaced based on what the software reports--the software uses these triangle and square symbols to identify the individual physical drives.
The drive pulls out attached to a mounting bracket that holds the drive in place with two Phillips-head screws on either side of the bracket. After removing the four screws, the brackets come off, and the drive can now be swapped with a replacement drive.
If a drive fails while the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition is still under its five-year warranty, Maxtor will send you a replacement drive at no cost.
Installation is a straightforward affair that creates a "Maxtor Manager" shortcut on the desktop, adds a Maxtor Manager folder to the Start menu, and places a Maxtor Status icon in the taskbar. The software is meant to be installed on all systems that will access the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition. This is not a requirement for accessing the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition from a system, however; but if you don't install the software, you won't have access to some of the device's features.
Until you assign an administrator password to the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition, whenever you launch the Maxtor Manager software, you'll receive a warning that a password has not been set yet. Password protecting the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition's administrator account is a highly-recommended security precaution to take in order to prevent unauthorized access to the device and its contents. Once the Maxtor Manager software loads, it takes a few moments to poll the network to find any Maxtor shared drives. The Windows version of the software found the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition as well as an older Maxtor Shared Storage NAS device that was on our network; the Mac version of the software, however, only found the newer Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition device. Every time you launch the application or switch to its "My Drives" tab, it polls the network looking for Maxtor shared drives--this can get a bit annoying if you are switching from tab to tab, trying to set up the device. The My Drives tab shows all the Maxtor shared drives that the application could find on the network, along with each drive's IP address and MAC address.
The next step is to launch the "Central Axis Admin Web Page" from the Maxtor Manager's Settings page. Until it is configured, the Central Axis Admin Web Page will automatically load at the three-step set-up wizard, where you provide details such as setting the date and time and setting up an administrator password.
At this point, you could start using the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition, but you would only have access to the default, shared Public folder, and you would have no drive mappings or mounted shares, or access to a number of the other available features. The initial setup might be complete, but there are still more features to enable.
|Account and Folder Management|
Once you have completed the initial setup of the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition, the first thing you'll probably want to do is to set up user accounts. There are two ways to do this: via the Maxtor Manager software, which gets installed onto user's systems, and the Central Axis Admin Web Page, which is accessible via a Web browser from your internal network. Both the Maxtor Manager software and the Central Axis Admin Web Page allow you to create new users, but there are some important differences between how they work and what they each allow you to do.
When you set up a user account using the Maxtor Manager software, a corresponding folder with the identical name to that user is automatically created on the device. You can set whether the new user folder will be publicly available or a private folder, define the folder as for "Home" or "Business" (which determines the type of default folders created, such as "My Photos" or "My Presentations"), and assign a user password (public folders do not get passwords). Once the user/folder is created, a network mapping, desktop shortcut, and mounted share are automatically created, and remain accessible until such a time as you change users on the system--even after the system is rebooted. Note that after a reboot, however, unless you've set Windows to remember the password, Windows will tell you that it cannot connect to the mapped drives.
When you set up a user account using the Central Axis Admin Web Page, a corresponding folder does not get automatically created. If you use the Central Axis Admin Web Page to create a user and you want that user to have a folder, you will need to create that folder manually using the Central Axis Admin Web Page's Shared Folder Management tool. Note that if you want to use the Maxtor Manager software to automatically map a user to his folder, the user name and folder name must be identical--it is possible to have mismatching users and folders when you use the Central Axis Admin Web Page to create users and folders. If the user name and folder name are not identical and you try to connect to that user using the Maxtor Manager software, you will get an error.
It is also important to note that when you install the Maxtor Manager software on a system, anyone who has access to the software can create as many public and private user/folders as they want on the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition device. There is no way to disable this feature without uninstalling the software from the system.
The Central Axis Admin Web Page also allows you to manage existing user accounts and folders as well. You can create new users, delete users, change passwords, and modify what kind of access (full access, read-only access, or no access) users have to public and private shared folders. You can also create, delete, suspend, and reactivate public and private folders.
As long as you install the Maxtor Manager software on a system that can connect to the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition on your local network, you can use the software to set up automated backups of that system. With two clicks of the mouse, you can setup a "Simple Backup," which will automatically back up a set of predefined personal folders every day at 10:00 PM. You can also create a custom backup, where you select the folders, file types, and when the automated backups will occur. Maxtor Manager will back-up up to 10 historical versions of a file, and you can choose which of these versions you want to restore. Note that if you are backing up to a private folder, you'll need to make sure that Windows is logged into the folder before you perform a backup--the backup software is not capable of automatically logging into private folders.
