InfoWorld review: QNAP Turbo NAS serves storage with the works

With a multitude of software options and strong support for VMware and Hyper-V, the QNAP NAS appliance can play many roles in a growing small business

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After initial setup, a simple Web interface -- accessible from the QNAP Finder or by browsing directly to the appliance -- provides access to all of the configuration aspects of the system. You don't need the QNAP Finder, but it makes life easier when managing multiple QNAP devices. Although IPv6 support is included for some of the storage features, the QNAP Finder seems to function only in the IPv4 world at the moment.

A rare feature in the QNAP line is called Share Folder Aggregation. Similar to symbolic links in the *nix world, Share Folder Aggregation allows the QNAP NAS to mount SMB shares on other servers and make those shares available in a new "Aggregated Folder." Because the QNAP does seem to play nice with Active Directory, I could easily see this as a way to give access to special directories without having to provide additional credentials to your workgroup users. This type of external file system mounting is even extended to the iSCSI world since this box can be either a provider or consumer of iSCSI connections.

Strong on iSCSI
In fact, I'm all warm and fuzzy over QNAP's iSCSI support, which goes a bit further than most. It isn't hard to turn an old server into an iSCSI target (to share storage with a VMware ESX server, for example) with open source software like FreeNAS or Openfiler. But QNAP makes iSCSI configuration dead easy -- perfect for a growing organization's first foray into server virtualization. It certainly worked well enough for my VMware ESX 3.5 test server, with perceived performance just a bit slower than my old Dell PowerEdge 2800 running Openfiler.

As opposed to the big boys in the iSCSI world, QNAP doesn't twist your arm to turn on iSCSI security. (As a counterpoint, Openfiler required me to turn on either LDAP or Active Directory authentication before it would offer up an iSCSI target.) So while QNAP does support CHAP and Mutual CHAP authentication for iSCSI, you aren't forced to use it. It takes quite a while for the NAS to format the iSCSI partition, but once that's done you'll find it very easy to set up your new iSCSI target in VMware ESX and Windows Hyper-V. Considering the use of unencrypted logins, you'll want to apply CHAP with care or think hard about making sure your iSCSI NAS is on an isolated network and away from prying eyes.

Two more features I didn't expect to find were support for MPIO (Multipath I/O) and MC/S (Multiple Connections per Session), which can be used to increase performance and reliability through the two Gigabit Ethernet ports on the appliance. It's important to keep in mind that, although MPIO and MC/S are implemented at different layers of the communications stack, QNAP strongly suggests that you do not implement both: choose one or the other. But combine either MPIO or MC/S with Jumbo Frame support on your upstream Gigabit switch and server, and you should get some big performance numbers from your inexpensive NAS.

QNAP Turbo NAS at a glance

Models tested Platforms Pros Cons
TS-419U (4-bay 1U rack mount, $799), TS-459 Pro (4-bay cabinet, $899), TS-639 Pro (6-bay cabinet, $1,099) Supported clients: Windows 2000, XP, Vista (32-bit and 64-bit), Windows 7 (32-bit and 64-bit), Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2008, Mac OS X, Linux, and Unix. Supported browsers: IE 7 and later, Firefox 3 and later, Safari 3 and later, Google Chrome.
  • Easy iSCSI setup
  • PC-less initial config
  • Third-party software add-ins through QPKG system
  • Discovery utility doesn’t force use of static addresses
  • Discovery utility also does drive mapping
  • GbE LAN port aggregation and failover (802.3ad)
  • Supports Active Directory and NT Domain authentication
  • Lacks support for LDAP
  • Running QNAP Finder on 64-bit Windows 7 requires a tech support call to get a download key
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