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Home & Small Office Storage Technology

(February 17, 2008)
After so many years relying on a single storage source, the internal drives of my computers, I finally gave-up to the stress of potential data loss. My motivation for an alternate storage solution actually increased with the risk taken using RAID 0 technology on my home destop to increase performance: 4 hard drives in parallel = 4 times the chance to lose everything (see the RAID Technologies page for more details).

That is when the race to find an affordable and reliable solution with good performances began ... good luck! If you search for NAS (Network Area Storage) devices on the Internet and read all related reviews you start to wonder if anybody managed to build one that works! I am not talking about multi-thousands of dollars EMC, HP or SUN storage solution large enterprises are using ... I am talking about a less than $2,000 solution (and preferably less than $1,000) to backup my home computers and office laptop data. After many weeks searching I fanally came to realize a few things:

  • Few people posting review understand storage. Their expectation in terms of performances would scare an EMC rep (or maybe he would try to recommend a fully loaded DMX with the proper fiber channel backend!)
  • There is a mix of performance reports without focus on the related usage that may explain variations. LAN speed, wireless versus wired, bare remote disk access versus backup application disk access, RAID configuration, etc. are all impacting the system performance.
  • Cheap NAS (too far South of $1,000) does not seems to be available and working. I could not have tested them but cross-referencing reviews from what seemed to be knowledgable people often confirmed that fact.
  • There are not that many solutions (specifically worth buying). Searches return tons of systems but many are only different configurations of the same system (number of drives, size of drives, connectivity type, etc. but same backend).

What to go for then?
On the long road to decide how much you will spend for what, all I can help with is my technology choice and feedback on the solution. But before I detail my choice here is what I was looking for:

  • 500GB+ of storage capacity
  • Data resiliency through RAID technology or equivalent
  • A real NAS meaning accessible through the network (not Firewire, USB or other host storage attachment solution)
  • Client dependant (no need for ill-developed CPU intensive useless application)
  • Capability to support Microsoft remote network disks
  • HTTP access
  • FTP access
  • User accounting capability
  • UPS support (with proper shutdown capability)
  • Auto alarming through Email for failures or busted capacity or environmental parameters

It may sound like a lot of requirement for a home/small office solution but guess what: we have the technology (ironic)! If nobody released such a system on the market, maybe I would have created one. Lets face it, if you can pack what the best multimedia PC can do into an iPhone but cannot even do a minimum of storage into a gallon-size device ... something is wrong.

After all that, I selected the NetGear (Infrant built) ReadyNAS NV+ RND 4250 platform configured with X-RAID and two 500GB hard drives. The price was slightly north of the $1,000 I wanted to stay under but considering the perfect match with my requirements I did not mind spending the additional one to two hundred dollars. Reviews were extremly positive compared to most other NAS and after a few days online I must say that I am really pleased. Among the things I like most are:

  • The easy setup (well, if you have a good understanding of technologies without being a Storage expert)
  • The fairly intuitive web based configuration interface with online help.
  • The X-RAID technology that will make my life easy when I expand to 3 and 4 hard drives.
  • The seamless integration of the UPS (I bought an APC Back-UPS XS 1500 ... review to come soon).
  • The mini-screen on the front panel with useful information when changes happen.

Besides one of the desktop firewall that decided not to let me authenticate for network hard drive remote access, the rest of the integration into our home network was seamless. We are obviouly not using wireless to perform any large backup. I installed a wired connection to allow us to plug-in for laptop data backups that are so critical (you learn that after a few crashes and only 60% of the data recovered for $1,500 by the recovery company ...).

Regarding resiliency, I did not change the configuration for the more classic RAID 0, 1 or 5 offered by the system. I am sure some people would argue that at least those industry standards will not reserve any surprise but in fact they do ... the day you need to expand of upgrade your NAS (or the day you lose a hard drive with RAID 0). At least with X-RAID I have the best of all world (but for the performance of RAID 0 wich does not really matter for a NAS application). As shown on the RAID Configuration table (right), X-RAID will adapt itself when disks are added providing expanded storage space while keeing resiliency.

Conclusion, if you have around $1,000 to spare for a storage solution, the ReadyNAS may fit your profile. For lower cost alternative, there are good products not really working like a NAS that may be good. Remember though, whatever you decide, if your storage solution does not offer data resiliency, do not use it as the only storage source for your critical data or you may lose it! It can only server as a backup for the data you already have somewhere.
Good luck in your storage quest ...

Cheers!

PF



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