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NAS shoot-out: 5 storage servers battle for business

Desmond Fuller | Oct. 19, 2011
Five- and six-bay NAS cabinets from Iomega, Netgear, QNAP, Synology, and Thecus compete on speed, ease, and business features

A feature that is useful in Windows shops is Active Directory integration. By tying into Microsoft's directory service, you can enforce file-level security on your NAS. With this integration, you can easily set up security to certain areas and directories based on the groups that an employee may belong to. All of the NAS boxes in this review can work with Active Directory.

UPS (uninterruptible power supply) monitoring is not something you typically find in smaller businesses, but I would recommend using it. Most newer UPSes have USB interfaces that allow you to connect them directly to the NAS hardware. Not only would you want your NAS on this battery backup (this is a must), but the UPS will also help the NAS to gracefully turn itself off if a power outage lasts too long.

Apart from cloud, virtualization is the buzzword you'll hear most frequently bantered about in this segment. While many large companies might use these NAS boxes to store virtual server images, few small companies are managing virtual server farms at this point. Nevertheless, every NAS box in this roundup is certified for use with VMware.

NAS shoot-out: Everything else but the kitchen sinkAll of the NAS boxes in this roundup have the flexibility to do more than merely store your data. These features are too numerous to review in detail, but they include such things as the ability to collect images from IP video surveillance cameras, mobile apps that allow you to access your data from iPhones, iPads, and Android devices, and multimedia servers that provide access to photos, music, and video.

In addition to the built-in features, you can generally install software packages that extend the functionality. Typical add-on modules include BitTorrent downloaders, email servers, and content management and blog publishing applications.

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.


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