Review: Three Mass Storage Devices For The SMB

Storage For The SMB

Welcome to Storage Week 2015, CRN's annual look at storage solutions for the SMB and the opportunities they present for resellers. Network-attached storage devices offer potential service revenues for MSPs and VARs from the initial installation and configuration; creation and maintenance of user accounts and groups; ongoing moves, adds and changes; upgrades to drive capacities, memory and services; and from maintenance of network backups and other administrative tasks.

Though features vary from one product to the next, these services remain fairly constant. So in addition to our evaluation of the setup and maintenance processes for each device, we also tested their performance. For the NAS devices, we connected each to our test network and configured it from a high-end workstation. Then we launched IOmeter, tuned it for maximum performance for the device under test and ran our standard battery of tests that measure rates of transaction processing and data transfer. For the direct-attached storage device, which was designed for Apple computers, we measured performance using XBench, a freeware utility developed by Spiny Software.

D-Link ShareCenter +

Among the latest SMB products from D-Link is the DNS 340L ShareCenter + , a 4-bay cloud-enabled network-attached storage device that's about as easy to set up as they come. It literally took more time to attach the strap handles to the test drives than to configure the NAS for access on a LAN and from the Internet. For $429 list unpopulated, the 340L delivers four, 3.5-inch rail-free drive bays, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, two USB 2.0 ports and a USB 3.0 port on the front panel with an action button for quick off-loads. The unit accepts DC power via AC adapter brick.

D-Link Setup

One drawback of the ShareCenter is that it requires a disc to get things going. The included quick-install guide directs disc-less would-be installers to the website for drivers and documentation. The disc provides step-by-step instructions with illustrations for assembling and inserting drives and interpreting the LEDs; there's one for each drive and another for overall system status.

Once the device is LAN-connected and powered up on the same network as the computer that's being used to set it up, the software scans the LAN and presents an icon representing the NAS. After a forced password change, the admin account is used to confirm IP settings for LAN1 and LAN2 interfaces, which default to DHCP. Just one of the LAN ports of our test unit was connected at first, but once a second was connected, its IP address popped up after reversing and advancing the setup screen. There's also an option to switch to static addressing here, and either interface can be selected as the gateway for cloud access. The next step sets the RAID level to 0, 1, 5, 10 or 1+0. The 340L also can be configured as a JBOD. Once setup concludes, the software automatically maps a drive on the host computer and makes the NAS visible to machines running Mac OSX and Windows without a password through CIFS and SMB protocols.

D-Link Test Results

Into the 7-by-6-by-9-inch 340L, testers installed three Toshiba 7,200 RPM SATA3 drives and configured them in a RAID 0 array for maximum performance. Next we ran IOmeter and fine-tuned it for maximum performance for the NAS. Its maximum sustained transactional performance was 9,176 IOps, reached when processing sequential read operations of 512-byte packets. Next fastest was sequential writes, with which it delivered 7,150 IOps. Its peak sustained data transfer rate was 108 MBps, when processing sequential reads of 32K packets. Its random read speed dropped to around 4 MBps, and 3.5 MBps for random writes. We suspect we would have been able to squeeze a bit more performance from the device to give a fourth drive, but we had just three identical drives on hand. The unit consumed 25 watts during tests.

D-Link includes software for backing up Windows PCs and supports Apple Time Machine for backing up from Macs. There's also email alerts for system health and volume capacity warnings, and support for iSCSI, FTP, NFS, AFP and other protocols. The 340L supports 3.5-inch SATA I and II drives in capacities of 4 TB and higher, 256 user accounts, 32 groups and 28 shares. Simultaneous connections are limited to 64 SMB and 10 FTP.

OWC ThunderBay 4

The large files generally associated with video production, engineering, mineral exploration and other high-performance computing apps can choke a NAS device and the network it lives on. Such systems are better served performancewise by direct-attached storage, and the ThunderBay 4 from Other World Computing would make a fine choice.

Supporting up to 24 TB, a $999 list price buys 12 TB of storage protected by a RAID 5 array and transferred using the lightning-fast Thunderbolt 2 protocol developed by Apple and Intel. As many as six peripherals can be daisy-chained to the Thunderbolt bus, which currently supports a 10-Gbps transfer rate simultaneously in either direction, or 20 GBps in or out. This makes it well-suited not only for storage, but also for ultra-high resolution video; a 4K display can be connected at the end of the Thunderbolt chain.

