NAS for all seasons
Storage appliances hit their respective targets
When NAS appliances first came out, analysts said they would commoditize the file server market. Instead, they've become file servers, many of which are based on specialized versions of Windows Server, Linux, or NetWare. Three types of NAS solutions dominate the market -- ATA-based, SCSI-based, and FC (Fibre-Channel) based -- and these appliances come in varying shapes and sizes, from those tailored to small businesses and remote offices on up to the enterprise.
To get a feel for the state of the art, I looked at three NAS appliances: First Intelligent Array's (FIA) POPnetserver 8000 NAS, Hewlett-Packard's StorageWorks NAS b3000 v2, and InoStor's InteliNAS 9000.
The POPnetserver, with a proprietary NOS, is a great value. It has a maximum capacity of 2TB, very easy setup and administration, and a lot of bang for the buck, making it ideal for small businesses without full-time IT support.
The InoStor box, also with an NOS, adds an expandable chassis for a maximum 2.6TB capacity and offers a great feature set, successfully targeting enterprises that need to add storage for branch or remote offices, or even departmental servers.
Finally, aimed squarely at the enterprise, HP's b3000, which runs on Windows Server, stands out with a maximum expandable capacity of 48TB, augmented by superb performance.
Because each NAS appliance has a different intended market, I looked beyond performance in my testing, paying careful attention to feature sets, setup, and administration.
FIA POPnetserver 8000 NAS
The FIA POPnetserver 8000 NAS is typical of ATA-based NAS appliances, with great ease of use, excellent performance, and unrivaled cost per gigabyte. It also offers a nice management application, though not quite the level of logging and monitoring capability offered by the HP and InoStor boxes. At $7,999, this system is the least expensive of those I tested, and it certainly performs admirably against much more expensive NAS systems.
The FIA box I tested had eight 185GB drives installed, for a formatted capacity of 996GB, with a RAID 5 configuration and one drive set up as a hot spare (1.175TB with all eight drives used). It also included two 10/100/1000 Ethernet interfaces, dual-power supplies, and a SCSI port for adding a tape drive. The system is available with eight 250GB drives, for a raw capacity of 2TB.
Each drive has a dedicated ATA controller channel, and there are four separate disk controllers to keep PCI bus speed from limiting throughput. The drives can be replaced without taking the system down, giving the solution an advantage over many ATA-based systems. Additional copper or fiber gigabit NICs can be added to the system as well, and multiple Gigabit Ethernet connections can be trunked together for additional performance or fail-over.
The POPnetserver boasts a host of useful features. It sends e-mail alert notifications to the administrator; includes support for a number of tape-backup programs; offers a snapshot function to create a replica of critical data; and supports ample networking standards including Windows, Macintosh, Unix, and NetWare. It is also capable of replicating data from the POPnetserver to a remote POPnetserver for disaster recovery.
Setup is straightforward, thanks to the included well-designed and intuitive POP Manager application. Initial setup is very easy, since the system is preconfigured with a RAID 5 volume and a hot spare that can automatically fail over. It also defaults to an open access for users.