Not only does the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition act a file backup repository for user's systems, but the device even enables the backing up of it own contents automatically to a removable drive via either of its two USB ports. Using the Maxtor Central Axis Admin Web Page, you first need to format the external drive you will be using for backups. While this is not documented, the drive used for backing up the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition gets formatted using the EXT3 file system. You can then create multiple backup sets, defining which folders to back up, how far back historically to keep files, and schedule when the backups will occur.
Backed up folders are stored on the external drive in a compressed format. Once you create a "Backup Set," you cannot edit the parameters of that backup. If want to make changes, you will need to delete it and create a new Backup Set. When you delete a Backup Set, you are only deleting the instructions for what and when to back up, you are not actually deleting the backed up files themselves. If you need to restore files from the backups, you choose which historical version to restore and whether the restored contents are written back to the original location or to a temporary location.
Some users, especially some small businesses will truly appreciate this feature. Not only does it allow you to automatically back up mission-critical data stored on the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition device, but it also enables these backups to be removed and stored offsite if you choose.
The Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition has a number of other tricks up its sleeves. You can supply an e-mail address that the device will send an e-mail to if it detects any errors. You can assign a new network name to the device, assign a Windows workgroup name, and set its IP address manually or to DHCP. You can also set the device to go into "Sleep" mode after 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, or 2 hours of inactivity. The Maxtor Central Axis Admin Web Page will let you set a Sleep interval for devices attached via its USB ports as well; however, we received an error when we tried to set a Sleep interval for the external hard drive we used during testing.
You can attach up to two external USB hard drives or a hard drive and a printer to the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition's two USB 2.0 ports. External hard drives can provide additional network storage. If you have previously formatted an external hard drive to be used as a folder backup for the device, then the external drive will already be formatted with the EXT3 file system. You can use an EXT3-formatted external drive for both backups and as additional storage. Otherwise, the Central Axis Admin Web Page will advise you to format the external drive using the FAT32 file system. We also experimented with connecting an NTFS-formatted external drive to the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition--we could read files from the drive, but we could not write it to.
As the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition supports UPnP, it can be used as a media server as well. You can even designate a shared folder on the device as an iTunes server. We copied our entire 6,000-song iTunes collection to the server, and all our locally-networked systems were able to access the complete collection in iTunes without a problem. Note that an iTunes server will appear in a locally-networked user's iTunes even if the folder is private and that user doesn't have access to the folder; also note that it is not possible to password-protect the iTunes server, so anyone with access to you local network will see the iTunes sever and its music contents.
The Maxtor Central Axis Admin Web Page is also where you can change the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition's default 1TB RAID 1 (mirror) array to a 2TB RAID 0 (linear) array. Changing from one array type to another will obviously wipe all of the data from the device's drives.
|Seagate Global Access|
One feature that might prove quite a boon for small businesses and users on-the-go, is the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition's support for the free Seagate Global Access service (Seagate owns Maxtor). Seagate Global Access allows you to access your Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition remotely over the Internet--you can think of it as a Web-based FTP server without actually needing FTP software. Not only can you access the data on the device, but you can provide access to virtually any folder on the device to anyone who has an e-mail address.
Setting up an account on Seagate Global Access is very easy, but you'll need to make sure that you have enabled Web Access to the device either in the Maxtor Central Axis Admin Web Page or the Maxtor Manager software. Any user who accesses folders remotely via Seagate Global Access will need to set up their own account--it is free to all users. Access is provided to users on a per-folder basis, and you can opt whether to make that access read-only, whether they can download images, and if they can also have write access (which also lets them created subfolders). When you download a folder using Seagate Global Access, it downloads the folder to your local hard drive as a zipped file.
"Note: Although you can store and work with files 2GB or larger on your Central Axis Business Edition, you cannot access or add files 2GB or larger via the Seagate Global Access Web site."
In order to test the functionality of the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition, we placed it on our Gigabit-Ethernet network and accessed it from a variety of Windows and Mac desktops and laptops. We connected to it on our network via both wired and wireless connections (the device was attached to a wireless router), as well as remotely over the Internet.