ThunderBay Setup

OWC sent the ThunderBay with four identical pre-formatted 2-TB drives with its proprietary front-panel bracket/rail assembly preattached. This made setting up the array a simple matter of unlocking and removing the front panel, sliding each drive into a bay and securing each with its thumbscrew. The unit accepts AC power directly using a standard NEMA power cord; there's no adaptor brick. A three-foot Thunderbolt cable also is included. A second Thunderbolt port facilitates daisy-chaining.

Designed for Apple computers, the ThunderBay 4 includes SoftRAID 5, a Mac-only utility that's easy to install and use. After a restart, the test Intel Core i7-based MacBook Pro transformed OWC's toaster-sized JBOD to a RAID 5 array that can recover from the failure of any single drive. The software requires that drives be identical and delivers the combined capacity of three of the drives. When connected to our Thunderbolt-equipped Windows PC, the ThunderBay appeared as a JBOD.

ThunderBay Test Results

The ThunderBay 4 with SoftRAID 5 performed well. As measured by XBench, the unit delivered peak transfer rates with 256K blocks. For sequential-read operations, it sustained a rate of 316 MBps. Performance with sequential writes was 272 MBps. For random reads, ThunderBay dipped to 55 MBps and for random writes, delivered 18 MBps. The OWC array consumed a steady 37 watts during all tests. The SoftRAID software can be used to initialize, verify and certify disks for use in the array; send alerts about system capacity and health; and identify failures and predict pending ones. In all, the ThunderBay DAS and its software are a stable solution for high-end workstations with mass storage needs.

WD MyCloud

Western Digital late last month added four new models to its lineup of network-attached storage devices. The new models are aimed at high-end consumers and small and midsize businesses. The My Cloud Expert Series and My Cloud Business Series each include two-bay and four-bay models accessible on LANs or through the cloud, and all provide sharing, streaming and automated backup capabilities with capacities up to 24 TB.

For testing, WD sent its high-end unit from the Business Series, the My Cloud DL4100. This model adds redundant network ports and power inputs, 256-bit AES volume encryption, communication with uninterruptible power supplies, automated USB 3.0 copying, iSCSI capabilities, replication and file sync, and support for Apple Time Machine and Microsoft Active Directory. It also was easy to set up and maintain, and performed well in tests.

MyCloud Setup

The test unit arrived with preformatted drives installed and configured as a RAID 5 array. Drives are free of rails, and are easily removed from and replaced into their spring-loaded hot-swap bays. Once connected, the system grabbed IP addresses from our test network. A printed quick installation guide included with the unit steered us to its local URL to finish the setup. A wizard forced a password change, prompted to create some users and presented options for updating system firmware, registering for support and sending feedback, all of which we declined.

It also offered guidance for quickly uploading content from a local computer and to download My Cloud for Android and My Cloud for iOS. The wizard also displayed a prompt for selecting the RAID configuration, but gave no indication of the one that had existed currently. It supports RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10, plus spanning and JBOD.

MyCloud Test Results

In performance tests, IOmeter reported that the DL4100 was able to sustain its highest data transfer rate of 112.5 MBps when performing sequential-read operations with 32K packets. Sequential-write operations with packets of the same size peaked at 61.5 MBps. When randoming those packets with read operations, the transfer rate fell to 4.08 MBps and writes to 1.9 MBps. For transaction processing, the DL4100 peaked at 19,321 IOps when handling sequential reads of 512-byte packets and 17,041 IOps with sequential writes. When randomizing reads, the rate fell to 148 IOps, and to 82 IOps with random writes.

Whether you're a VAR, managed service provider or IT administrator, WD's browser-based management interface is among the best we've seen. A dashboard provides at-a-glance access to the most critical pieces of NAS data, including free space available, system health, connected users and active alerts. A circular scrollbar at the top neatly categorizes all system functions and makes it quick for setting all system options and features. For a starting price of $529 unpopulated, the DL4100 provides an excellent value for VARs seeking a business-savvy NAS that will fit into most environments.