Reports Of My Ethernet Big Disk’s Death Are Greatly Exaggerated

It turns out that my first dedicated network drive, a LaCie Big Ethernet Disk, wasn’t dead as I suspected after all, merely in a state of suspended animation for the last eighteen months.

I’ve regularly returned to this LaCie drive over the last year and a half, because it housed some unessential data for which I had no back-up of. I’ve always hoped I could one day find a way to get at it again.

So, I returned to the unit again a few days ago, expecting another bout of brief head-scratching, followed by consignment of the device to the cupboard until the next time my curiosity auto-piqued.

This time, I decided to completely dismantled the thing. Why worry about rendering void an expired guarantee?

I thought I’d been hearing the drives spin up during my irregular tests over the last eighteen months, but what I’d actually been hearing turns out to have been the sizzling of the power adapter block. Seriously, up close, it sounded like bacon being fried, but from a distance, the sound was inseparable from that of spinning drives. Anyway, the drives themselves, as it turned out, were silent when I put my ear next to them. A good sign, to be sure.

I hadn’t previously suspected the power supply, because the blue light on the front of the drive housing was illuminated, as were the LAN lights at the back. This obviously meant that the drive was receiving electricity, at which point I ruled out the power supply as the possible cause of the problem. That left only the hard drives themselves and if those were buggered, well, game over, right?

A quick Google search now revealed many more similarly broken drive units than when I had first looked for others afflicted with this ailment back in June of 2008. Lo and behold, many people reported the same sizzling power supply problem, and the fact that the unit hadn’t completely shuffled off its mortal coil, but merely declined to the point that it could now power only the lights on the casing, not spin up the discs inside. Another very good sign!

I wish I had realised earlier that it was only the power supply at fault. I hadn’t even contacted LaCie at the time, believing the unit to be no longer under guarantee, its being just over a year in my possession. I also didn’t realise that a power supply unit could partially die and then stabilise at some drastically suboptimal level, the way many LaCie units apparently have.

It turns out that LaCie actually offered a two year guarantee on units back then (in Europe, at least), so I should have contacted them. If nothing else, they would have replaced the drive.

More likely, they would have known what was wrong and just supplied me with a new power supply free of charge. More fool me for not looking into it.

Incidentally, in case you run into a similar problem, you should be aware that LaCie currently offers a three year guarantee on new drive units.

I opened a ticket with LaCie, but they were adamant that they wouldn’t help me, because the drive is all of 2½ years old now. My retort that it had died when it was only one year old cut no ice with them.

I would have liked them to demonstrate a little more understanding, particularly in view of the fact that so many other users’ drives have had exactly the same problem, but they’re obviously not that kind of company. Some manufacturers will bend over backwards to help any customer with a problem, whether the unit is still under guarantee or not — just in the name of good customer service — but that’s only some companies; not LaCie.

Now almost certain that only a faulty power supply was standing between me and my old data, I bit the bullet and ordered a replacement from the LaCie Web site. At least they actually sell the accessory on-line. I had half expected it to not even be separately available, which would have been a problem, because it has a strange, proprietary four pin connector that meant no-one else’s adapter could be substituted in its place. Why do companies do this? I’m unpleasantly reminded of the 1001 different charger connectors that Nokia mobile phones have sported over the last fifteen years.

Anyway, for around €40 plus postage, I ordered a new 57W adapter. To LaCie’s credit, they did at least send it promptly.

Once it arrived, I plugged in the unit and, sure enough, the drives span up again.

A switch port mirroring and tcpdump session was required to figure out which IP address the thing was attempting to latch onto, and then I was able to log in and configure the drive again.

With that done, I took it down to the equipment cupboard and connected it to the UPS and core switch.

The next twelve hours saw the ReadyNAS pulling 56 Gb of data off the LaCie, where it’s now better protected against the vagaries of cheap consumer electrical goods.

I feel pretty daft for having remained in the dark for so long about such a trivial problem and its equally trivial fix, particularly as it ended up costing me not only time without my data, but also money for a new power supply.

I was even wrong about this being a single drive unit. Opening it up revealed two 320 Gb drives, not the single 640 Gb drive I was expecting to find.

The irony is that I currently actually need a USB drive for the purpose of back-up, but this one can only be connected over Ethernet. I wouldn’t really mind, but I have to mount this drive over CIFS, which is less than ideal on an almost exclusively UNIX-like network (and especially when you consider that the LaCie unit actually uses XFS internally). The drive has a USB port, but annoyingly, it can function only as a USB host, which means that you can connect other devices and have the LaCie present them for use, but you can’t make the LaCie subordinate to another device that is serving as a USB host.

Since I’ve already got two ReadyNAS units in the house, one of which has an external Seagate drive connected over USB, I’d like to connect the LaCie to the other one. If both devices can only host other USB devices, however, doing so isn’t going to get me anywhere.

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