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NASs for the masses

David Newman | Sept. 29, 2010
Netgear's ReadyNAS appliances offer a simple and effective way to get started with network-attached storage.For small and mid-sized organisations looking to get into shared storage, this is a great place to start.

FRAMINGHAM, 27 SEPTEMBER 2010 - Either because server disks are full or because virtualization is a natural growth path, organizations large and small are moving toward shared storage. For large enterprises, high-capacity storage-area networks make sense, but what about small or mid-sized enterprises new to shared storage?

Netgear's ReadyNAS appliances offer a simple and effective way to get started with network-attached storage (NAS). The ReadyNAS 3100 we evaluated in this Clear Choice test was a snap to set up, and it proved a capable performer in our NFS and iSCSI tests.

The ReadyNAS 3100 is delivered on a 1U SuperMicro server with four SATA disks. We tested the $4,799 8-Tbyte version, while Netgear also sells a $3,699 4-Tbyte model. While it's possible to build a lower-cost NAS device on similar hardware using Linux or FreeBSD, it wouldn't be as fast to set up or as easy to manage.

Netgear supplied the system already formatted using its proprietary X-RAID2 technology. X-RAID2 is similar to RAID5 in terms of storage capacity, with the system reporting about 5.5Tbytes of storage available from its 8Tbytes of disks. However, unlike RAID5 the Netgear method can expand volume sizes without replacing all drives at once, and without first backing up.

It took us less than five minutes to do initial configuration on the system and start sharing Windows and NFS drives. Creating a 1-Tbyte iSCSI target for use in our VMware cluster took only another two minutes. That's about as close to plug and play as it gets with storage devices.

The appliance supports many features found in much larger storage systems. For security, there's SSL access for management traffic. For performance, its two gigabit Ethernet interfaces support jumbo frames, and they can be bonded using link aggregation. For backup, a wizard makes it simple to schedule jobs. For supporting mixed-client environments, the appliance offers lots of access methods: Windows networking; Network File System (NFS); Apple File Protocol (AFP); FTP; Web; SSL; rsync; and, new to this version, iSCSI.

Management features found in some larger storage products are absent. The system has just one administrator account, for example, so different tiers of administrative rights can't be defined (however, passwords can be assigned to users and groups for file shares).

Also, the appliance can be tied into an uninterruptible power supply (UPS), but only if it directly monitors the UPS using NUT, an open-source UPS monitoring tool. That was a problem on our test bed, where we use apcupsd, another open-source UPS monitor, to monitor UPSs and all other hosts attached to the UPSs. There is a workaround, though: Netgear's support site has add-on packages that allow ssh and root access to the device, enabling apcupsd to be installed to its base Linux operating system.


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