First Look

QNAP Virtualization Station: Thoroughly and completely epically awesome

Want to run VMs securely and cheaply? QNAP's Virtualization Station add-on app does it all elegantly, efficiently, and for free

diskdrive
Credit: Evan-Amos

Over the last few years I’ve reviewed a number of SOHO/SMB Network Attached Storage (NAS) products and, on the whole, I’ve really liked almost everything I’ve seen. 

What’s really cool is that the leading manufacturers in this market have polished and re-polished to the point where these devices are amazingly powerful. They now all have add-on applications that extend their feature sets, incredibly slick browser-based management interfaces, and sophisticated hardware extensibility and just when I thought innovation in this market had slowed right down I discovered one company with a new feature that is, at least if you’re as much of a geek as I am, ridiculously cool: Virtual machine support!

Yep, in July QNAP, one of the leading NAS manufacturers, announced that an add-on application called Virtualization Station was available so, naturally, I had to get my hands on one of their NAS systems that can run it. This includes their TS-ECx80 Pro, TS-ECx80U-RP, TS-ECx79U-RP, TS-x79U-RP, TS-ECx79U-SAS-RP, SS-ECx79U-SAS-RP, TS-x51, and TS/SS-x53 Pro series.

I got my hands on a QNAP TS-451 NAS a few weeks ago and I’ve beaten it and Virtualization Station up fairly aggressively and I can report that the system is thoroughly and completely epically awesome.

QNAP TS-451 QNAP

QNAP TS-451

First, the hardware. The QNAP TS-451 is a four-bay NAS running a two-core, 2.41GHz Intel Celeron Processor. As standard it comes with 1GB DDR3L RAM but to run Virtualization Station you’ll need 4GB minimum (you can have up to 8GB total).

The system ships without drives and you can use 3.5” or 2.5” SATA (6Gb/s or 3Gb/s) hard drives or SSDs. These are mounted in hot-swappable trays and can be configured as RAID 0, 1, 1+0, 5, or 6. The TS-451 also has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, two USB 3.0 ports , two USB 2.0 ports, and one HDMI port.

Priced at around $680, the QNAP TS-451 is amazing value. It’s easier to say what it doesn’t do than what it does and it gets a Gearhead rating of 5 out of 5.

The QTS 4.0 Turbo NAS operating system is based on Linux and its Web-based user interface is a great piece of engineering. It’s slick, fast, and well-designed with multiple windows and multi-tasking. 

screen shot 2014 09 19 at 8.57.14 pm

There’s a large online library of apps to add to your NAS as well as mobile apps so you can access your stored content and apps from anywhere. In short, it’s loaded with features but the one that most concerns us here is the Virtualization Station, a free add-on application.

QNAP Virtualization Station architecture QNAP

QNAP Virtualization Station architecture

Based on QEMU, a generic and open source virtualization system, Virtualization Station supports Fedora 11 … 19, Centos 6.0 … 6.4, Ubuntu 10.04 … 13.10, FreeBSD 8.3 and 9.1, Sun Solaris 10 and 11, Windows XP, 7, 8, 8.1, Windows Server 2003 R2, 2008, 2008 R2, 2012, 2012 R2, RHEL Linux 6, SLES 11, and OpenSUSE 11 and 12. And you can add to that most other Linux distros as well as other OSes that are less mainstream but run on x86 or AMD hardware.

In Virtualization Station you can create VMs from scratch using ISO images or import .ova, .ovf,  .qvm, and .xml VM specifications from your PC or NAS folders and .vmx specifications from your NAS folders. The Virtualization Station also provides links to VM stores offered by the Bitnami App Store and VMware Virtual Appliances Marketplace.

Virtualization Station provides access to the VM’s consoles via either an HTML5 or Java Web client and all VMs can be enabled for VNC access.

QNAP Virtualization Station client console QNAP

QNAP Virtualization Station client console

I downloaded a couple of the Bitnami VMs, specifically the Ghost (an amazing blogging platform) and Wordpress appliances. Getting them running was impressively easy. I’ll review both of them in future articles as there’s a lot more to say about these products.

QNAP Virtualization Station control panel

QNAP Virtualization Station control panel

I also installed Kali Linux, Xubuntu, and VMTurbo VMs along with Bitnami Ghost and Wordpress machines and as you can see I had four VMs running, two suspended, and one powered off.

The VM management interface is excellent and overall, the potential of Virtualization Station is enormous … but only to the technically minded.

If you’re a a business owner who wants to use thin clients or isolate sensitive apps for controlled access you’re not going to want to mess with this system; you’ll want someone who is comfortable with the concepts and technologies involved to set it up.; this is not something for the neophytes to wrangle. That said, once set up there should be no problems and running for  extended periods without problems (other than those that, say, Windows causes anyway) shouldn’t be a problem.

 I am absolutely sold on this product. It's fast, flexible, incredibly useful, and solidly built. QNAPs Virtualization Station gets a Gearhead rating of 5 out of 5.

 

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