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Jon Bach (President)

A Look at Popular NAS Units

Written on April 6, 2008 by Jon Bach
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Network Attached Storage (NAS) has been on my mind quite a bit in the last year.  With the birth of my son last May, my wife and I are going crazy with our digital camera, and what used to be a nice and spacious hard drive is no longer adequate.  What's worse, we've found that video is a much better way to capture all the little things we want to remember, which probably increases our storage needs by a factor of 100! 

On the business side, we're encountering the same thing.  As our company grows, the 200GB network share we all use for shared storage has become both too small, and dangerously difficult to back up.  As we expand our website with more and more multimedia content, the need for "scratch space" has grown  exponentially.

Both at home and at the office, we need more space, and we need a good level of protection from data loss.   A NAS is a natural choice.

However, both of these things are simply convenient motivators for the real reason I'm looking deeply into NAS -- the point is that if I need one in my personal and business life, then our customers do too.  Some items, like speakers or monitor, are fairly cut and dry when it comes to selection.  With Network Attached Storage, I see a huge variation in the products out there.  Reliability, speed,  usability, features -- there is a large set of differences from product to product, and that is an excellent opportunity for Puget Systems.  We can do what we do best:  look at all the options, pick the top contenders, order them in and test them ourselves, and then pick the best ones to recommend to our customers.  It is the same philosophy we apply to the rest of our product line -- use our experience and connections to pick the best, and cut through the hype of the industry to help people see what products truly are great.

What inspired me to write this is that I have come across a product I consider to be truly great.  My search for NAS units started with online searches -- looking for the most popular units with the best online reviews.  I settled on and ordered in an Intel SS4000 and a Buffalo Terrastation Pro II to look at in more detail.  I was disappointed to learn that with Buffalo, I was required to buy the hard drives from them.  I didn't like that idea -- I wanted to be able to offer any configuration possible to our customers, and I didn't want to be locked into a separate, unknown RMA process for the hard drives, when our Seagate hard drives are already known to be very reliable, and with an excellent RMA process.  Unfortunately, the Buffalo unit came out ahead of Intel in pretty much every way.  The Intel unit was significantly slower, had much less features, and had a slower, more clunky web interface.  I was torn -- I really wanted the Intel to win, but Buffalo came out on top in terms of raw performance.

I took it to the next level with each -- I talked to Buffalo about my concerns, and told them about what an easy choice it would be if I could just buy their units without hard drives.   Unfortunately, they wouldn't budge, not even when I was talking to their business development representative.

With Intel, I had a very different result.  I got in touch with the channel manger for that product, and laid out my concerns about the performance lag I was seeing.  The answer was exactly what I was hoping for:  "We actually have a new unit launching, called the SS4200-E, and it is 5 times faster.  I'll send you an evaluation unit."   Awesome.

I was excited to see the unit, and it arrived a few weeks ago.  When I first turned it on, I was happy to see it was the quietest of all the NAS units I've tested (still not silent, but not bad at all).  I immediately ran my set of file transfer benchmarks.  When I see claims of "5 times faster" I'm skeptical.   It rarely happens.  In this case, it is true that "5 times faster" is a bit of a stretch, but not by much!  Check out the benchmarks:

What you see is that the new Intel SS4200-E is indeed 5 times faster!  However, only in certain situations.  What you're seeing is a dramatic increase in raw CPU power on the unit.  That makes file writes faster, and makes the overhead much less of an issue with small file writes.  This power totally tips the scales of performance.


The improvements continue with the user interface.  It is much faster, and is loaded with features.  Hook it up to a UPS unit (via USB), and it enables write-caching for even greater performance.  Cut power on the UPS, and it will gracefully shut down the NAS.  It has file indexing, Windows media services, easy-to-mange folder quotas and limits, a workstation backup-client, integrated FTP server, and email alerts (if a disk fails, for example).  Plug in a digital camera to USB port, and it copies the pictures into your photos folder automatically.  Plug in a USB thumb drive, USB hard drive, or E-SATA hard drive, and it puts it up on a network share automatically.  I'm very happy with the ease of use, and the thought that went into making this a product that "just works."

I'm very happy to say that this is exactly what I wanted:  the quality, relationship, and warranty of Intel, with the speed and features that are needed for it to be a competitive product.  This is the best of both worlds.  I've already bought one for my home and one for our office.

Tags: NAS, Intel SS4200-E, file transfer, Buffalo Terrastation, Intel SS4000
Bob Boerner

Thanks for the post. There is very little in the way of hands on experience with this unit on the web, so a first hand account was welcome. May I asked where you purchased your unit from?

Posted on 2008-04-07 21:03:30

Thanks Bob! We just got it from one of our distributors, nothing special. As a consumer, you could order them through us, or just head over to NewEgg if you only need the hardware. For the evaluation units, we got them directly from Intel and Buffalo.

