InfoWorld review: Superior storage for small networks

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A small-business NAS with Big Iron roots, Netgear's ReadyNAS is full-featured and flexible, with options for SOHO users up through enterprise workgroups

The Netgear ReadyNAS series of network attached storage units serve as a prime example of how the industry has changed over the years. They were originally a product of Infrant Technologies, a veteran of mainframe disk subsystems that poured decades of serious storage experience into the small drive system for SMBs. Nearly four years into Infrant's acquisition by Netgear in May 2007, the ReadyNAS line now stretches from SOHO to enterprise NAS.

Although designed for the small to midsize enterprise, the ReadyNAS line remains true to its roots and its early success with vertical market integrators who wanted a platform that was both reliable and gave them wiggle room to customize. Instead of taking the high-level language route to extensibility (as competitor QNAP does, through support for Python add-ons), ReadyNAS has the ability to cross-compile the amazing collection of Linux applications to extend its capabilities. A look through Netgear's community forum reveals a dizzying array of developers who've embraced the ReadyNAS platform to offer specialized solutions and add-ons, such as continuous data protection over lossy WANs, streaming applications, SSH, rsync, and many others. I've even heard rumors of Asterisk being ported to this platform.

Little big NAS

The ReadyNAS 3200 caught me by surprise when it arrived on its own shipping mini-pallet and was plastered with icons indicating a two-person lift. The massive 3RU, 12-drive chassis with optional redundant power, optional third and fourth GbE interfaces, X-RAID2 multidrive parity, and VMware support show that Netgear is dipping its toes into the enterprise market. Providing 24TB of storage for less than $10,000, this is definitely a solution to keep an eye on when planning your next storage upgrade. I should also mention that -- unlike the name-brand enterprise vendors -- Netgear doesn't require you to purchase insanely expensive drive trays. Just pop out an empty and add a drive of your choice. You'll even find a hardware compatibility forum area where users discuss which drives have been working well for them.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Virtualizing servers in a small to midsize business reaps many rewards, and the virtualization is free. See "Test Center guide: Virtualization for the rest of us" and "Free high availability: Create a XenServer virtualization cluster." ]

Netgear said it would address the complex password issue. The other limitations don't detract much from Netgear's really clean NAS implementation, which also features frills such as desktop widgets for the Yahoo Widget Engine and the Mac (though I wonder why there's no Google Desktop Gadget). The RAIDar widgets provide system status at a glance, and they can kick out SNMP and SMTP email alerts, making life easier for the SMB admin without requiring a full-fledged SNMP management console.

When asked to compare this series of production NAS offerings to a "roll your own" alternative based upon Linux, my answer comes down to power, heat, noise, and maintenance. The Openfiler implementation I built on a Dell PowerEdge 2800 (two dual-core Xeon CPUs, 4GB of RAM, PERC RAID controller) delivers superb performance, but the old PowerEdge sucks up nearly 1,000 watts, puts out a lot of heat, and emits a deafening racket. The ReadyNAS 3200 delivers the same performance at nearly a quarter of the power and heat, and it's substantially less noise -- about 80db to the PowerEdge's 100db, in my unofficial measurements.

You might succeed in building a small-footprint NAS that could be flash upgraded, use less than 100 watts, produce less than 50db of noise, and still provide all of the ReadyNAS capabilities, but it would be a challenge. More important, you wouldn't want to foist the do-it-yourself maintenance on the typical office manager.

Soft small- to midsize-business underbelly

Not that service and support is on a par with those of top-tier enterprise storage vendors -- the entire small- to midsize-business NAS market segment is devoid of field service options, even for rack-mount systems like the ReadyNAS 3200. Like the QNAP and Seagate NAS offerings I've reviewed, the ReadyNAS is dependent upon overnight express for repairs and replacements. However, it's clear that the ReadyNAS 3200 is built on a SuperMicro chassis, so if you want to stock a few spare parts you'll know where to get them.

The ReadyNAS 3200's smaller cousin, the four-drive ReadyNAS NVX cabinet unit, is very clearly a crossover device that works just as well at home as in the office. The smaller NVX has home-savvy features, including a print server; support for IP Web cameras; support for FAT32, NTFS, Ext2, and Ext3 file systems; and USB ports for plugging in external drives, flash devices, and printers. At the same time, it shares all of the business-oriented features of the ReadyNAS 3200, including support for Active Directory and NT Domain authentication, UPS monitoring and automatic shutdown, and community-developed software add-ins.

Whereas many competitors are limited to Windows clients and CIFS, the ReadyNAS supports backups for both Macs and PCs over a large number of protocols: CIFS, NFS, FTP, HTTP, and rsync. It even talks to Mac OS 9 legacy machines through the older AFP (Apple Filing Protocol) so that K-12 schools with ancient Macs don't get left out in the cold.

All in all, the Netgear ReadyNAS is full-featured, fast, extensible, and available in models to serve SOHO through enterprise workgroup needs. It's a great general-purpose NAS that can play many different roles traditionally held by much more expensive and support-intensive solutions.

Intel NAS performance toolkit results (MBps)

  ReadyNAS NVX ReadyNAS 3200 ReadyNAS 3200 (iSCSI)
HD video playback 40.1 45.7 41.5
2x HD playback 37.0 48.3 77.4
4x HD playback 36.0 48.7 86.0
HD video record 42.4 66.3 43.6
HD playback and record 39.9 62.1 60.7
Content creation 16.8 17.8 8.6
Office productivity 29.0 42.5 40.0
File copy to NAS 42.7 67.7 45.5
File copy from NAS 41.2 46.1 41.2
Directory copy to NAS 12.0 22.5 8.6
Directory copy from NAS 19.2 24.1 31.7
Photo album 10.8 14.8 15.8
Notes: 1. Tests were run from an Intel Core 2 Quad 2.5GHz workstation (4GB of RAM, 1TB 7200 SATA II hard drive, Intel CT Series Desktop GbE NIC) under 32-bit Windows XP Pro SP3. Each result represents the median value of five batch runs in a row to eliminate the effects of simple buffering. Tests were conducted over a single Gigabit Ethernet network interface with no load sharing. 2. iSCSI tests were run using the Microsoft iSCSI Initiator Version 2.08 and 2GB of RAM (as per Intel instructions to avoid caching).

This story, "InfoWorld review: Superior storage for small networks," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in network storage and data center at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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