Network-attached storage (NAS), once only available (and affordable) for enterprises, is becoming more common for small business and even home use. And necessary -- if you are looking for secure backups for your data, a single backup disk collecting data once or twice a day is no longer enough.
I looked at three NAS units that recently appeared on the market and that could suit the ambitious home or small business: Synology's DS409slim; Seagate's BlackArmor 440; and Netgear ReadyNAS NVX. None are enterprise level, but each fits a particular spot in a networking environment. They range in price from around $750 all the way up to $2,000.
How we tested
For the tests, I used a desktop system powered by an AMD Phenom 9600 quad-core processor running at 3GHz with 2GB RAM and a 500GB Western Digital Caviar Blue with 16MB cache. I used a Linksys SD2008 network switch to connect the devices.
The tests were run with a 4,661-item (8.05GB) data package consisting of a mixture of files and folders containing data, pictures, videos and music. They were first transferred from a local hard drive in a Windows 7 RC computer to the NAS device. The package was deleted from the source computer and then transferred from the NAS unit back to the computer's hard drive. A simple copy and paste was used for both operations; times were recorded manually using a Tag Heuer digital stopwatch.
Keep in mind that network traffic as well as the specifications of the hard drives used in a NAS unit will affect overall performance. Typically, the former is out of your control. That's why you usually schedule backups for after-hours in general.
In addition, the drives that you use will affect performance as well. Out of the three NAS units reviewed here, only Synology's lets you purchase the drives separately. Otherwise, you're pretty much locked into whatever drives the manufacturer believes works best with its product.
A note about RAID
RAID 5 and RAID 6 are two of the most useful data storage schemes available. Of the two, RAID 6 is demonstrably the more secure -- however, while testing these drives, I elected to use RAID 5 exclusively.
Why? Because RAID 6 uses dual parity to provide data security. Whereas RAID 5's single-parity technique will allow you to rebuild your data should a drive fail, RAID 6 will let you rebuild your data should a drive fail during a rebuild of your data. The cost for that additional peace of mind is that more disk capacity will be used for parity information and write times will be slower than they are in RAID 5. As a result, in order to give the tested NAS units a chance to put their best feet forward, I opted to test using RAID 5.
In the real world, how likely are you to encounter that type of double failure? If you keep an eye on the Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology (S.M.A.R.T.) data provided by these units' management tools at least once per month, you'll probably know well in advance of most hardware failures.
Of course, there's always the potential for catastrophic failure or for failures in areas that S.M.A.R.T. doesn't monitor. Still, in my opinion, your odds of experiencing a drive failure during a data reconstruction is probably the same as those should a meteor strike a region of the planet that is experiencing a tsunami at the same time.
Netgear ReadyNAS NVX
Two things earned Netgear's ReadyNAS NVX points in my book. First, it doesn't use a power brick, so you don't have to deal with two separate cords -- one from the box to the brick and the second from the brick to the wall outlet. (On the other hand, because it's a single cord, it's only half the length of the power cords of the other two, which could be a problem depending where you want to place the ReadyNAS.)
The second is the fact that it has a handle to make carrying the ReadyNAS easier. Why, you may ask, does it need to be easier? Because the 7.9 x 5.2 x 8.7 inch (HWD) box weighs 10 lbs without disks installed. Since a 1TB drive weighs in at close to 1.5 lbs, a fully-loaded ReadyNAS NVX with four drives could weigh as much as 16 lbs.
At $2,000 list, Netgear's 4TB ReadyNAS NVX is the most expensive unit in the group. (There's a 2TB model that carries a $1,500 list price.) The unit I reviewed was stocked with four 1TB Seagate Barracuda ES.2 SATA drives that delivered 2.579GB of RAID 5 storage.
Netgear uses an X-RAID2 RAID topology. Briefly, X-RAID2 allows you to start with a single drive in the box. If you then add a second drive it becomes a RAID 1 (mirroring) system. Add a third drive (or maximize it to four), and the ReadyNAS NVX evolves into a RAID 5 construct.
This is done automatically, with the goal of providing you with as much data capacity as possible within as secure an environment as possible, all defined by the confines of the hardware the unit detects. (Once your array has been established you can also upgrade to higher capacity drives using X-RAID to rebuild your data as you go along.)
Each of the hot-swappable hard disks sit in its own tray and slides into (or is removed from) the box after opening a front door on the unit. The ReadyNAS NVX sports three USB ports that can be used for printers, external drives and even a UPS system. The unit is equipped with two Ethernet ports that feature load balancing and failover.
IE8's default security level tripped things up on my first attempt to use RAIDar, Netgear's discovery and management tool. Resetting my Internet security options to a lower level cured the problem.
RAIDar offers the usual collection of device management policies, including those for security, shares, external equipment attached via the USB ports and overall system status. Once connected to my network, the unit installed itself out of the box; RAIDar needs to be used only to fine-tune the options. A reasonable installation with an economy of customization can be done in less than five minutes.
One of the nicer options on the power saving front is the ability to have the ReadyNAS NVX shut down and power up at scheduled intervals. For example, at night it can be told to go to sleep and wake when you do, saving a few pennies in electrical costs when it does. The downside is that backups, which are typically scheduled during usage down time, won't occur if the sleep time and backup schedule conflict. Consider the possibilities before you act.
Netgear also offers an offsite backup option called ReadyNAS Vault, a remote data center that you don't need to build on your own. You get the first 30 days for free; after that, you can select options that will bring the cost down to $5.95 per month for 5GB of storage, according to Netgear.
To be blunt, the ReadyNAS NVX is crazy fast. Writing my data package to the device took a scant 4 min., 8.1 sec., beating the Synology by a minute and a half and the Seagate by slightly more than four minutes.
And it's no slouch in the read department either. At 2 min., 47.8 sec., it put Seagate into second place by almost a minute and left Synology in the dust by about a minute and a quarter.
Upscale small to midsize businesses will find the ReadyNAS NVX to be a worthwhile weapon in the war on data protection. The cloud storage is an added plus.