NETGEAR STORA Review: It’s Good*

StoraDeviceThe distribution of my digital stuff mirrors my office. Everything has a place, but nothing is organised. There’s three  hard drives of varying vintages in the PC, a couple of thumbdrives, some DVDs, and 2 (or maybe 3, I can never remember), external hard drives somewhere.

I could, in an emergency — theoretically at least — pick up one of those hard drives and leave the house with most of my digital memories intact. In reality I’d lose a shitload of stuff.

NAS?

So apparently I need a NAS. Network Attached Storage. It’s about as interesting as it sounds: a big hard drive permanently connected to one’s network. The idea of a NAS is that you plug it in to a network connection (via an extra WiFi dongle if you have no cables), and it becomes accessible to any computers on the network. You use the NAS as your single point of storage: share music and videos, and back up your documents automatically to this magic box.

There’s a bunch of NAS devices (NASes?) on the market, but NETGEAR promises that their STORA is one of the more simple options. It comes loaded with a single 1 Terabyte hard drive, and room for another. It’s a chunky device, about as big as half a breadbox — or 175.25 x 150 x 146 of your earth millimetres. It has a power and network plug in the back. Plug A into Socket B, and it works as promised:
[quote]Experts need not apply. This system is designed for first-time users who don’t want to learn server administration as a hobby. Plug in the system, run the CD – that’s it. Now you can share data between home computers, automatically back them up, share photos over the web and access your content from other network devices. Even upload items to Facebook![/quote]
Yes, it worked as promised. I was immediately able to store files on the STORA, and access them from different devices. I fiddled a bit and eventually set up Windows 7 backup to automatically back up PCs to the STORA, and I was able to play with the web interface to see my files too. The web interface is slick, allowing you to view images and play back some video formats right in the browser.

But wait, there’s more!*

The surprise came when I pointed my iPhone at the STORA’s web address and was confronted with this:

stora

On review, you’ll see those nasty little asterisks in a lot of places in the STORA literature. At the end of this page there’s one next to a paragraph that says:
[quote]*A free 30 day trial of Premium Services is included; thereafter an annual charge of $19.99 is applicable. Premium Services include: support for Flickr, Cooliris, RSS feeds, unlimited user accounts, enhanced remote access including web-enabled phones and future premium feature upgrades.[/quote]
This is, frankly, bullshit. I’m cool with online or “borrowed” services offering price-differentiated features, but when I fork over $419 for a vaguely intelligent hard disk, I don’t expect to be extorted for another $19 per year to be able to use it fully. It’s hard not to see this as utterly cynical: hook in the users who just want basic access, then ping them for a fee if they ever want to do something interesting with their device. Would you buy a DVD player if some features required a regular payment to use? What gives NETGEAR?

Is it any good?

I give it a qualified yes. If you want a simple, relatively cheap way to store all your digital guff, the STORA is good*

*For a limited definition of “good”. Buyer beware.

22 Replies to “NETGEAR STORA Review: It’s Good*”

  1. We wanted to produce a network storage device that is not only simple but great value for money. It does vary from country to country but you should find that Stora is about the best priced 2 bay NAS with 1TB onboard. This has been achieved by keeping the standard software simple (and the cost down) and adding features that (often) only more advanced users would take advantage of.
    My mom wants somewhere to store her digital photos and back up her laptop but doesn’t want to pay for secure ftp, cooliris image viewing and she doesn’t own an iPhone……..
    Having an ongoing subscription model means we can also add new premium features and have a continuous development program running to add new features and technologies over time. So for less that $2 per month not only can you get the features you want, if you want them, but you will also have access to new features and technologies available over the coming months and years, without having to buy a new NAS.

    1. Hey Peter, I’d be interested to know a few things:

      • What’s in the pipeline for future “premium features”? Call me cynical, but these things are often promised and never delivered.
      • The features like mobile access and Flickr upload are already implemented in the ReadyNAS range, so are a low-cost addition to the STORA. How can you justify charging extra for them?
      • Presuming the STORA uses some *nix OS variant, limiting user accounts probably took some extra development effort. It seems a bit of a stretch to then ask people to pay to remove that limit.

      I can understand your marketing perspective, but philosophically and practically it really is a silly approach. The ReadyNAS approach of an open platform is much more inviting, and it means I will “have access to new features and technologies” without having to pay more.

  2. That stinks. It’s ridiculous to limit one’s own access to one’s own data on one’s own storage device! Maybe people just want to do that instead of having “added premium features” It’s bloody ridiculous, and even though I have no iphone, and never will, I wouldn’t buy this just on principle.

    “for less that $2 per month not only can you get the features you want” – no you don’t, you can’t access your own data how you want!

  3. Do you have to use the Web interface?

    As I recall the Netgear ReadyNAS Duo, which is similar supports SMB, FTP and things like streaming content out of the box.

    Does the iPhone not have an FTP or SMB client?

    Or can you install a different browser, like Opera that may not get tagged as mobile?

    1. Yeah the STORA supports FTP and SMB, which makes the restrictions all the more pointless.

      Like everything of this nature, the only people you end up pissing off are your regular customers. People like me and you Rob would just hack around it.

