Review: 4 NAS appliances deliver big storage cheap

12-bay rack-mount systems from QNAP, Netgear, LenovoEMC, and Infortrend combine huge storage capacities, business-grade features, smooth setup, and easy administration

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From a network protocol perspective, the units are pretty much the same. Options include AFP, iSCSI, NFS, and SMB. If you're using VMware for virtualization, you'll want a box with support for NFS, iSCSI, or both. FTP is a protocol most users won't need, but there's support for it across the board. SMB support generally equates to SMB 2.0, but the latest QNAP software provides limited support for SMB 3.0, which is the latest version found in Windows 8.0/8.1 and Windows Server 2012/R2.

Syncing data remotely between two of these devices makes it possible to implement a disaster recovery plan. All of the systems I tested provide at least rsync for remote replication. Rsync has been around since the mid-'90s and provides a very basic synchronization capability using standard TCP port 873. All four systems also provide the ability to take advantage of LACP (Link Aggregation Control Protocol) to bind multiple Ethernet ports together to increase bandwidth. With four 1GbE ports, the LenovoEMC and Netgear systems effectively give you twice the potential bandwidth as the other systems.

Cloud connections
The ability to connect to various cloud services for backup and file syncing will be a key feature for many users. The LenovoEMC PX12-450r offers the most diverse set of cloud connection options of the group. It's the only product I tested with a built-in link to the Mozy backup service. The LenovoEMC also provides connections to Amazon S3, the EMC Atmos cloud storage service, and the EMC Avamar backup products. The Infortrend EonNAS 1510 did not come with any cloud service connections.

Netgear's ReadyNAS includes the ability to sync shares to a Dropbox account. Netgear also offers a number of its own cloud-based services, including ReadyCloud, ReadyDrop, ReadyNAS Remote, and ReadyNAS Replicate. ReadyCloud is a secure cloud portal that provides access to files on the ReadyNAS device via Web browser. ReadyDrop enables file synchronization between the ReadyNAS and users' PCs and Macs. ReadyNAS Remote provides a secure VPN for remote access to the storage device, as well as a secure link for ReadyCloud and ReadyDrop.

QNAP's cloud connections include an automated Dynamic DNS updater (DDNS) to provide access to remote users without requiring a static IP address for the NAS. QNAP also has an Amazon S3 replication feature, a link to the Symform file sharing service, and the ElephantDrive cloud storage provider. QNAP's Qsync service provides synchronization between the NAS and clients for Android, iOS, OS X, and Windows. QNAP's Real-time Remote Replication provides one-way replication from one QNAP device to another or to an FTP server in real time or per a specified schedule.

Management capabilities
All four NAS boxes provide similar Web-based management interfaces. You'll find icons with links to the typical management functions to configure network settings, manage storage, and install updates. For the most part, the systems provided a snappy Web interface for performing the typical management functions, though I experienced some slowness on the Infortrend EonNAS 1510 when switching pages. Power scheduling is a feature common to all the units, allowing you to set daily on and off times or configure different schedules for weekdays and weekends.

You won't need to update system firmware very often, but it should be an easy task to accomplish. Several of the systems will check in with the vendor website and compare the current firmware version with the latest available. An alert on the management page will let you know if a newer version is found. All of the systems provide the ability to manually update the firmware by uploading a file through the management Web page.

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