InfoWorld review: Rack-mount QNAP storage server packs a wallop

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With redundant power supplies, extensive backup options, and a wealth of handy features, the low-cost, multilingual QNAP TS-859U-RP offers flexible network storage to smaller shops

There's an area of the NAS landscape where the lines between consumer and corporate use are blurred. While high-end NAS arrays cost plenty of money, they also provide essential features like redundant power supplies and superior performance. At the lower end are the truly consumer-grade devices that might seem like they'll work in a corporate environment but fall short of meeting the essentials critical to infrastructures. They are, however, very cheap.

The blurry area is where you find low-cost NAS devices that offer performance and reliability features closer to those found on expensive arrays. The QNAP TS-859U-RP Turbo NAS is one of those examples, providing plenty of storage space with redundant power supplies in a rack-mount form factor at a low price: less than $3,000 with four 2TB hard drives.

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There's nothing flashy about the physical characteristics of the box: It's a 2U rack-mount system with eight 3.5-inch hot-swap, lockable drive bays, a two-line LCD screen, and some activity lights. It can handle just about any SATA-based drive you want to throw at it, up to 2TB per drive. My test system was outfitted with eight 750GB Western Digital drives, which provided a usable capacity of 4.8GB formatted as a RAID5 array with no hot-spare configured.

Inside the TS-859U-RP is a dual-core Intel Atom CPU, 1GB of DDR2 RAM, a 512MB flash-based system disk, two copper Gigabit Ethernet ports, and two eSATA ports for expansion. Generally speaking, that's enough hardware to get the job done for many storage requirements -- small virtualization workloads, file serving, and so forth -- while keeping costs down.

The initial configuration steps are common to NAS devices: Launch a volume spanning one or more disks, create some shares, possibly integrate with Active Directory for authentication and permissions, and go from there. Some enhanced options are also available, however, such as encrypting the volume with AES256, and the choice of either the ext3 or ext4 file system. Volumes can be created as RAID0, RAID1, RAID5, or RAID6, with additional selections for JBOD and single-disk volumes. Naturally, hot-spare drives can be configured as well.

Once armed with a valid volume, shares of any support type can be configured. The QNAP OS that runs the TS-859U-RP is essentially the same as the OS that drives other QNAP devices; as such, it offers CIFS, NFS, AFP, FTP, and Web file access. Surprisingly, the iSCSI support features MPIO (Multipath I/O) and MC/S (Multiple Connections per Second), which I wouldn't expect to find in an array at this price point. Also pleasing is that the TS-859U-RP is officially certified for use with Citrix Xen, Microsoft Hyper-V, and VMware virtualization solutions.

Although the TS-859U-RP is clearly aimed at the corporate market, it has a variety of features that are more commonly associated with consumer gear, such as the support for BitTorrent and eMule downloads, an iTunes music server, and photo and video sharing. It can also function as a Mac OS X Time Machine backup target.

A host of other features definitely aren't for the casual consumer, such as support for 802.3ad link aggregation, jumbo frames, and the ability to configure a virtual disk drive -- essentially an iSCSI target mounted on the device as if it were a local volume. The TS-859U-RP can also remotely replicate shares with other QNAP devices or act as an rsync client and server. There's even support for backups to Amazon S3 cloud storage.

The TS-859U-RP is built on an embedded Linux foundation, and it makes full use of that platform, offering a full LAMP stack and built-in Web applications, including WordPress, Joomla, and phpMyAdmin. Basically, the TS-859U-RP wraps a capable storage array around an open source application foundation.

Turbo NAS trade-offs
As with everything in life, there are trade-offs to be made when trying to balance cost versus performance. The TS859U-RP won't stack up to a storage array costing tens of thousands of dollars and running dedicated server-grade CPUs, but it will hold its own in general use. For reference, you can expect to get somewhere around 75MBps streaming writes and 110MBps streaming reads over NFS and SMB, as well as similar numbers on iSCSI. However, as you add highly transactional clients to the mix, expect the system to slow down.

Essentially, if there are only a few relatively heavy clients, it will deliver reasonable performance numbers. For most small to medium-size shops, the performance limitations won't present a problem, but I wouldn't aim three dozen busy VMware ESX host servers at a single TS-859U-RP and expect it to handle the load.

In short, the QNAP TS-859U-RP meets the small-to-midsize-business market in the middle. It's a feature-rich, easily implemented, business-grade NAS device that can scale to support a significant storage load without breaking the bank. Nobody will confuse it with a $50,000 NetApp system, but it offers much more than the price tag might indicate.

And for those shops that have $50,0000 NetApp systems, devices like the TS-859U-RP offer an incredibly cheap way to provide large amounts of scratch storage space, situational backup space during migrations, or an easy way to ship large amounts of data to remote locations for off-site backup purposes. When this much storage is available with these features for such an affordable price, all kinds of scenarios are suddenly possible.

This story, "InfoWorld review: Rack-mount QNAP storage server packs a wallop," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in storage and read Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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