New highs for low-end storage

There's never been a better time to buy into low-end high-capacity storage

If I adjust the onion on my belt, I can recall a time when my 45MB Priam RLL hard drive was too massive for comprehension. It was also simply massive: 5.25 inches, full height, as loud as a siren, and a great addition to my 386SX/16. Ahh, the good old days.

Nowadays, 45MB is a reasonable size for, say, the EULA on most large commercial software packages. Terabyte hard drives are becoming the norm, and the future looks bright ... but who's controlling all that storage? In most cases, folks at home are attaching large drives to their PCs or Macs and sharing them from Windows or Mac OS. This is a pretty simple solution, but it isn't really the best idea, especially when PC-introduced viruses or other corruption can destroy all your music, photos, and videos in the blink of the proverbial eye. Those of us who are tech-savvy know the value of backups, as does anyone that's already had the misfortune of losing years' worth of data to an errant drive head and a scratched platter. But what does it take to back up a terabyte drive in your house? Another terabyte drive, of course.

And this is where I discovered that my mom not only knows what RAID is, but knows that she needs RAID1. Talk about high-tech entering the common vernacular.

These days, if you're buying a large disk for storage of any sort, you really must insist on at least RAID1. Those big external drives that are actually two physical disks in a RAID0 stripe are a really bad idea. It doubles the available space, sure, but it also doubles the risk of complete data loss, because when one disk goes, all the data on both drives is gone. I've documented my trials with cheap reliable storage over the past few years, including my now-defunct 3ware-powered central server, up through my current central file server, the Synology CS-407 that I reviewed earlier this year. I'm coming up on nearly a full year of continuous service from that CS-407, with no problems to report -- which is obviously the ultimate goal of these devices.

In the past year, more and more people have realized the importance of small-scale redundant storage, from IT pros to, well, my mom. Devices like those from Synology are benefiting from this knowledge, and are trying to meet the demand for easily configurable, reliable personal central storage. LaCie, NetGear, Buffalo, and Cavalry are all offering home NAS systems with a variety of configurations. The upshot is that if you have more than one PC in your home (or any of the more modern console gaming systems), you should be skipping the USB and FireWire drives and heading straight for the home NAS appliances.

Synology is also branching out into the SMB market with a few new devices that offer the same platform as their home units, but with rackmount and redundant power options. The upshot is that it's possible to plunk down only a few thousand dollars to get a multiterabyte storage server that supports Microsoft AD authentication, CIFS, NFS, AFS, FTP, and HTTP file sharing, all wrapped in a RAID5 package with SATA drives. It certainly won't hold a candle to a high-end SAS storage server, but it's also about one-tenth the cost for reasonable performance. The big storage vendors are also seeing this lower-end push; NetApp, for example, is currently steering its StoreVault line to the SMB market.

In the larger datacenter, these devices may not be suitable for mission-critical storage due to their lower performance as compared to their higher-end cousins, but they can still be used in a wide variety of applications that don't require high throughput. Disk-to-disk-to tape backups; image storage for PC and laptop images; nearline backups of highly available central storage; a holding ground for test/lab VMs from Xen, VMware, or any other virtualization platform; a catalog of music to be pumped at midnight during planned maintenance on datacenters; whatever -- there's always a need for big, cheap storage in every organization.

At the end of the day, no matter what the EMC sales rep says, you don't need to store backups of ex-employees' mailboxes on high-end Fibre Channel storage arrays -- a Synology RS408 is likely to be more than adequate.

Speaking of the Synology RS408, I'm currently testing one in the lab now for an upcoming review. All I can say so far is that the new AJAX Web interface for the Synology NAS line may be the most attractive, navigable, and usable appliance interface I've ever used. It really is impressive.

So as the high-end consumer and low-end enterprise storage offerings merge, and you suddenly realize that you've exhausted the storage on yet another external hard drive, remember that friends don't let friends run RAID0. Same goes for colleagues and especially IT directors.

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