Network-attached storage systems for SMBs: A NAS product review

Here's a look at the most popular network-attached storage devices for SMBs in the $2,000 to $10,000 price range.

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Today, low-end network-attached storage (NAS) systems can scale out, scale up to a midmarket or enterprise-class NAS architecture, and offer snapshots, replication and other advanced data protection features. In fact, commodity hard disk drives (now at 2 TB) have gotten so large, commodity processors so fast, and data management features so robust that it's sometimes difficult to draw a clear line between systems meant for commercial...

use and those meant for "prosumers" and sold in retail stores.

When it comes to some of the NAS systems on this list, the same company's "prosumer" line might reach into commercial SMB territory -- a good example of this is Iomega Corp. Meanwhile, any commodity server can become a file server with the addition of software. Thus, this list will be far from a definitive guide to every low-end NAS product, but an overview of the best-known NAS products in the roughly $2,000 to $10,000 price range.

NAS SYSTEM COMPARISON: A LOOK AT LOW-END NAS PRODUCTS TABLE OF CONTENTS 

 Dell PowerVault NX300
 EMC NX4
 Hewlett-Packard Co. X1000 and X3000
 Iomega ix4-200r 
 Microsoft Windows Storage Server 2008
 NetApp Inc. FAS2020
 NetGear ReadyNAS rackmount models 
 Overland Storage SnapServer 
 Analysts: don't rule out SOHO NAS products 


  DELL POWERVAULT NX3000 

The Dell PowerVault NX300 is a 1u, four-drive rack mounted network-attached storage system that supports nearline SAS and SATA drives, and scales to 4 TB. Like all Windows Storage Server 2008-based network-attached storage systems, the NX300 supports single-instance storage (SIS) to eliminate duplicate files and a single-namespace distributed file system (DFS).

At around $3,000, the NX3000 is the lowest priced of Dell's NAS products, which include other PowerVault systems as well as the NX4 platform it sells through its partnership with EMC Corp.

  EMC NX4

EMC's NX4 is the smallest model of the Celerra line, scaling from 4 TB to 32 TB with a single NAS head and 60 TB with two heads. The NX4 can support SAS and SATA, and mix SAS and SATA drives on the same shelf. The NX4 also supports CIFS and NFS for files along with iSCSI for block storage.

  HEWLETT-PACKARD X1000 AND X3000

The HP StorageWorks X1000 is an iSCSI and NAS platform that replaces the HP All-in-One storage boxes. The X3000 is a gateway that performs as a NAS and iSCSI bridge into a Fibre Channel SAN or SAS array.

The X1000 uses HP ProLiant server hardware, and includes HP's Automated Storage Manager management software. The X1000 comes in four models. The X1400 is a 1U, four-drive model that scales to 12 TB, the X1600 is a 2U, 12-drive model for departments and remote sites that scales to 36 TB, and the X1800 is a 2U, eight-drive model that scales to 96 TB with 2.5-inch drives for departments and medium-sized businesses. There is also a HP StorageWorks X1800sb Network Storage Blade for BladeSystem servers.

HP was the first major storage vendor to announce a system based on Microsoft's Windows Storage Server 2008.

  IOMEGA IX4-200R

Iomega, the small business and consumer division of EMC, introduced the StorCenter Pro ix4-200r four-drive rackmount data storage system last year with iSCSI support for block storage as well as network-attached storage.

The ix4-200r is the largest product in Iomega's StorCenter network-attached storage product line for SMBs and remote offices. The ix4-200r has a four-drive bay and scales to 2 TB with four 500 GB SATA drives, or 4 TB with 1 TB drives. The StorCenter 2 TB unit costs $1,800 and the 4 TB configuration costs $2,800. Both systems run on EMC's LifeLine operating system.

The 19-inch, 1U rackmount system has a 3.2 GHz Intel Celeron processor, 1 GB system memory, 1 Gigabit Ethernet support, and three external USB ports to attach additional devices and extra storage capacity.

