Server distributions for small businesses tested

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QNAP NAS System

As an alternative to server solutions, the test team also took a closer look at the TVS-471 NAS system by QNAP [7]; you can purchase this from popular online stores for less than $1,000 without storage media, which can be any commercially available SATA SSDs and hard disks; however, you do need to purchase them separately.

Because the computational performance of professional NAS systems is now similar to dedicated computer systems, many vendors offer firmware variants that also provide typical server-based services, as the test candidate did.

The box – equipped with four slots for storage devices – is factory-equipped with a Pentium G3250 or Core i3 CPU. Both variants have 4GB of RAM, which you can expand to 16GB. The operating system is the Linux-based QTS 4.2 with an optimized kernel.

The distribution, maintained by QNAP, offers a visually appealing, clear-cut management interface (Figure 13) and an App Center that lets users install server-based services retroactively. Thanks to a modular collection of software, the QNAP TVS-471 can also be used as a home movie, music, and photo center.

Figure 13: The developers did a good job with the QNAP Manager; system administrators will quickly find a way around the graphical user interface.

To access the web interface in the browser, type the IP address of the NAS system followed by the port number 8080. When you first login, type admin as a username and password. You want to change these access credentials immediately using the menu system at the top.

External Helpers

The System Settings menu is where you can configure the most important elements, including network connections, security settings, and hardware parameters. If you want to use the device's uninterruptible power supply and eSATA interfaces to connect external mass storage devices, printers, or a UPS, you need to go to the External Device option.

The NAS system is preconfigured out of the box to a great extent; administrators typically only need to create users, groups, and shares. You can handle all of these tasks conveniently in the Privilege Settings menu item, where you also assign rights to users and groups or explicitly share directories and files. A number of apps extend the NAS. In the integrated store, you will notice the categories Education , Home Automation , Surveillance , and Entertainment , which the other test candidates do not offer. Additionally, you will find popular server-based services (mail, web, etc.), as well as virtualization solutions.

The vendor groups many additional offerings, from ERP systems through an e-commerce solution up to presentation apps in the Business section. Because all of the applications are web based, no additional software installation is required on the client side.

Embedded

If you are looking for a way to update the existing software, you will find it in the Control Panel | System Settings group below Firmware Update . In the dialog that appears, administrators can specify that the system should look for updates automatically after login (Figure 14).

Figure 14: A firmware upgrade installs the latest software on the NAS system.

Additionally, you can trigger updates manually. If new firmware versions are available as ZIP archives, you do need to unpack them on a different computer first before installing them on the NAS with the aid of a shell script.

QNAP provides a number of proprietary tools for system maintenance. For example, admins can go to System Settings | System Logs to view various logfiles and thus identify potential sources of problems. And the General Settings | System Administration menu also offers a variety of details relating to the network status and system services. The Storage Manager not only shows the load but also tests connected mass media capable of using self-monitoring analysis and reporting technology (S.M.A.R.T.) to deliver details of mechanical hard disk wear.

The Backup Station offers backup functions, including NAS-to-NAS backups, network backups on remote storage media, and backups on storage devices connected to the NAS. If these options are not enough, you also get help creating backups in the Amazon cloud.

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