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NAS appliances: Not just raw storage anymore

New generation of NAS boxes offers text-searching, print servers, cloud backup, antivirus, disk-failure protection and more

By James E. Gaskin, Network World
October 08, 2012 12:08 AM ET

Network World - When we did a roundup of network-attached sstorage devices seven years ago, the products boasted an amazing (for the time) 1TB of disk space. This time around, we're testing six units that sport 8TB or larger storage capacities. While the disk space has exploded, the investment remains modest, sometimes at a lower actual dollar figure than the first batch back in 2005.

The products in this review include the Buffalo TeraStation TS5400D, Iomega StorCenter px4-300d, LaCie 5big Office+, Seagate BlackArmor NAS 440, Netgear ReadyNAS Pro 4 and the QNAP TS-569 Pro. All include at least 8TB of raw disk storage.

IN PICTURES: Best NAS appliances for small business

These appliances share many features, such as being relatively small, running quieter than a desktop PC, and offering fairly simple installation and configuration, as befits devices sold to small businesses as well as enterprise workgroups.

All run some version of Linux, except for the LaCie, which now uses Microsoft's Storage Server Essentials operating system. All have greatly improved the ability to backup their contents across the LAN or across the Web, using one or both of their dual Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports and USB connections.

All act as a Time Machine server for OS X device backup. All provide enough user and disk management to be the only shared storage in a small company, or a reliable department storage addition in a large company. If that large company wants to make the units an iSCSI target, every unit supports that option.

Best NAS boxes for less than $100

In addition, each appliance includes a print server that will support any USB-connected older printer. All units tested run either RAID 5 or RAID 6 to keep your data safe in case one of the drives fails, but all support other RAID options or allow you to configure your appliance as one giant pool of disk space.

But all have different strengths that make them suitable for different situations.

 Although all units integrate with Active Directory, the LaCie may be more attractive to some Windows shops because of its Storage Server Essentials OS.

 Iomega and Buffalo offer full-text indexing and searching of stored files.

 Seagate, maker of the internal drives in many units, leverages its drive production to deliver the most storage per dollar.

 Several models front-end popular cloud storage services such as Amazon S3, and in Netgear's case, acts as the on-premise gateway to Egnyte's file server in the cloud.

 QNAP includes enough extra application support to be a complete file server for a small company.

Here are the individual reviews:

Net results

QNAP TS-569 Pro

QNAP sent its five-disk unit, holding 3TB disks, which provided 8.5TB of usable disk space after RAID 6 (keeps data safe even with two failed disks) and operating system overhead. The QNAP product line provides desktop NAS systems with two-, four-, five- or eight-drive bays, and all usually ship diskless, so end users or resellers can pick the best disk capacity for the job at hand.

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