  4. I’m just a regular home user with a whole lot of digital photos and, recently, high-def movies that I realised needed to be backed-up – off site – so as to avoid the ‘my house got burgled and I’m lost the last 10 years of my life’ scenario.
    I looked at a NAS system, but found it hard to justify the substantial cost, so have simply bought a Tb hard drive, an enclosure, and back up (using Allway sync) on a regular basis via external SATA, then take it into work and put it in a drawer. All this cost me ~$160.

    Why would I ever pay 2 or 3 times as much for the same service, let alone an ongoing cost?

    That would be purely mental.

  5. Many of these home NAS boxes are also capable of being streaming media servers as well.

    NAS does make when you have multiple machines to manage and multiple people.

    We have 4 laptops in the house and juggling usb drives can be a pain, (not to mention nagging everyoone to do it)

    I’ve toyed with the idea of turning an old desktop case we have here into a homemade NAS using FreeNAS or Openfiler

    http://bitURL.net/?48ahv5

    http://bitURL.net/?5749p2

    1. Yeah I’ve been thinking about FreeNAS ever since Dan Too talked about it at a web meetup session. I love the idea, but I’m not too enamoured with having to have a big old desktop case in a cupboard.

  6. Note that many of the added features (mobile included) use the mystora.com central server to provide these services. Servers have associated costs, from bandwidth to SSL certificates, and the likes.

    Yes, user accounts and their creation also interact with the central server, since all accounts can access your NAS anytime, anywhere, no frills no fuss. This is why they are a premium service. It’s not like the amount of data you can store on your device is being limited by this.

    I find it odd that there are complaints about subscription features, when the NAS’ basic state is still cheaper and more feature rich than other NAS out there (for the first-time user audience).

    [quote]What’s in the pipeline for future “premium features”? Call me cynical, but these things are often promised and never delivered. [/quote]
    As an example, it’s already been announced that the Stora will receive an update with JBOD (within the begining of april). Users asked, they will receive. Although this won’t be a premium feature, you can rest assured that Stora development has not ceased.

    1. >
      I find it odd that there are complaints about subscription features, when the NAS’ basic state is still cheaper and more feature rich than other NAS out there (for the first-time user audience).
      >

      And now that we’re 9 months down the road, it seems to me that the ZyXEL NSA221 is providing everything the Stora is plus many more features, is currently half the price diskless (so throw in the 1TB drive of your choice for an extra $60 – or just pull it out of your Stora) and has no annual subscription.

      As you know, I personally have no issue with the $20 per year – if that’s what it takes for having a quality device which is continually enhanced and provides more/better features over time, along with the services of the vendors supporting it, it’s a small ongoing investment in my mind. However, what I do have an issue with is immature/buggy firmware in a “production-quality” product and a company (companies) that string customers along. How many companies are out there selling a unit which is so full of bugs? It’s a year since this product has been released and the avalanche of people who have problems with it is unending.

      Your Stora should not decide to crap out on you one day because of “bad nand blocks”. Personally, I really don’t care about “bad nand blocks” and as the customer of a “customer friendly device” I shouldn’t have to. It is why I purchased my Stora in the first place. I want the thing to sit on my network and perform its basic function properly. Unfortunately, you’ve/it’s proven that it can’t even do that.

      You know I was a very big supporter of the Stora. However, that confidence and and my enthusiasm for it has been broken.

      I still have high regard for Netgear – just not the Stora.

  7. Really really dissapointing Netgear. I’ve specifically been thinking about buying your Stora for a while. Not once when looking at the Stora either in the store or online did I notice the rider that you’d have to pay $19.95 (USD?) for some of the features. Not because the small print wasn’t there but because I so wasn’t expecting to have to keep an eye out for this sort of shennanigans.

    As it turns out today I’d finally decided to pop out and buy the Stora and thought that I’d do a quick Google to check reviews once again. Extremely pleased that I came across this review! Well done Ben. We have multiple mobile devices at home and quite frankly I expect them to work with a device like this just like any other device such as a notebook.

    When I buy an electrical appliance I don’t expect to have to pay an ongoing fee to use it. I hate the way that companies are always trying to turn products into services so that they can continue to monitise them even after they’re sold.

    Netgear, I’m just not interested in your device anymore. I don’t want an ongoing relationship with you. I don’t want to pay you money every year. I have the cash to spend so I guess I’ll have a hunt round and see what else is on offer, this time taking a careful note of the tricky little asterisks.

  8. I sincerely agree with the criticism of the Netgear’s subscription policy. After having bought a Stora today I was utterly disappointed to discover this ridiculous limitation on mobile device access and will return it to the shop first thing tomorrow. The distinction between mobile and stationary devices is completely artificial given the rapidly increasing capabilities of mobile browsers – and ethically highly questionable. A tragically bad idea, Netgear.

  9. So… clear this up for me, please… Web access of files is a “Premium Service” on mystora.com, but standard access to FTP isn’t. So if I used a simple, free FTP client on my Mac I would be able to access files on a Stora online for free? That’s what I gather… Am I right here?

