NEC Storage NS50 review
In the battle for more storage, small business NAS appliances have gradually become physically smaller while capacity has increased exponentially. The latest Storage NS50 from NEC is a prime example. This box is offered in both 1TB and 2TB capacities, and is aimed squarely at the SMB looking for an easily managed central storage repository.
The NS50 is a four-bay appliance and comes with a quartet of 250GB or 500GB SATA drives pre-installed. The Linux OS is implemented on these, so you can’t buy a bare unit. Build quality is very good, with the chassis and cover constructed from solid pressed steel. NEC has been quite cunning in reducing noise levels too, since the appliance uses an external power supply that reduces cooling requirements. The chassis, therefore, has only a single fan, which is craftily positioned underneath the appliance, with the result that the NS50 whispers during operation.
The appliance takes its own sweet time in loading, however, with the boot sequence taking around seven minutes. A discovery utility locates the appliance on the network and then runs you through a simple configuration process for each network port and workgroup details. The web interface is tidy enough, making each feature easily accessible, although these are sparse for the money. RAID support consists of the standard set of RAID0, 1 and 5, although the system comes preconfigured with all drives in a single 1.5TB RAID5 array. This can then be carved up into multiple logical volumes, and if you place the array into a storage pool you can create resizable volumes. When we inserted USB storage devices they were correctly identified, but you’ll need to create new shares manually since the contents aren’t published automatically.
Security extends to a local user and group database, plus support for NT domain authentication and Active Directory. The appliance can also function as an FTP server. Shared folders are easy to create, as are users and groups, but you can’t apply quotas to control storage usage. General file-sharing performance isn’t very inspiring, and it’s likely that the software-managed RAID arrays are overly resource hungry. Using the freely downloadable Iometer utility (www.iometer.org), run from a Supermicro dual 5160 Xeon server, we saw a raw read throughput of 22MB/sec with a mapped share. Real-world performance wasn’t good either, with a 690MB video file written to the NS50 at a rate of only 7MB/sec and read from it at an average of 12MB/sec.
There’s no doubt the NS50 is offering a lot of storage in a well-built desktop system. But its biggest problem is that there are many other vendors doing exactly the same for a lot less cash. Take Infrant’s delightful ReadyNAS NV 2TB, which delivers superior design, a superb level of features and a price tag as low as £800. Buffalo’s TeraStation Pro TS-1.6TGL/R5 is another winner on price, as the 2TB model also costs around the same. Clearly, the NS50 can’t compete with these products, but NEC does have an ace in the hole in the form of a full three-year on-site warranty, which is worth considering if your NAS appliance is critical to business operations.