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Storage

NAS & SAN

QNAP TS-EC1279U-RP review

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I've seen a number of QNAP NAS arrays over the years, and the TS-EC1279U-RP is the best of the bunch so far. Previous iterations were solid performers for the price, but they lacked features that would bring them to the next level. This has been sorted out with the QNAP TS-EC1279U-RP.

My main issues with midrange NAS devices have been a shortage of backplane capacity and the absence of redundant power supplies. QNAP has addressed these shortcomings quite nicely with this rackmount unit, which not only sports redundant power supplies in a sleek 2U chassis, but also brings together a strong disk I/O subsystem and 10GbE network interfaces to move the TS-EC1279U-RP into the realm of big, fast, reliable storage for small to medium-size businesses.

It wasn't so long ago that the delta between low end and high end storage arrays was large in almost every respect: price, capacity, performance and reliability. Many companies were forced to purchase storage that far exceeded their performance needs in order to get the densities they desired or the redundancy that would let them sleep at night.

It wasn't uncommon to find that storage was the most expensive line item in a data centre expansion or renovation simply because IT refused to deploy devices that lacked suitable redundancy features. That time has passed.

Capacity and redundancy at the right price

Priced around $6,700 (£4,500) with 12TB of raw capacity, the TS-EC1279U-RP offers storage densities that would have cost substantially more only a few years ago; even greater densities can be achieved with the high capacity of today's SATA drives.

Buy the empty chassis, add your own drives (up to 3TB each) to the 12-spindle chassis, and you could beef up this unit to hold 36TB of raw capacity, a conservative 27TB when configured in RAID6 with a hot spare disk. The TS-EC1279U-RP can be equipped with either 2.5 or 3.5-inch drives, including SATA solid-state drives, and the system supports SATA 6Gbps throughput.

On the I/O side, QNAP offers the TS-EC1279U-RP with four built-in Gigabit Ethernet interfaces and optional dual 1GbE or 10GbE interfaces. Because the unit supports Ethernet link aggregation, you could combine these interfaces into larger pipes, or with the 10GbE option, provide network redundancy to two 10GbE switches without sacrificing network performance.

Surprisingly, in addition to four USB 2.0 interfaces, the chassis has two USB 3.0 ports. These can be used to connect large external hard drives for backup purposes, a UPS for automated shutdowns during power outages, or even printers. You can also expand the capacity of the QNAP TS-EC1279U-RP via two eSATA connections on the back, though the details surrounding this capability are somewhat murky.

The QNAP TS-EC1279U-RP comes with a quad-core Intel Xeon E3-1225 CPU, running at 3.1GHz per core and 4GB of DDR3 RAM, which can be upgraded to 8GB. The operating system is a customised Linux distribution, and the file system used is either ext3 or ext4. The ext file system can be slightly problematic at the larger densities due to inherent limits and the absence of snapshot support, but for normal small business tasks, it provides sufficient features and performance.

Although the internals are Linux, the face of the system is a well-appointed web UI that offers quick and simple access to all features and settings. Built with a left-hand hierarchical menu and a right-hand focus, the GUI sports a standard look and feel. Windows admins will have no problem adapting to the interface.

The TS-EC1279U-RP offers file sharing via SMB, NFS, FTP, AFP and WebDAV, and it supports iSCSI targets. The setup for all of these services is quite simple, even when leveraging the Microsoft Active Directory authentication features. Note that NIS authentication is not supported, though it's not terribly common to find NIS in the target market for this unit.

Server virtualization at 10GbE

For shops looking to implement a small virtualised infrastructure, the QNAP TS-EC1279U-RP will be right at home. It supports VMware vSphere, Citrix XenServer and Microsoft Hyper-V, and performance is excellent for a sub-$10,000 array.

Equipped with the 10GbE interfaces, the unit zipped along nicely during my virtualisation tests, recording a time of 1 minute 37 seconds to clone a 16GB VMware vSphere virtual machine, quite fast for storage in this price range. Raw performance tests conducted with Linux VMs running with their virtual disks on an iSCSI LUN over 10GbE showed streaming 8K writes at an average of 490MBps and streaming 8K reads at around 505MBps.

Considering those impressive performance numbers, the redundant power supplies and network interfaces, the availability of RAID10 and RAID6, and the extremely reasonable price, the TS-EC1279U-RP hits all the right notes for many small and medium-size businesses that don't want to relinquish stability, reliability, and performance, but can't justify the higher cost of more enterprise-oriented solutions.

Naturally, the QNAP TS-EC1279U-RP lacks features you might want in larger virtualisation environments. For instance, it cannot leverage the storage function offloading available with VMware's vStorage APIs for Array Integration, which allow the array to perform VM copies and other tasks that the hypervisor would otherwise handle.

These functions can produce marked performance increases in large virtualized environments, but they aren't nearly as critical or even necessary in smaller networks. For the smaller infrastructures, the fact that a clone process takes less than two minutes is more than sufficient, and the overall performance of the TS-EC1279U-RP will be more than capable of sustaining a virtualised environment.

Backup and other necessities

Otherwise, the TS-EC1279U-RP bundles most any storage management capability that a small or midsize business might need. Among these are built-in backup solutions that provide real-time replication to another QNAP unit using QNAP's Real-Time Remote Replication (RTRR) protocol.

Configuring two QNAP units to replicate to each other is a simple process. More importantly, it allows for iSCSI LUNs to be replicated. RTRR supports encryption and compression, and replication can be run ad-hoc or on a scheduled basis.

Alternatively, you can back up the QNAP TS-EC1279U-RP via USB hard drives plugged directly into the chassis or even straight to the cloud using services like Amazon's S3. Of course, rsync is also supported.

Backing up corporate resources to the QNAP NAS can be managed through the built-in support for third party backup software, including ARCserve Backup, EMC Retrospect and Symantec Backup Exec. The TS-EC1279U-RP can also serve as a backup target for corporate PCs via Apple's Time Machine and QNAP's own QBack software for Windows.

RADIUS and syslog server support are also worth mentioning, due to the fact that they're rather rare on NAS arrays. You can use the TS-EC1279U-RP as a RADIUS server to provide 802.1x authentication for a whole network, and as a syslog server to collect log files from network devices and other servers. The QNAP has the ability to send alerts and notifications via email, SMS, and IM. There's even a full LAMP stack complete with PHPMyAdmin web-based database management tools.



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