  MICROSOFT WINDOWS STORAGE SERVER 2008

Windows Storage Server 2008 adds an increase in scalability over Windows Storage Server 2003 for file-level single-instance storage repositories, and a newly integrated software iSCSI target that can operate alongside NAS. The first version of SIS from Microsoft was limited to six volumes, but Storage Server 2008 boosts that to 128 formally supported volumes, with 1,024 as a hard limit. Previously, SIS could not be applied to volumes attached to clustered servers, but that restriction has been lifted with the 2008 version. Microsoft's snapshot-based Data Protection Manager (DPM) will now take snapshots of data-reduced volumes without "reinflating" multiple file copies. SIS can also now be remotely administered from a command-line interface, and can be undone once it is applied to a volume.

Windows Storage Server is sold by Microsoft through storage OEMs such as Compellent, Dell/EqualLogic, and Hewlett-Packard/LeftHand Networks that often use it as a NAS gateway for block storage devices.

  NETAPP INC. FAS2020

Slightly pricier than the others, the NetApp FAS2020 is NetApp's smallest offering since it discontinued the StoreVault line. The FAS2000 comes in two models: the 2020 and the 2050. The 2020, a 2U enclosure, is priced at around $12,000 with capacity up to 24 TB. (The 2050, a 4U enclosure, starts at around $25,000 with a maximum capacity of 69 TB).

The FAS2000 arrays, like all of NetApp's systems, support NetApp's snapshot, mirroring and replication software; some NetApp channel partners offer bundles of software licenses built into the price of an FAS2000 in an effort to appeal to SMBs. The FAS2000 can also mix SAS and SATA disk drives on the back end.

  NETGEAR READYNAS RACKMOUNT MODELS

NetGear brought its ReadyNAS prosumer desktop products into the commercial space with the ReadyNAS 2100 in May 2009. The ReadyNAS 2100 offered an Intel chipset and 1 GB of RAM, and to appeal to more mission-critical, business-oriented data storage buyers, the rackmount devices introduced an "exchange module" that contains power supplies, fans and motherboards and can be removed as a unit for servicing. The entire ReadyNAS line can also be connected with cloud data backup services.

Since then, NetGear has rolled out the ReadyNAS 3200, a 2U 12-bay device that provides up to 24 TB in a single system, and most recently, the ReadyNAS 3100, a 1U 4-bay rack-mountable system that holds up to 8 TB, and the ReadyNAS 4200, a 2U 12-bay system that holds 24 TB. The 3100, which starts at about $3800, offers four SATA channels; the 4200 supports 10 GbE and starts at $10,000.

  OVERLAND STORAGE SNAPSERVER

Overland Storage purchased the Snap Server product line from Adaptec in 2008, and has since reorganized its business to focus more on SnapServer products.

The product line now includes the SnapServer 650, Snap Server 520, Snap Server 410, SnapServer 210, Snap Server 110, and SnapServer 620 NAS products that range from 1 TB to 88 TB in capacity with SATA and SAS drives. The devices also have their own operating system, Snap Server GuardianOS.

  ANALYSTS: DON'T RULE OUT SOHO NAS PRODUCTS

While there are plenty of products to choose from that fit squarely in the commercial SMB range, the lines at this end of the market between SMB and prosumer devices is growing blurrier and blurrier, particularly with products priced in the roughly $500 to $2000 range, often marketed to small office/home office (SOHO) or prosumers. "SOHO is very confusing and misunderstood," said StorageIO founder and analyst Greg Schulz. "Many think it means home office or prosumer, well, that's the HO in SOHO, however, the SO in SOHO is a small office that might have two to 10 servers, perhaps a need for 1 TB to 10 TB of storage, and thus is the low end of the SMB."

Such products include Iomega and NetGear's desktop NAS, Buffalo's TeraStation, and Seagate's BlackArmor NAS, among others. Even consumer products today often offer advanced features such as RAID data protection, remote backup through replication or connection to a cloud data storage service, application integration, and encryption.

As such features go from advanced to commonplace, Ashish Nadkarni, principal consultant with GlassHouse Technologies, recommends users choose based on what kind of vendor they want to work with – a small vendor that's grown up from the consumer space, or a large vendor that also supports enterprise products along with low-end offerings. "Are you better off dealing with a David, or a Goliath who might nickel and dime you for product features?" Nadkarni said. "On the other hand, with a Goliath, you can be confident they'll back you up with support."

 

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