NAS shoot-out: 5 storage servers battle for business

Five- and six-bay NAS cabinets from Iomega, Netgear, QNAP, Synology, and Thecus compete on speed, ease, and business features

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While it is nice that the vendors have added flexibility to their products, I think a NAS box needs to master data storage and protection instead of being a jack-of-all-trades. It seems odd to include multimedia functionality as a native feature in a NAS that promises to be a business solution. It would seem to make more sense to offer an iTunes or UPnP server as an add-on. When evaluating the feature sets, I ignored add-on modules and consumer-oriented features and focused exclusively on features for business (including cloud services). 

NAS shoot-out: How I tested
As I evaluated the five NAS products in this roundup, I did my best to focus on the needs of a small to medium-sized business. This meant running benchmarks with the CIFS/SMB and AFP protocols, since these are the most commonly used protocols in businesses of these sizes.

To test performance, I used the Intel NAS Performance Toolkit, which is the most commonly used tool for benchmarking NAS appliances. I also used Xbench, the popular Mac benchmarking tool, to look at AFP performance. My focus was on read and write throughput of these different NAS boxes. I did my testing with the manufacturer's default RAID setup, as well as RAID 10 to see how performance was impacted by different RAID levels.

Ideally, you would use the same hard drives in each of the systems under test, but since many of these NAS boxes come from the manufacturer with hard drives already installed, I let each vendor decide which drives to include. As you will see from the individual reviews (links at the end of this article), the manufacturers all installed the same or very similar hard drives. The parity shows in the test results as well. 

The two charts below show summary results from my Intel NAS Performance Toolkit (CIFS/SMB) and Xbench (AFP) benchmark tests. The figures represent the sum total of 12 different tests in the case of the NAS Performance Toolkit, and the sum total of eight different tests in the case of the Xbench test suite. Overall, Thecus turned in the best performance in the CIFS/SMB tests, while Netgear led in the AFP tests. In general, the performance gaps across the five products are not so significant that users would notice any differences in a real-world office scenario. That said, Iomega consistently lagged every other NAS -- except in the Xbench tests, where Thecus ran far behind the curve. For Mac workgroups, Thecus will not be your best choice. For a closer look at how each box performed, you can download my complete test results (a zip file containing two PDF docs). 

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