Review: 4 NAS appliances deliver big storage cheap
12-bay rack-mount systems from QNAP, Netgear, LenovoEMC, and Infortrend combine huge storage capacities, business-grade features, smooth setup, and easy administration
Netgear's ReadyNAS 4220 definitely had the most responsive and visually pleasing interface of the group. Graphical displays on the system performance page show plenty of detail on CPU, network, and storage. A pop-up display provides more detailed information when you hover the mouse over an item such as a disk number on the status page. Creating new shares or iSCSI LUNS pops up a simple form presenting pertinent information such as amount of space available.
The LenovoEMC PX12-450r uses icons to indicate the different functions and features, which are grouped together under a common theme such as network or storage. One nice feature of the QNAP unit is an automatic redirection when you change the IP address of the network interface. Others disconnect immediately and make you reenter the new address. One feature missing from the LenovoEMC PX12-450r interface is a network bandwidth display. LenovoEMC offers a Nagios plug-in, but provides nothing out of the box to show how much data is travelling across the Ethernet ports.
Virtualization and extras
Several products have features targeted squarely at supporting different aspects of virtualization. LenovoEMC has a feature called IVX for Integrated Virtualization Extension. It basically allows you to run a virtual machine on the NAS box itself using the embedded CPU and system memory. The possibilities were limited by the 8GB of system memory in my test system, but this feature could be useful for running a small footprint VM. Creating a VM requires storing an ISO file of the operating system install disk on the NAS and using VNC to connect into the running virtual machine.
The latest version of the QNAP operating system, QTS 4.1, includes partial support for SMB 3.0 (read: performance improvements) and support for Microsoft's ODX (Offloaded Data Transfer) feature. It also supports the SMI-S management standard for integration into Microsoft's System Center Virtual Machine Manager. Additional support for VMware's VAAI (vStorage APIs for Array Integration) brings a similar capability to Microsoft's ODX. QNAP also provides a plug-in for VMware's vCenter Server for managing storage resources.
Netgear's ReadyNAS includes the ability to install custom apps from a marketplace. Once loaded they appear on the main system page. Options include Dokuwiki, Media Wiki, WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, SugarCRM, a Subversion server, and lots more. QNAP has similar add-on support with apps such as Dropbox and Google Drive Sync, Drupal and Joomla, Git source code control, and many more. There is plenty of overlap, but QNAP's app catalog is definitely more extensive than Netgear's.
All four NAS products offer the essential features necessary to provide large amounts of storage to smaller organizations or workgroups. You could use 4TB drives to get 48TB of raw space if that's what you need. Most likely the decision will be driven mainly by available features such as cloud connectivity or virtualization support. Performance across the various products wasn't all that different, though the LenovoEMC and Netgear systems pushed more IOPS and the Infortrend and Netgear boxes suffered the highest latencies.
The difference in base cost is significant from low to high, but you get more features and better performance with the more expensive units. The QNAP TS-1279U-RP offers the most options and extras, while the LenovoEMC px12-450r offers stronger performance and the most cloud storage options. Overall, the Netgear ReadyNAS 4220 offers the best combination of performance, features, and polish.
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