Between the two of us, Fiona and I have a large collection of audio CDs, and an even larger stack of vinyl LPs which rarely see the light of day. I’d been planning for some time to find a mechanism that would make all of them more accessible. Over the Christmas period I purchased a Linksys NSLU2 (affectionately known as a SLUG) and a 250GB Buffalo DriveStation.
The DriveStation is an external USB hard drive and the SLUG is a device that makes up to 2 USB drives visible on a LAN. Assembly is simple: Connect the SLUG to a 10/100 LAN using a RJ-45 Ethernet connector and connect the DriveStation to one of the SLUG’s two USB ports – it’s as simple as that. Once both devices are powered up the SLUG can be configured and the DriveStation formatted through a web-browser interface and in less than 10 minutes from opening the boxes the system is ready to use.
In operation, the external drive looks exactly like a shared drive on a networked PC would look but with the SLUG playing the role of the PC. Neither device contains a cooling fan and so both are almost silent in operation. The SLUG is about 5 inches high, 4 inches deep and about an inch wide. The DriveStation is about 7 inches high, 6 inches deep and about 2 inches wide. Their small size allows them to be tucked away, out of sight, and in our case connected directly to a wireless router which means that the huge storage capacity is available from anywhere within the home over the wireless LAN.
So far so good, but the interesting stuff is yet to come. The SLUG is a Linux powered device around which a community of open source developers have built a modified firmware (Unslung) and operating system which can be really easily installed. The modifications retain all of the existing functionality of the Linksys default firmware but turn the device into an accessible Linux system too.
The SLUG makes its USB attached drives visible as Samba shares. Samba is the well established application that runs on Linux and UNIX systems that wish to allow portions of their file storage to be visible in a Microsoft Windows network. But by upgrading the SLUG to the Unslung firmware it is possible to install a host of other applications too.
One of the first changes I made was to install OpenSSH which allows me to securely connect to the device from another machine on a connected network and gain shell access to the SLUG. This made it easy to upgrade the system yet further.
Once we had ripped a significant number of our CDs to the device using Windows Media Player or iTunes I looked around at alternative ways of making the music available. Several mechanisms are possible:
1. Using a simple network share, and mapping it to a local drive, is sufficient for Windows Media Player to pick up the files and include them in its library. Similarly iTunes can be persuaded to work in the same way although you need to be careful to ensure that it doesn’t attempt to make copies of the files on the PC from which it is running.
2. The free package mt-daapd is a great way to make audio on the SLUG accessible from systems running iTunes on the local LAN.
3. The very reasonably priced TwonkyVision package is a UPnP server that can deliver both audio and video from the SLUG to other network connected devices. The number of appliances capable of working with TwonkyVision is growing rapidly.
I tend to use Windows Media Player from my laptop and so the simple network share solution works for me.
The OpenVPN package for the SLUG enables you to take things a stage further. Installing OpenVPN allows a secure network connection to be made between two machines or two networks over the Internet. For me, this enables me to call up music stored on the SLUG at home from my work environment and play it through Windows Media Player as if it was stored locally.
I’m currently looking at hardware developments, such as the Noxon-2 or the Zensonic Z500, with a view to purchasing a UPnP capable device that will allow me to stream video direct to the lounge or music direct to any room in the house. Why get up to change a CD every half hour when you can compile a complete playlist of music in advance and forget about it!
Oh and, what to do with the hundreds of gigabytes of remaining storage? Well, it’s nice to know that somewhere, tucked away in the house, is a quiet and insignificant looking unit that contains a complete backup copy of all those files and photos that you think you have on DVD.