NAS shoot-out: Netgear ReadyNAS Pro 6

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The ReadyNAS scores with simple setup, easy management, and the best hardware in its class

Netgear is the leader in this segment of the NAS market, and it's easy to see why. The hardware is solidly built, and the software makes it quick and simple for almost anyone to get up and running quickly. Netgear also offers a wide variety of backup solutions to fit your needs. And while many of the competitors in this playing field are taking "everything but the kitchen sink" approaches, Netgear seems to be more clearly focused on the business customer.

The Netgear ReadyNAS Pro 6 is the largest NAS box Netgear makes before you get into the company's rack-mount server lineup. I received a unit with six Seagate Constellation ES (ST32000644NS) hard drives, and dozens of other drive models are supported. Netgear provides a full hard disk compatibility list on its website (I only wish the list highlighted enterprise-rated drives versus consumer-rated drives). If you want to pay extra for 3TB hard drives, you can choose from six different drives: three from Hitachi, two from Seagate, and one from Western Digital.

Netgear ReadyNAS Pro 6: Hardware considerations
The build quality of the Netgear ReadyNAS is without question the highest in this roundup. Fit and finish are excellent. The hard drive trays are as well-built as the case itself -- a quality you would expect to find in more expensive, enterprise-grade NAS boxes, in contrast to the flimsy plastic trays used by the other manufacturers. The only issue I see with the Netgear cabinet is that there's no way to lock the front panel. The hot-swappable trays have a recessed lock switch, which may prevent an accidental removal but remains vulnerable to theft.

The face of the unit sports a single USB 2.0 port (with dedicated backup button), the power key, and an OLED screen. The display is very readable, but it's for information only; there are no buttons or controls for interacting with what's shown, not even for initial setup. All configuration and management is handled through software.

The back of the unit is dominated by two large fans, two USB 2.0 ports, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, and a Kensington lock slot that was a complete surprise but could be useful to someone. Netgear includes no USB 3.0 ports and no expansion slots in this model.

Netgear ReadyNAS Pro 6: Software and administration
Netgear provides a handy Java-based utility (for Windows, Mac, and Linux) called RAIDar to assist with the setup. As long as your PC and the NAS are on the same network, RAIDar automatically discovers the ReadyNAS and walks you step by step through the installation. Once the NAS is configured, you'll probably never use RAIDar again -- unless you want to reformat the drives, because formatting cannot be done via the Web interface.

Netgear's Web GUI is getting long in the tooth compared to the competition, but it's both functional and straightforward. You can take the wizard-based path, which will hold your hand all the way through the setup process. If you are not technically inclined, you'll find this extremely helpful. If you have some IT knowledge, you'll probably find it frustrating. It's a difficult balancing act, and Netgear has done a good job of it. Overall, the Web interface is both functional and straightforward, and only power users will feel held back. Except for installation and RAID configuration, use of the wizard is optional.

Like Iomega, Netgear throws in features -- an iTunes server and UPnP and DLNA media streaming -- that really aren't important to business users. In my opinion, Netgear customers would be better served if these were provided as ReadyNAS add-on modules. For business customers, these extras are an unnecessary distraction.

Netgear ReadyNAS Pro 6: Backups and cloud services
Netgear combines the standard backup options and a three-pronged cloud strategy. Let's cover the most basic pieces first. Rsync, Time Machine, and backups via the USB ports are all here. In my testing, these worked as expected and produced no surprises. I like the ability to program the backup button on the front of the unit for on-the-fly backups of specific folders and files. However, considering many business users might not be comfortable with rsync or remember to do their own backups with a USB hard drive, these features probably will not get much use. The real "secret sauce" is Netgear's three different options for "cloud backup." These solutions will be what most business customers are going to use.

Among these, the easiest is the ReadyNAS Replicate solution. ReadyNAS Replicate is similar to Iomega's Personal Cloud solution, but whereas Iomega provides the replication service for free, Netgear charges a one-time software license fee of $199 for each desktop NAS ($399 per rack-mount device). Once this software is installed on each of your ReadyNAS boxes, you can start replicating data. A word of advice: If you have a considerable amount of data, you should do your first backup job with both boxes on the same network. As with any backup like this, the first job mirrors all of your data, so having both devices on the same LAN will speed up the process.

The next option is Netgear's ReadyNAS Vault, a cloud-based backup solution powered by provider VaultServices. ReadyNAS Vault is as straightforward to set up and use as ReadyNAS Replicate, but the data is backed up (in an encrypted format) in the cloud. You pay a monthly or annual fee based on how much storage you need. If you don't want to support a second ReadyNAS box at a second site, then the ReadyNAS Vault might be a good solution for you. However, I'd prefer to deploy a second NAS box instead of paying a monthly or annual fee.

Finally, Netgear also bundles a cloud-based storage and file sharing service in partnership with Egnyte. The Egnyte Cloud File Server (see review) syncs with shares on the NAS, giving you the ability to access your files from the Internet wherever you are. You might use Egnyte to share data with off-site employees, different office branches, or business partners. The Egnyte software is well done, and you can easily manage and monitor the data being accessed. Still, with free solutions available from other NAS vendors, as well as services such as Dropbox and SugarSync, I struggle to see the point in paying between $30 and $125 per month for Egnyte.

Netgear ReadyNAS Pro 6: Performance
In my performance testing, the Netgear ReadyNAS was middle of the pack. That is not a bad thing. The performance never jumped around with the different protocols that I was using, nor did I ever feel that the box was struggling. By default, the ReadyNAS uses Netgear's own custom RAID setup called X-RAID2, which is designed to automatically expand your volume capacity whenever you add more hard drives. Given this convenience, I have no doubt that 99 percent of Netgear customers will use this format out of the box. From my testing, I could see that Netgear has tweaked the performance of the ReadyNAS when using X-RAID2 versus RAID10. In every test, X-RAID2 proved considerably faster than RAID10.

For the results of my performance tests, see the mainbar, "NAS shoot-out: 5 storage servers battle for business." For the reviews of the competing products, follow these links: Iomega StorCenter px6-300dQNAP TS-659 Pro II Turbo NAS | Synology DiskStation DS1511+ | Thecus N5200XXX.

Netgear ReadyNAS Pro 6

Drives tested6 x Six Seagate Constellation ES (model ST32000644NS). Specs: 2TB, 7,200 rpm, 64MB cache, SATA 3.0Gbps interface
Pricing18TB, $4,999.99; 12TB, $3,799.99 (as tested); 6TB, $2,799.99; 3TB, $1,799.99
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