Lead Image © Alejandro Mendoza, 123RF.com

Lead Image © Alejandro Mendoza, 123RF.com

We compare four popular NAS appliances

Data Dance

Article from ADMIN 24/2014
By
A place to store all your data is undeniably practical, but sometimes you don't want to gamble your precious data on a third-party cloud. Could you achieve similar functionality with a small NAS appliance?

Decentralization was the battle cry of the client-server revolution – away with the mainframe! Now the pendulum has swung back and ended up in the cloud. However, in these times of Amazon, Google, and NSA and of spectacular hacks with millions of stolen records, both private individuals and enterprises are fully aware that private data attracts unwanted attention. Some businesses prefer to keep their data at home. To combine the benefits of a central repository with the advantages of local control, you really need to run your own cloud. Is that possible? The ADMIN magazine team decided to test a few NAS appliances and see how far we could get.

We requested four NAS appliances from four manufacturers (Table 1). All of these products are also suitable for small businesses or larger departments. These products cost less than $1,000, including disks, and all are easy to manage, even without IT personnel.

Table 1

Test Equipment Specifications

  QNAP Synology Thecus Netgear
 
Model TS-251 DS-214 N5550 ReadyNAS RN31400
Manufacturer QNAP Inc. Synology Thecus Netgear
Operating System QTS 4.1.1 (Linux 3.12.6) DSM 5.0-4493 Update 5 (Linux 3.2.40) Thecus OS 5.0 (Linux 3.10.47) ReadyNAS OS 6.1.9
Price (without disks,EUR incl. VAT) $350/EUR390 $300/EUR250 $370/EUR430 $600/EUR675
Hardware
Processor Intel Celeron J1800, 2.41GHz (dual core) Marvell Armada XP (PJ4Bv7), 1.066GHz (dual core) Intel Atom D2550, 1.86GHz (dual core) Intel Atom D2701, 2.13GHz (dual core)
RAM 4GB 0.5GB 2GB 2GB
Network Interface 2x 1Gbit Ethernet 1x 1Gbit Ethernet 2x 1Gbit Ethernet 2x 1Gbit Ethernet
Power Supplies External, In: 100-240 V/50-60 Hz; Out: 12 V/5 A External, In: 100-240 V/50-60 Hz; Out: 12 V/6 A Internal External, In: 100-240 V/50-60 Hz; Out: 12 V/7 A
Disk Trays 2 2 5 4
OS with Flash Yes No Yes No
Disk Type 3.5 and 2.5 inch 3.5 and 2.5 inch 3.5 and 2.5 inch 3.5 and 2.5 inch
Raid Level 0/1/JBOD 0/1/JBOD 0/1/5/6/10/JBOD 0/1/5/6/0/JBOD/XRAID 2
Spare Disk No No Yes Yes
Filesystems (Internal HDs) ext4 ext4 ext3/ext4/XFS Btrfs
USB 3.0 2x 2x 1x 2x
USB 2.0 2x 1x 4x 1x
eSATA No No Yes Yes
HDMI Yes No Yes Yes
VGA No No Yes No
LCD Panel No No Yes Yes
Form Factor Tower, 68x102x225mm Tower, 165x108x233mm Tower, 230x190x240mm Tower, 223x134x205mm

QNAP

The prize for the best software level (Table 2) goes to the QNAP device. With about 130 internal apps, it has twice as many as direct competitor Synology. More is not always better, and you could argue in individual cases that not all of these small applications are justifiable. The selection, however, is huge; it includes 20 audio, video, and photo servers and applications for recording with surveillance cameras, as well as many backup applications that synchronize with cloud storage such as Amazon S3 and Dropbox.

Table 2

Software Features

Basic Data QNAP Synology Thecus Netgear
Encryption AES 256 Bit, Volume Based Folder Based Yes AES 256 Bit, Drive Based
Compression No No No Yes
Deduplication No No No No
Replication No Yes, NAS to NAS Yes Yes
Snapshot No No Yes Yes
Antivirus Yes Yes Yes Yes
Backup Yes Yes Yes Yes
Web GUI Yes Yes Yes Yes
Resource Monitor Yes Yes Yes Yes
Logging Yes Yes Yes Yes
SNMP Yes Yes Yes Yes
S.M.A.R.T. Yes Yes Yes Yes
No. of Apps Available 130 60 121 77

Additionally, full-blown business applications are offered, such as stores or CRM systems, many CMSs (including Drupal, WordPress, Joomla, etc.), and databases such as PostgreSQL and MongoDB. Various utilities and development tools (Java, Perl, Python, etc.), download managers, educational programs, and communication tools are on board. Almost nothing has been left out, and sometimes you have a choice between two or three varieties.

The hardware is also powerful: It has a fast USB 3.0 interface and significantly more RAM than the competitors; finally, QNAP even gives you a fast processor with its NAS, securing it first place in terms of performance, too. However, good equipment, good features, and performance have their price; in relation to the number of disks, the QNAP is the most expensive device in the test field.

Synology

With about 60 apps, the NAS by Synology is not quite as feature-rich as the QNAP, but it's still solidly equipped. Everything you need is in place. In terms of performance, the appliance can keep up with the field, trailing just behind competitor QNAP in some disciplines and running just ahead in others. Additionally, it is the cheapest device in the test field.

Don't look for an HDMI port, though, which all the other test candidates have (Table 3), and the selection of USB ports is also not very generous. However, the web GUI with its stylish design and ease of use can compensate for gaps in other places.

Table 3

Network and File Sharing Features

  QNAP Synology Thecus Netgear
Basic Data
IPv4 Yes Yes Yes Yes
IPv6 Yes Yes Yes Yes
Port trunking Yes No Yes Yes
DHCP client Yes Yes Yes Yes
SSH access Yes Yes Yes Yes
LDAP server Yes Yes No Yes
UPnP or Bonjour Yes Yes Yes Yes
File Sharing
NFSv3 Yes Yes Yes Yes
NFSv4 No Yes Yes Yes
CIFS Yes Yes Yes Yes
iSCSI Yes Yes Yes Yes
AFP Yes Yes Yes Yes
FTP Yes Yes Yes Yes
TFTP Yes Yes Yes No

The Synology and Netgear devices both store the operating system on the data disks, whereas it is preinstalled on safe storage with the QNAP and Thecus. Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages. Devices with a preinstalled OS are immediately configurable after inserting the disks; users with the other system first need to install the operating system from a local disk or off the Internet. Also, devices with a preinstalled OS are relatively safe from attacks, because the contents in memory cannot be easily overwritten. On the downside, knowledgeable users cannot modify the system easily to suit their own ideas.

Thecus

The Thecus device can offer a net capacity of around 15TB (RAID 5) with 4TB disks, or you can make do with 11TB and treat yourself to a global spare disk. This already makes the Thecus more suited for professional applications, such as central data storage for a small company or large department. Additionally, the NAS is pretty cheap; it only costs a little bit more than the two-disk solution by QNAP (without disks in all cases) despite having five disk trays.

Of course, you can't have everything and a good price. For example, the Atom CPU is not powerful enough to handle multiple parallel tasks, many small files, or many metadata operations, such as occur when you copy directory trees, for example.

However, the device by Thecus need not be modest in terms of its other hardware equipment; on the contrary, an eSATA port or an LCD panel is something that not every device has, and this is the only device to offer VGA output (in addition to HDMI).

The Thecus is the only device that lets the user choose freely between various filesystems for the internal volumes or lock the panels against unauthorized disk removal. Additionally, no other competitor has so many USB ports.

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