Posted on 2008-04-07 21:19:09
Alan

Hi Jon. Still happy with the unit? I would like to throw our SS4000 over a cliff.

Posted on 2008-05-12 14:32:13

Yep, we definitely are. However, I ended up buying Puget's old SS-4000 when the company upgraded to the SS-4200, so I'm using the SS-4000 at home (sucessfully). I'd definitely move to the SS-4200 if given the chance though.

Posted on 2008-05-12 19:03:16
Kevin

Hey Jon,

Thanks so much for the great blog post about NAS. I purchased a Video Editing Workstation from you guys (best purchase I ever made), with 4 internal HD's and I use two external drives totaling a combined 3 TB. Nearly half of that is backup of course... so really I'm 1.5 TB of working space right now, and I'm nearly filled up.

Because my company has migrated completely to HD video production, our demands on storage is great.

I would really like to learn more about these NAS systems such as the SS4200-E. Looking at the specs at Intel's website, it seems that it only accepts 4 HD's, so I would suspect the working space would be well under 4TB for a raid 5 or 10???

My concerns are that I need to have 8+ TB of space in a NAS, simply because of video storage.

Would Puget be able to offer a puget-fan such as myself some NAS options that are inline with the reliability, performance and feature-set of the SS4200-E but on a bit larger scale storage-wise? Or is there options for using multiple SS4200-E's connected to one PC? I'd definitely be interested in getting started with a NAS system if it all was possible for our storage requirements!

Thanks again for the great blog. One of my favorite things about you guys is your depth of knowledge and willingness to share it!

Take care,
Kevin

Posted on 2008-06-03 01:09:31
Kevin

Hey Jon,

One thing I forgot to ask about NAS and other RAID systems....

Is there a need to backup a NAS? In other words... if all the drives are in RAID 5 or 10, is the raided nature of the drives itself self-preserving? I'm a crazy nut who can't sleep at night unless I know there is no way I can lose all my data.

Everyone always says that with RAID, you can lose one or maybe two drives and still be able to reindex after replacement. Is that guaranteed? And I would assume you could have a RAID controller go bad as well.

Have you see the DROBO? I've had a chance to use the DROBO and it worked extremely well... it's big drawback though is it's only USB interface. However, I believe they are offering DROBOSHARE, a networking device for their drives. They are 4 drive capacity.

Thanks Jon!

Kevin

Posted on 2008-06-03 01:15:54

Thanks Kevin!

The SS4200-E takes four hard drives, so the maximum usable volume would be 3TB. Once you get above 4-disk NAS units, they get very expensive and less mainstream. What I would do, if I needed an 8TB NAS, is simply build a computer! You can easily fit 15 hot-swappable disks in a Coolermaster Stacker 810 case, and using a 16 port 3Ware controller, you can have the same fault tolerance found in the NAS systems. The specs of the computer can be minimal -- lowest end CPU, 1GB memory. Just make sure it has good Gigabit LAN! For best performance, you can even use a PCI-E LAN card from Intel. The main concern will be number of users -- with Windows XP Pro, only 5 people can be connected at one time. If you need more than that, you'd either need to move to Windows Server (expensive) or Linux (not as intuitive).

Anyhow, that's how I'd do it. We'd be happy to quote you a setup like that if you get in touch with our sales folks (sales@pugetsystems.com).

To answer your question about protection -- RAID5 protects you from ONE disk failure. If two disks fail, you've lost data. RAID10 gets you less space, but you can lose as much as half your drives before you lose data (depending on which drives go). You can specify hot spare drives -- so if you have a 15 disk RAID5 array, you can make a few of them hot spares. This means that they are not used until a disk fails, at which time they instantly step in as a replacement.

In the end, NAS units are just one step towards data protection. You could still have a power surge, theft, flood, virus....anything that could take out more than one disk at once. Personally, I only feel truly protected once I have two NAS units running, in separate locations, sync'ing each other's content nightly.

Haven't heard of DROBO, sorry!

Posted on 2008-06-03 03:30:27
George

Wow, you guys are some paranoid people! I just have my system drive with OS and expendable software and data, then a second hard drive with my valuable data on it. I turn on my external drive every so often and sync my second drive up with it.

It makes formatting and reinstalling Windows so much easier! All I have to do is clear files from the desktop, dir > print my PF so I remember what I've got installed, and copy My Documents to my iPod for the reinstall :P

Posted on 2008-06-11 01:14:29
Robert

What do you guys think about the READYNAS PRO BUSINESS EDITION 1.5 TB NAS (3 X 500 GB)

Web site URL http://www.netgear.com/Prod...

I bought the drobo, and as long as you fill all the bays you should be fine. otherwise you will have a major performance hit.

Posted on 2008-11-10 20:40:53