    By the way, I was all set to buy a Stora until I happened upon the whole “Premium Service” thing in this review too… Not cool that they keep it a well hidden secret. I don’t actually NEED web access, but it would be a handy addition. It’s the fact that they keep it a secret that it costs that makes me hesitate…

  10. I’ve just purchased a Stora at a ludicrously low price (I think they’re dumping them!)
    I remember an old saying from my software days “A feature is a bug that’s documented”.
    I had completely failed to understand, until I tried to set it up, just how the Stora works. It’s based on an OEM version of Hipserv, which is also used in the Seagate GoFLex and the Verbatim Mediashare. Now there are devices -like the PogoPlug- that do the same thing -but they make it absolutely clear up front and don’t charge for the “premium” features.
    However I paid less than the price of a PogoPlug for a much better device -and now I know how it works I’m happy with it’s particular features -bar one!
    The one BIG issue is that the only root access to the device is controlled by Axentra -who run the Stora website for Netgear. This means they have UNLIMITED access to my data! If you turn it off or the box no longer works!
    To me that’s pretty much a show stopper. It’s bad enough when big internet organisations like Google and Ebay leak data, but we are expected to entrust the photos of our children, electronic bank statements, browser history and our password files all to an organisation that’s not even listed on an exchange.
    The good new is that there is a hacking site which has info on turning the box into a more secure, local device.

  11. One of the few good things about this piece of crap is that I can reclaim some of the cost by taking out the seagate hard drive. I will never buy another netgear product after this. I am severely insulted by the crap they added to restrict my access to this device. I used to like netgear but now I am going to start investing in DLink. Netgear should man up and release the fix to unlock the system, then I may think about buying a router from netgear in the future.

    Another good thing about this, is that it is such a piece of junk and I hate it so much that I am not worried about ruining it by trying the hacks. Good job of showing me why Ciscos has a partnership with D-Link and not netgear. I tried to connect to the box over the internet through the website (I have static IP) anytime I try to download anything on it it freezes and is unavailable. It is so useless you can’t even use the usb port to make it an external drive after you realize that the networking software is crap.

  12. Ive had one for about a year. It sucks. I have 1 vista pc and 2 linux variant netbooks. I can’t map/mount to any of them. Maybe I just suck but if it is supposed to be a NAS that is useable on those platforms for noobs I TOTALLY should be able to figure it out. Also, on the vista PC, it fails to map at every reboot, even with a .bat file in the start up folder that should do the trick. Did I say this sucks? Well, it does. Like John, Im now psyched to hack it cause it, well, sucks! Add netgear to the list of crappy hardware vendors like HP…

    1. I hate My Stora too. I am running win 7 64 bit with an i7 and 12 GB mem. Also a Netgear router and print server and this useless Stora. No wonder it was cheap. Sometimes it pops up in my computer, sometimes (mostly it doesn’t) I have tried various settings, some work until next time and then things happen such as it wont accept my password but will accept another local one then it disappears again. Mapping them as Network Drives also causes complete confusion on the next reboot. Mostly it is possible to get in via Firefox. However, who would want to put any data such as backups or sole copies of pictures etc. on a device as unreliable as this. I can just imagine trying to find the damn thing using a rescue CD. Because it was cheap (I got a free 500GB drive included) I am not that worried and have gone back to using e-sata and a built in caddie which are a lot faster anyhow. Apart from this piece of junk all my other network drives appear as regular as clockwork. What it has done is to put me off cheap NAS’s in general. This is the second time Netgear has caused me hassle as I had to revert to earlier firmware on my Router after an upgrade made my Skype phone’s sound like it was under water.

      1. I still hate my Stora BUT after I pulled out the 2 x 1TB drives and used one for normal backup I thought that I would have one last go at getting it to show up regularly on my PC. Googling the same problem for USB drives came up with several threads about altering the IRPStackSize in the registry. Most replies said it worked so I gave it a try. As this value did not exist on my PC I added a new sub key with a value of 21. Over the last 24 hours the Stora drive has appeared regularly in explorer after reboots and hibernation and I am feeling cautiously good that it will continue to do so.
        So much so that I have replace the other drive again and rebuilt RAID 1. (JBOD is possible in the updated firmware now). So it now seems to work and you can share videos and pictures etc. However its too slow for doing backups of large disks etc and I could never use their web software for running videos or jps’s. Luckily they run in real time using windows explorer.
        Full details at http://support.microsoft.com/kb/285089

  13. Have a look at OpenStora.com looks like you can enable most of the premium features with a little Linux know how.

  14. I’ve managed to make it work as a basic RAID device, but don’t look for useful upgrades at all. The subscription thing sucked, but they did at last break down and make it a “lifetime” subscription . . . I guess once they discontinued development and support for it.

    Major complaint – backing up Stora contents to a USB drive connected to the port has NEVER worked reliably (it seemed to work for a couple of weeks for some strange reason, but quit working and never worked again). No explanation or troubleshooting for this problem. Any ideas on how to make this featurework?

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