QNAP's iSCSI-enabled NAS solution is a perfect match for the growing small office, especially one expanding beyond the internal storage of a VMware or Windows Hyper-V virtualisation server. Of course, no sub-£600 box is going to be as fast as an enterprise SAN, but the QNAP is a snap to set up (even the iSCSI), and it's packed with software bells and whistles. With a long list of features, QNAP add-ons, and QPKG community extensions available, the QNAP Turbo NAS is truly a jack-of-all-trades.
We've been running three models in the lab, where we tested their performance across a range of file services tasks using the Intel NAS Performance Toolkit. All three models are built on a low-power x86 CPU and a common Linux operating system. The four-bay TS-419U is a 1U rack-mount system with a Marvell 1.2GHz CPU and 512MB of RAM, while the four-bay TS-459 Pro and six-bay TS-639 Pro are desktop cabinet systems with an Atom 1.66GHz CPU and 1GB of RAM. As the specs suggest, the TS-419U ran a step or two behind its two cousins.
Any self-respecting NAS appliance today fulfills basic functions such as Dynamic DNS, flexible disk configs (JBOD, RAID 0,1,5), streaming media support, WebDAV for drive mounting over HTTP/SSL, workstation backup, and FTP, and the QNAP does not disappoint. Plus, with SMB/CIFS Windows filesharing combined with Apple Time Machine, NFS, web server, FTP server, and print server, the QNAP appliance eliminates the need for additional "services machines". For those needing offsite backup, the entire line seems to support Amazon S3 replication.
QNAP has a whole series of feature modules that you can turn on as the need arises, most notably a surveillance system that can harvest video from a wide range of IP webcams. This entry-level surveillance system (supporting up to eight cameras depending upon model) isn't going to replace the much costlier systems such as NetDVR or the Axis Camera Station, but it makes storage of heterogeneous camera video affordable for even the smallest organisation. (QNAP also sells dedicated video surveillance appliances that can support upward of 40 cameras.)
Initial setup is handled through the supplied QNAP Finder application (Mac or Windows) or via the front panel for "PC-less configuration". The QNAP Finder allows you to find and configure your appliance even if it's getting its address via DHCP. In a nice touch, the discovery utility also allows you to do drive mapping.
After initial setup, a simple web interface - accessible from the QNAP Finder or by browsing directly to the appliance - provides access to all of the configuration aspects of the system. You don't need the QNAP Finder, but it makes life easier when managing multiple QNAP devices. Although IPv6 support is included for some of the storage features, the QNAP Finder seems to function only in the IPv4 world at the moment.
A rare feature in the QNAP line is called Share Folder Aggregation. Similar to symbolic links in the *nix world, Share Folder Aggregation allows the QNAP NAS to mount SMB shares on other servers and make those shares available in a new "Aggregated Folder." Because the QNAP does seem to play nice with Active Directory, we could easily see this as a way to give access to special directories without having to provide additional credentials to your workgroup users. This type of external file system mounting is even extended to the iSCSI world since this box can be either a provider or consumer of iSCSI connections.
In fact, we're all warm and fuzzy over QNAP's iSCSI support, which goes a bit further than most. It isn't hard to turn an old server into an iSCSI target (to share storage with a VMware ESX server, for example) with open source software like FreeNAS or Openfiler. But QNAP makes iSCSI configuration dead easy - perfect for a growing organisation's first foray into server virtualisation. It certainly worked well enough for my VMware ESX 3.5 test server, with perceived performance just a bit slower than my old Dell PowerEdge 2800 running Openfiler.
As opposed to the big boys in the iSCSI world, QNAP doesn't twist your arm to turn on iSCSI security. (As a counterpoint, Openfiler required me to turn on either LDAP or Active Directory authentication before it would offer up an iSCSI target.) So while QNAP does support CHAP and Mutual CHAP authentication for iSCSI, you aren't forced to use it. It takes quite a while for the NAS to format the iSCSI partition, but once that's done you'll find it very easy to set up your new iSCSI target in VMware ESX and Windows Hyper-V. Considering the use of unencrypted logins, you'll want to apply CHAP with care or think hard about making sure your iSCSI NAS is on an isolated network and away from prying eyes.
Two more features we didn't expect to find were support for MPIO (Multipath I/O) and MC/S (Multiple Connections per Session), which can be used to increase performance and reliability through the two Gigabit Ethernet ports on the appliance. It's important to keep in mind that, although MPIO and MC/S are implemented at different layers of the communications stack, QNAP strongly suggests that you do not implement both: choose one or the other. But combine either MPIO or MC/S with Jumbo Frame support on your upstream Gigabit switch and server, and you should get some big performance numbers from your inexpensive NAS.
As for the performance numbers (see table below), the QNAP systems definitely hold their own against the competitors we've tested. The results come from the Intel NAS Performance Toolkit, which is a good real-world test of NAS performance. In contrast to tests like IOMeter that bypass the Windows file system and interact directly with the NAS, the Intel NAS Performance Toolkit actually uses the Windows file APIs, reproducing file system traffic for a variety of application types. As a result, it's a better representation of real user activity.
During our testing, we tossed a whole lot of questions at the QNAP support team on tweaking and tuning. Each and every time they came back not only with the answer but also with the reasoning behind it. Even when we managed to configure the NAS out from under ourselves, they provided us with a quick fix to get us on my way. The product is also well documented, with plenty of helpful configuration guides available at the QNAP website.
As you shop for a NAS, we would suggest you take a look at the QPKG plug-ins available from the QNAP community site, where users have contributed features outside the scope of the original product. Just keep in mind that as you turn on features, you rob the NAS of CPU cycles for its base functions. Mileage will vary, so you should definitely download a copy of the Intel tool to confirm performance in your environment. A NAS appliance with an unusually wide selection of features, the QNAP Turbo NAS is good flexible choice for the small to medium-sized organisation.
A well-priced NAS solution with decent scalability and performance, we liked the QNAP Turbo NAS TS-419U. It'll work well in a growning small business.