BlackArmor NAS: A polished storage server with an open source heart

Seagate BlackArmor NAS 440 stands apart with smooth setup, a nice set of features, and potential for growth

Bottom Line

Seagate BlackArmor NAS 440 is a Johnny-come-lately to the NAS market, but Seagate seems to have done its homework. Aimed at small businesses with 50 or fewer employees, this Linux-based appliance is full-featured and flexible, with the promise of further extensibility via freeware and open source widgets in the near future.

Unlike a great number of NAS offerings on the market, the Seagate BlackArmor NAS 440 is more than just a small Linux box with Webadmin slapped onto it. Although late to the crowded SMB storage market, the BlackArmor appliance is a solid filer with a level of polish that should make it welcome in any small office seeking a few terabytes of network storage.

Seagate has done a good job of catching up with the Joneses. BlackArmor boasts the now-expected features, including fully enabled drive trays for easy expansion (BlackArmor 420 comes with two drives, but four trays), print server (unidirectional), backup utilities, dynamic DNS, USB backup and drive mounts, and the NFS/CIFS/FTP trio. However, Seagate has wrapped and polished these features in a way that stands out from its foreign competition. You could easily create a functional equivalent to BlackArmor using Openfiler, OpenNAS, or just straight Linux, but you'd have to work very hard to build it for the same bucks, the same power draw, and the same polish.

[ The Synology Cube Station, a 2009 InfoWorld Technology of the Year Award winner, is another sweet low-end NAS. See the Test Center's review. ]

My great frustration with testing NAS devices is that the available tools such as Iometer and IOzone are designed to bypass the bulk of the operating system and dive deep into the mechanics of the storage subsystems. As a computer scientist, what I really wanted was something that just about anyone could run and confirm my results. The answer turned out to be the new Intel NAS Performance Toolkit (see my review). It lets you run a wide range of tests -- from office document reads and writes to video playback and recording -- either separately or all at once, and it couldn't be simpler to use. See the results of my tests of the BlackArmor 440 (four 2TB drives in a RAID 5 configuration) in the table below:

Seagate BlackArmor 440 meets Intel NAS Performance Toolkit

  Median throughput (MBps)
HD Video Playback 40.7
2x HD Playback 43.6
4x HD Playback 41.5
HD Video Record 22.6
HD Playback and Record 33.0
Content Creation 10.4
Office Productivity 5.0
File copy to NAS 37.6
File copy from NAS 37.6
Directory copy to NAS 5.2
Directory copy from NAS 16.8
Photo Album 6.4
Tests were run from an Acer Veriton workstation (Intel Core 2 Duo E6420 2.13GHz CPU, 2GB of RAM) under Windows XP Pro SP3. The workstation and NAS were connected via an Extreme Networks Summit 400-24t switch. Although the Extreme Networks switch is not typical of an SMB network, it assured that the network switch would not be the bottleneck. These results are for a single Gigabit Ethernet network interface and no load sharing.
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