To test the device's performance, we conducted a number of data-transfer tests to and from the device over our network using an HP Pavilion Elite m9550f desktop (2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300, 8GB PC2-6400 DDR2 SDRAM, 1TB NTFS 7200RPM SATA hard drive, ATI Radeon HD 4850 512MB, Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit) via a Gigabit-Ethernet connection. We conducted large-file write and read tests where we copied a 1.7GB ISO file between the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition and the HP Pavilion Elite m9550f. We also conducted small-files write and read tests where we copied a 267MB folder made up of 70 JPGs ranging in size from 2.27MB to 4.38MB between the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition and the HP Pavilion Elite m9550f.
For comparison, we repeated these tests on an older Maxtor NAS device, a 500GB Maxtor Shared Storage device--copying files between the Maxtor Shared Storage device and the HP Pavilion Elite m9550f. We also ran the tests on an external hard drive connected directly to a USB 2.0 port on the HP Pavilion Elite m9550f; the drive we used was a 320GB Western Digital Caviar Blue drive (7200RPM SATA-II, 16MB cache) placed into an external enclosure and formatted using the NTFS file system.
The Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition took 150.5 seconds to write and 132.5 seconds to read a 1.70GB ISO file. This is certainly not as speedy as the 66.9-second write time and 12.7-second read time of the directly-connected USB hard drive, but we wouldn't expect network transfer performance to be anywhere as near as fast as a directly-connected drive. That said, the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition is still significantly faster than that of the older-generation Maxtor Shared Storage device. In fact, we found the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition's large-file transfer capabilities to be quite impressive. The large-file transfer rates on our tests equate to about 11.6MB/Sec (92.5Mb/Sec) for writing and 13.1MB/Sec (105.1Mb/Sec) for reading.
The Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition took 28.9 seconds to write and 29.9 seconds to read a 267MB folder of small files. The small-file transfer performance is still very good--especially when compared to the older Maxtor NAS device--but the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition's small-file transfer performance (at least on our tests) was not quite as speedy as its large-file transfer performance. On our tests, the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition writes small files at about 9.2MB/Sec (73.9Mb/Sec) and reads small files at around 8.9MB/Sec (71.4Mb/Sec). The USB-connected hard drive, obviously, bested both NAS devices. In fact, we couldn't even generate useful numbers for the USB drive's small-files read performance as Windows cached the files in memory and essentially performed instantaneous transfers whenever we repeated the file copy (all tests were run multiple times to ensure repeatability).
As to more anecdotal performance observations, we found the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition to be very quick to respond to file queries and copies. The only time we noticed any significant lag time was when the device had gone into Sleep mode and our query only then caused the device to wake up. We did find, however, that the Central Axis Admin Web Page is a little sluggish to respond, and takes a few seconds to switch from one screen to the next. This response time gets even slower when you try to use the Central Axis Admin Web Page while the device is actively transferring files.
We connected the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition to a power meter to get a sense of how much power it consumes. When the device is sitting idle it uses about 20 watts of power. Under load, its power consumption goes up to about 23 watts. When in Sleep mode, the device uses about 14 watts of power.
|Summary and Conclusion|
Certainly not every home or small business necessarily needs a NAS device. But as we all become increasingly dependent on our electronic files and need places to store them, share them, back them up, and sometime even access them remotely, a NAS device like the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition starts to make a lot more sense.
The Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition does exactly what you would expect a NAS device to do: it stores files for local network access--and it does so at a fairly speedy pace. But the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition also offers a number of features that increase its value and usefulness, such as its RAID 1 array, user-replaceable drives, five-year warranty, built-in iTunes server, and remote access capabilities.
We encountered a few minor annoyances with the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition, however. We are somewhat skeptical of allowing any user to create additional users and public and private folders on the device. We also would have liked to see a way for the backup software to automatically log into the server during backups and not have to depend on Windows to store the password. Lastly, the sluggish response time of the Central Axis Admin Web Page was annoying at times, especially when we were making a lot of changes to the device's configuration.
With an MSRP of $479.99, the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition offers a decent value based on its features and performance. However, we found it available from a number of major online retailers in the $340 to $360 range. At that price range, this moves the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition up to a great value. As a point of comparison, external USB-based 2TB drives sell for around the $230 to $300 range. Once you add in all the functionality and features of the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition, it easily earns the price premium over a stand-alone drive. If you are in the market for a NAS device, the Maxtor Central Axis Business Edition is a great option.