Bake-Off: NAS Rivals Duke It Out


NAS is a lot like aspirin: It relieves most headaches associated with network storage issues pretty quickly. Sometimes the storage space within a server becomes depleted and it's impossible or impractical to add another hard drive. Sometimes the hard drives in computers fill up and it's either not economical to replace them or there can be software that's impossible to replace or reinstall. Above all, the storage space in some servers and in most users' computers just isn't safe enough from a redundancy point of view. NAS can relieve these headaches and more, as it's a quick and pain-free solution.

In this review, CRN Test Center engineers considered middle-of-the-road products that would be suitable for SMBs or enterprise companies. Specifications for this bakeoff called for NAS devices with at least 1 Tbyte of storage space and a Gigabit Ethernet interface. The four products examined were ZyXEL Communications' 3-Tbyte NSA-2400, Netgear's 3-Tbyte ReadyNAS 1100 (from its recent Infrant acquisition), MicroNet Technology's 4-Tbyte PlatinumNAS 4.0 and Iomega's 1-Tbyte StorCenter Pro NAS 150d. These capacities represent the maximums for each unit, not necessarily the as-tested capacity. A capacity-per-dollar figure was calculated for each unit based on 2 Tbytes of storage space.

To test the NAS units for performance, engineers set up all units with the largest RAID 5 array that would fit. Each NAS unit was connected directly to a PC containing a Gigabit Ethernet adapter with a crossover cable to avoid using any unnecessary equipment that could hamper the results. Next, a folder containing 1.72 Gbytes of data consisting of 41 files was copied first from the attached PC to the array and then back to the PC from the array. Engineers timed how long it took each unit to complete the process.

In addition to capacity-per-dollar and performance, engineers also rated the products on feature set, quality and reliability, ease of deployment and partner profit potential.

ZyXEL NSA-2400
ZyXEL's NSA-2400 grabbed the top spot with particularly high ratings for performance and ease of deployment.

Designed for SMBs, it will support up to 3 Tbytes of storage with four 750-Gbyte drives installed. The test unit came loaded with four 160-Gbyte drives, which were configured with a 313-Gbyte RAID 5 array. In performance testing, the 1.72-Gbyte folder was copied to the array in 3 minutes, 40 seconds, and copied back to the client PC in 3 minutes, 25 seconds, for an average of 3 minutes, 32 seconds—the fastest time of the units tested.

The product is sold only as a barebones unit, which gives solution providers the option to customize the unit based on capacity requirements. That means partners can shop around to find the best possible price on the drives they need. The barebones unit is priced at $989.99, with the cost for 2 Tbytes of capacity reaching $1,510, including $130 each for four hard drives.

The NSA-2400 is a four-bay, SATA-based backup solution that can be configured for RAID 0, 1, 5 and JBOD.

As a brief refresher, RAID provides data protection: In the event that one of the drives fails, the data volumes can be restored from the remaining drives. RAID 0 uses striping to spread data across all available drives to provide maximum performance and operating capacity with no redundancy. RAID 1 uses mirroring to place identical data on duplicate drives to keep data secure, while RAID 5 uses striping along with a parity drive.

The unit also can be integrated with the Microsoft Windows Domain Controller to set policy rules, permissions and storage limits.

The NSA-2400 runs a Linux-based operating system and is powered by a 1.3GHz processor with 128 Mbytes of memory. A Gigabit Ethernet port provides high-speed connectivity.

Compared to its peers, engineers found ZyXEL's NSA-2400 to be the easiest, most straightforward NAS unit to set up and had it working in just a few minutes. It offers platform-independent management from a browser-based GUI. The device can be set up using a wizard, or solution providers can jump right in via the unit's hard-coded IP address and make configuration changes manually.

Bundled with the NSA-2400 is Microsoft's Small Office Server backup software. The integrated client and server backup software allows Microsoft Small Business Server to be backed up with no downtime. Backup software for Microsoft SQL and Exchange servers is also included. A snapshot feature automatically makes a copy of the data on the appliance, which then can be copied to another NSA-2400 or to some other backup device. Three USB 2.0 ports let users copy data from the NAS device to other portable USB drives.

ZyXEL's channel program features three levels—Silver, Gold and Diamond—with annual sales requirements attached to each level. Depending on the partner level, program benefits include rebates, training and certification programs, qualified sales leads and a dedicated partner sales representative. Profit margins average about 25 percent.

Next: Netgear ReadyNAS 1100