What’s the best NAS drive for business?
There’s a voracious demand for data storage. Businesses, especially, can’t get enough of it. The days of regularly upgrading server storage to keep in step are long gone, since businesses can’t afford to take critical systems offline and risk tinkering with their innards. In any case, this isn’t the most efficient way to add storage.
It’s far more practical to connect additional centralised storage to the network as required, without affecting business operations and services to users. From humble beginnings, the network-attached storage (NAS) appliance has matured rapidly to become one of the best and most affordable solutions for SMBs.
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At its foundation, the average business NAS appliance is a box of RAID-protected hard disks that presents its storage to the network as a family of cross-platform shared resources.
Users can map these to their workstations and use them as extra storage without the need to upgrade local hard disks. However, today’s NAS appliances have evolved capabilities far beyond this basic premise, and businesses should consider carefully what they need.
A question of storage
Think not about how much storage you want now, but rather how much you’ll need in the future – and how easy it will be to increase capacity. On the following pages, we look at four NAS appliances that offer a wide choice of capacities and expansion options.
D-Link’s ShareCenter+ DNS-345 has no external expansion capabilities, so all you can do is swap out drives, one at a time, for larger ones. Netgear’s ReadyNAS 316 accepts two eSATA expansion units – but if you want to expand RAID arrays into new units without taking a performance hit, consider Qnap or Synology, which both offer high-speed SAS expansion ports.
For data protection, RAID5 provides a good balance of fault tolerance, performance and available capacity. All the appliances on review support it, but Netgear also offers X-RAID2 technology, which it describes as “RAID for dummies” and promises hassle-free auto-expansion capabilities.
Synology, meanwhile, proffers its hybrid RAID technology, which allows you to mix drives of different makes and capacities in the same, easily expandable array.
And while RAID6 can be costly in terms of usable capacity, it’s still worth considering for mission-critical data protection: it can tolerate two drive failures in the same array, and is supported by the Netgear, Qnap and Synology devices.
Speed vs cost
Processing power translates directly to network performance, and D-Link’s DNS-345 shows this clearly: in our tests its 1.6GHz Marvell CPU returned the lowest speeds. Synology’s elderly Atom D2700 put in a surprisingly respectable showing, but all were outstripped by Qnap’s TS-EC880 Pro and its vastly more powerful 3.4GHz Intel Xeon E3-1245 v3.
All the appliances on review here support SATA drives, and for testing we used this type of drive, since we don’t think SAS is practical for most SMB applications: SAS hard disks and appliances are more expensive and, unless you’re running powerful databases or big virtualisation projects, their performance benefits don’t justify the higher outlay. Check out the exclusive review of Qnap’s TS-EC1279U-SAS-RP at our sister title IT Pro.
Network ports are important, too. Demand nothing less than Gigabit; if you want fault-tolerant or load-balanced links, at least two ports will be required. Bear in mind that creating a standard 802.3ad LACP dynamic link will require support from the NAS appliance, your network switch and the network interface cards in your servers and workstations.
The rapid drop in prices for 10GbE over the past year now makes this a realistic option for SMBs looking for greater network performance. Qnap’s TS-EC880 Pro has a spare PCI Express expansion slot for a 10GbE adapter, and our tests show the difference it can make. If you want an affordable 10GBase-T switch to connect it all together, read our exclusive review of Netgear’s ProSafe Plus XS708E.
The business cloud
The likes of Dropbox and Google Drive are cheap and easy to use, but may not offer an appropriate degree of control for a business environment. Do you really want your employees using such services to share confidential information?
Most NAS vendors saw this issue coming, and the savvy ones have built a wealth of private cloud services into their operating systems. All the appliances on review here let you create private clouds, which can be accessed remotely by authorised users at no extra expense.
The appliances here can also provide Dropbox-like file-syncing services. D-Link offers its Cloud Sync app; Netgear has ReadyDROP; Qnap’s version is called myQNAPcloud; and Synology offers Cloud Station.
Software and services
The high capacity of NAS appliances makes them ideal as a central repository for data backup, but it’s surprising how few vendors bundle decent software. Small offices can probably get away with Qnap’s NetBak Replicator or Synology’s Data Replicator 3.
However, if you’re dealing with a larger userbase, you should consider a more powerful package, such as CA ARCserve Backup r16.5, which will happily use a network share as a backup destination.
Off-site backup is essential for disaster recovery, and the simplest way to facilitate this is to put a second appliance in a remote location and replicate to it using rsync, a protocol supported by all good NAS appliances. Netgear takes this further with its free Replicate service, while Qnap and Synology have their respective RTRR (real-time remote replication) and Cloud Station services.
IP SANs can be yours as well – all four appliances have built-in iSCSI services. Those of D-Link are fairly basic, but Netgear, Qnap and Synology support extended features, such as thin provisioning, logical unit number (LUN) snapshots and LUN backup.
Finally, it’s worth looking at the other services that some of these appliances can run. Qnap and Synology in particular are significantly ahead of the competition.
Productivity-sapping multimedia services aside, both feature apps for mail and web servers, VPNs, virtualisation, central management and much more, allowing your NAS appliance to function as a complete comms centre as well as providing a solution to your storage problems.
Top NAS drive for businesses
Price when reviewed: £1,737 exc VAT (diskless)
Heaps of storage features, plenty of expansion potential and top speed make this the NAS host with the most.
Price when reviewed: £1329 exc VAT (diskless)
A reasonably priced 2U rack NAS with room to grow, good performance and a veritable feast of storage features.
Price when reviewed: £437 exc VAT (diskless)
A good combination of speed, capacity and storage features, all bolstered by Netgear’s unlimited block-level snapshots.
Price when reviewed: £108 exc VAT (diskless)
A compact appliance at a tempting price, with room for up to 16TB of storage, which can be presented as NAS shares and iSCSI targets.