Review: 4 Effective Storage Appliances That Couldn't Be More Different

Storage Week 2014

Welcome to part two of our coverage of storage appliances. It's part of Storage Week 2014, the CRN Test Center's second annual weeklong look at the latest storage solutions for consumers, SMB and enterprise customers. In this slide show, we cover four of the industry's latest storage devices, each with its own special and unique capabilities aimed at a specific set of customers and use cases.

MiniStack Max

If low cost and versatility are paramount, then solution providers should consider the MiniStack Max from Newer Technology, a subsidiary of online retailer OWC. Designed to sit atop the Mac Mini with brushed aluminum to match, this little box can be crammed with up to 4 TB of storage, SD card reader, BluRay/DVD/CD writer and USB 3.0 host port, a two-port USB3 hub, an additional USB charging port, an eSata port and dual FireWire 800 ports. The drive ships preconfigured with drive formatting, maintenance and backup utilities for Mac OS and Windows on a partition readable by both.

MiniStack Max Testing

With a starting list price of $129 with no drives or software, the MiniStack Max offers a versatile starting point for VARs looking to provision storage and backup solutions for individual workstations. The unpopulated enclosure permits best-cost SATA optical drives, HDDs and SDDs and formatting with their software of choice. When working with the 4-TB review unit, Windows formatting tools worked perfectly well, as did Apple's Disk Utility. The cover is held in place with four screws and is removed in one piece to expose the top and three sides for easy service.

Max Performance

We tested file-transfer rates by drag-copying files over USB to the drive with and without a simultaneous media stream from the FAT- and MacOS-formatted drive. In all tests, a 1-GB file copy was completed in about 33 seconds regardless of drive format or the presence of streaming activity. However, media streaming temporarily halted when a file copy was in process on the FAT-formatted drive. On the MacOS-formatted drive, the stream was choppy, but continued throughout the copy process. On FireWire- or USB- connected systems, a "smart power" switch will spin down the hard drive along with the computer. The unit otherwise consumes about 15 watts.

ioSafe 214

Protection from fire and flood aren't always top-of-mind when customers are shopping for a NAS. Unless they've been a victim. That's why products like the ioSafe 214 should be on every VAR's radar. This device packs two SATA drives of up to 4 TB each within a heavily insulated enclosure that can withstand 1,500-degree heat and submersion in 10 feet of water for upward of three days. Whether working as a RAID or JBOD, it's accompanied for the first year by a data recovery service that covers data loss for any reason, including accidental deletion. It's managed by software from Synology.

Synology Software

The ioSafe 214 runs Synology DSM, the Disk Station Manager software by the like-named company that presents a Windows-like UI in any modern browser on Linux, Mac OS X or Windows. The first thing visible at login is four status indicators out of the seven possible, including health, resource usage, activities, tasks, connections, storage and file changes. Browser "desktop" icons invoke file management, system settings, add-ons and other functions. A "Pilot Mode" (shown) makes all windows visible (and clickable), similar to Apple's Mission Control. Out of the box it serves CIFS and SMB. It also supports NFS and FTP, can join a domain, link with an LDAP server and serve Web pages.

ioSafe Performance

The 214 has but a single Gigabit Ethernet port, so performance was a bit sluggish. Drag-copying a 1-GB file completed in 1:28 with or without streaming media. Media playback became choppy during the copy, but not annoyingly so. The software comes with about 50 add-on modules, organized by backup, multimedia, business, security and utility. Among the three backup tools is Time Backup, which treats the NAS as Apple's Time Machine would treat a Mac, with the ability to go back in time to retrieve lost files or versions. There are add-ons for email, VPN, Moodle, Drupal, BitTorrent and iTunes. Files also can be accessed from Android, iOS and Windows Phone. A small AC adapter consumes about 15 watts. For the small office or group for which data security trumps all else, the ioSafe 214 would make an excellent choice.

