Ecobyte NAS16SXE review
We’ve seen all kinds of NAS appliances in Enterprise from all the main storage vendors. But the NAS16SXE from UK-based Ecobyte manages to stand out as being unique. Sure enough, there’s a good helping of SATA-based network storage with plenty of RAID options. However, the appliance has a trick up its sleeve. It can also run multiple virtual servers, allowing it to behave as a full application server as well.
At present, the appliance can run Red Hat Enterprise Linux 9 and will appear to the network as a physical server that is able to access the NAS storage as though it were just another network client. Ecobyte advised us that it had successfully tested with a beta of Microsoft’s original Virtual Server software, but this has now been replaced with Virtual Server 2005 SP 1. This version only supports Windows Server 2003 x64 Edition as the host operating system, but the appliance can run this as it uses an EM64T-enabled Pentium 4. Another option currently being investigated is VMware’s GSX Server, although Ecobyte stated that licensing costs might be prohibitive.
The NAS16SXE is built around a reasonable hardware specification comprising an Asus motherboard and 3.2GHz Pentium 4 processor. Network connections are handled by an embedded Intel Gigabit adaptor and PCI card, but adaptor teaming isn’t yet supported. Rather than use a single 16-port RAID card, Ecobyte has fitted two 8-port AMCC controller cards, each equipped with 128MB of cache memory. A bonus of this arrangement is that, unlike Tandberg Data’s BAKstor or Adaptec’s Snap Server 18000, the AMCC controller doesn’t simply provide a bunch of SATA interfaces but can be used to manage its own RAID arrays independently.
The Linux kernel supports RAID0, 1 and 5 arrays, which makes things even more interesting: you can have a mixture of hardware- and software-managed arrays. Even smarter is that the OS is aware of the hardware and allows you to create either type of array from the remote management interface. The latest firmware supports layered arrays, so you could create, say, three RAID1 mirrors in hardware and combine them in software as a three-disk RAID5 array. Fault tolerance also comes into the picture, as you can, for example, use the eight drives on each controller for a pair of RAID5 arrays and then mirror them in software. So if one controller fails, the system will continue to operate.
Basic NAS appliance installation doesn’t veer from the well-trodden path. You just point a web browser at the appliance’s default IP address, where you’ll be greeted by a simple but well-designed interface. The homepage provides access to general server properties, client access, virtual server creation and firmware updates. Client support is all present and correct, as you can allow access to Windows, Linux, Unix and Macintosh clients. The appliance supports both Windows workgroup and NT domain authentication.
A physical view of the hard disks is provided along with the number of the controller they’re attached to, while the logical view takes you to array creation. There are plenty of options here, as you can select specific drives, decide on hardware or software array management and include hot-spare drives. The snapshot function takes point-in-time backups and requires a percentage of the array to store them in, which is fixed during creation. Common shares can be created swiftly, while private shares are associated with a user or group and managed by the appliance or from a Windows domain controller. At present, shares may only be assigned to complete disk arrays, but we were advised multiple shares should be supported in the next firmware release.