Here's the easiest way to hook up a USB drive to a network we've seen yet. The $70 ($80 retail) Hitachi SimpleNET USB-to-Ethernet adapter is aptly named, because all you have to do is plug it into AC power, connect it to your network, and the two USB drives you can plug into it show up on your network-connected Mac, Windows or Linux-based PCs.
The little box amounts to a dongle, but looks are deceiving, because it'll pass through enough power to run a pair of USB drives. We attached them to the SimpleNET, install the included Bonjour software on our Windows 7 PC, and when we clicked on the SimpleNET drive icon that showed up on our PC's Network window couple of minutes later, both of the drives were showing up and ready to go. Yeah, that's simple alright.
The only drawback to SimpleNET is its relatively slow 10/100 Ethernet speed, but that won't bother you much unless you're running a gigabit Ethernet. For example, when we transferred a gigabyte's worth of files via SimpleNET through our gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000) here at DVICE's Midwest Test Facility, it took 4:20 (four minutes, 20 seconds). That's about 30 megabits per second. Compare that to the 1:34 (85Mbps) it took to send that same gigabyte of files from our gigabit-friendly server. So SimpleNET could be nearly three times faster on our network (85 megabits vs. 30 megabits per second) if it had a gigabit Ethernet interface.
Even though it's not that quick, SimpleNET is easy to set up , and it can function as an iTunes server, too. It's like instant NAS (network-attached storage). This is the kind of convenience that might make it easy for you to start performing a daily network backup of all your PCs onto a relatively cheap external USB drive. Simple, indeed.