WD Arkeia

WD in September added the Arkeia DA2300 to its Arkeia line of networked backup appliances for the SMB. Arkeia appliances employ the progressive deduplication technology WD acquired when it purchased Arkeia in 2012 to minimize the time and backup storage space required by networked clients. The DA2300 is built around an Intel Xeon processor and its four bays can house a total of 16 TB of storage (8 TB with RAID 1 enabled) that the company claims is the equivalent of 40 TB with dedupe (20 TB with RAID). The DA2300 includes a 128-GB SSD for caching. A pair of Gigabit Ethernet ports can be redundant or aggregated, and dual power supplies round out its fault-tolerance features.

Arkeia UI

WD's Arkeia software is as obtuse as it is feature-rich. Its tree-based UI and text-heavy screens do a good job of organizing features and explaining what they do, but the interface is dated, and context-sensitive help simply repeated other on-screen text and sometimes referred to tree branches that weren't there. A configurable dashboard displays info about device health, backup status, storage usage, current activities and tasks. These are grouped into movable, resizable, interactive windows that can be clicked on to perform tasks. Their first time through Arkeia, testers struggled for more than an hour before figuring out how to perform their first backup.

Arkeia Performance

The first step toward creating a backup was to install the backup agent on a test workstation. Pointing a browser at the DA2300 displays a link to WD's downpage for agents for Linux, Mac OS X, Unix, Windows and lots of others. Remote machines are visible to the appliance immediately after the agent is installed; there's no need to restart. To test the transfer rate, we created a 1-GB backup job and timed it from start to finish on workstations running Windows 7 and Windows 8. Performance for both came in at about 1:17, of which about 20 seconds was negotiation. Arkeia also accompanied each backup with a snapshot. The draws a relatively high 68 watts. For MSPs looking for highly granular control of a backup solution, WD Arkeia is a solid choice.

Buffalo TeraStation

Buffalo in March began shipping the TeraStation WSS 5400r2, a version of its rack-mounted array that's been updated for Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Standard or Workgroup editions. The tested unit was running the Standard edition on 4 GB of RAM and an Atom D2701 dual-core, four thread processor running at 2.13GHz. The higher-end Standard edition supports dual CPUs, virtualization (up to two VMs) data deduplication, branch caching and failover clustering, and has no upper limits on memory, disks, SMB connections or users. Both can join a Domain and serve CIFS, SMB and NFS protocols.

TeraStation Setup

Setting up the TeraStation was fairly quick, if not a bit unorthodox. Provided with the unit is a 16-GB microSD card with USB reader-adapter containing software to reformat and reinstall all system software, if needed. So far, so good. The card also contains Buffalo's NAS Navigator 2 utility, a tool for Mac OS X and Windows that identifies Terastation devices on the network by their IP address to help facilitate a Remote Desktop session and check other settings. Although we like the emergency restoration aspect, setup would have been far quicker if the IP address was simply displayed on the unit's one-line LCD. After that, configuration was the normal Windows Storage Server fare.

TeraStation Performance

Drag-copying a 1-GB digital file to the server took 1:28. The same test while streaming media delivered the same transfer time, but the video was quite jumpy and pixelated. With the media still streaming, we started simulating random drive failures. Removing drive two had no effect, but then pulling drive one caused the media to stop, the shared folder and Remote Desktop connection to become unavailable and the unit to sound an alarm. NAS Navigator reported that the system had lost its boot drive. Replacing the drives didn't reverse the problem until after a reboot. Next we pulled drive four, which halted the media and prompted us to run the RAID Builder utility.

The Bottom Line

When there's a need for a compact, versatile storage enclosure -- particularly for Mac Mini users -- that can be tailored to suit any need, the MiniStack Max is worth considering. For protection from fire, floods and other natural disasters, few solutions exist that can rival ioSafe's 214 NAS. For networked backup with advanced deduplication features and granular control of each and every storage parameter, WD Arkeia DA2300 has no equal. And for a rack-mounted solution with a familiar Windows Storage Server interface that can be part of a Domain, Buffalo's TeraStation should be on the list.

Be sure to catch all of the CRN Test Center's Storage Week 2014 coverage. And don't miss full reviews of these and other products at