Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/6542/lacie-5big-nas-pro-smb-review-part-i



Introduction and Testbed Setup

We have looked at LaCie's 5big offering before in late 2010. In that product, the only LaCie signature was the industrial design and choice of hardware components of the NAS. The performance figures were left to Windows Storage Server 2008 R2. The time has now come for LaCie to move forward with their own custom NAS OS based on Debian Linux for their 5-bay configuration.

The 2big NAS offering had impressed us with its performance in a 2-bay configuration for SOHO and SMB applications involving a few users. However, translating that performance to a 5-bay multi-user SMB scenario is definitely challenging. On top of that, the SMB / SOHO NAS market is quite hot, with multiple players competing in terms of features and price. For the 5big NAS Pro to make an impression in the market, it needs to perform well and also differentiate itself enough for the consumers to pay attention.

Towards the end of December, LaCie came to us with a proposition to beta-test their 5big NAS Pro. As is customary in such cases, we weren't allowed to disclose performance benchmarks before the official launch date. The additional caveat was that the lift of the NDA would be tied to our evaluation. In case we found any show-stopper bugs, we had to wait for the FCS (first customer shipment) firmware to launch and present our results with the updated firmware. In the interest of full disclosure, this means that today's piece is more of a report of our beta-testing (and hence, Part I) rather than a full-length review. At the outset, LaCie indicated that the firmware we had on our unit was more focused on the differentiating features rather than providing all the planned software features for the product right away.

Hardware

The 5big NAS Pro is a 5-bay Atom-based NAS with 4 GB of RAM. LaCie doesn't document the exact processor model, but does mention that the dual core Atom runs at 2.13 GHz. It is possible that customers might received either a D2550 or D2700 based unit (Update: LaCie confirmed that all consumers will receive a D2700-based unit only).. The hardware design is the same as that of the 5big Storage Server we reviewed in 2010 except for some changes in the ports at the rear of the unit. Instead of the (1x eSATA, 3x USB 2.0, 1x VGA, 2x GbE LAN) in the 5big Storage Server, we have (2x USB 2.0, 2x USB 3.0, 1x VGA, 2x GbE LAN) due to the platform update. The industrial design of the unit is otherwise the same as that of the 5big Storage Server and is definitely stylish (but, it is not much of a factor in SMB NAS purchase decisions).

Our only peeve with the hardware is the fact that 2.5" SATA drives aren't directly supported due to the nature of the hard drive bay (which has no baseplate, and just screw slots for 3.5" drives).

Software

The 5big NAS Pro runs LaCie's custom Debian-based Linux system, the NAS OS 3. The differentiating features presented in the NAS OS 3 include Rescie Web Admin (a way to make the NAS available for administration over the network when the internal firmware is corrupted, or the NAS is in a diskless configuration), support for a hybrid cloud through integration with Wuala (LaCie's cloud storage, backup and sync product) and SimplyRAID (a novice-friendly RAID solution which just requires the user to provide the NAS with the number of disk failures that need to be tolerated while still providing availability / support for variable sized disks). The rest of the features are very similar to what we covered in the 2big NAS review.

Review Configuration

LaCie wanted us to get down to benchmarking the 5big NAS Pro right away, and so, shipped the review unit with the NAS OS pre-installed on 2x 1TB and 3x 2TB Seagate 7200rpm drives (ST x000 DM003). However, in the interest of keeping benchmark figures consistent across different NAS units, we use the same disks across all our NAS reviews in the same class. Since reviewing the QNAP TS659 Pro II with consumer SATA drives, I have seen many ending up with SMART errors because of the large number of RAID expansions and rebuilds they go through. We wanted to resolve this problem once and for all, and Western Digital gladly came to us with enough enterprise drives to bench up to 8-bay units.

Starting with this piece, all 8-bay and lower NAS units will now be benchmarked with the WD4000FYYZ Enterprise 4TB drives in RAID-5 configuration (2-bay units in RAID-1). 4 TB drives might seem excessive for benchmarking (it is also a bit of a hassle because of the long rebuild and expansion times), but the stress they put the NAS under should provide readers with confidence while making a purchase decision.

Testbed Configuration

In the first part of the review, we will be taking a look at LaCie's differentiating features in the NAS OS 3. Single client benchmarks will only involve SMB/CIFS and iSCSI under Windows. We also present the behaviour of the NAS under stress from multiple clients. For this purpose, we use the SMB / SOHO NAS testbed described earlier.

AnandTech NAS Testbed Configuration
Motherboard Asus Z9PE-D8 WS Dual LGA2011 SSI-EEB
CPU 2 x Intel Xeon E5-2630L
Coolers 2 x Dynatron R17
Memory G.Skill RipjawsZ F3-12800CL10Q2-64GBZL (8x8GB) CAS 10-10-10-30
OS Drive OCZ Technology Vertex 4 128GB
Secondary Drive OCZ Technology Vertex 4 128GB
Tertiary Drive OCZ RevoDrive Hybrid (1TB HDD + 100GB NAND)
Other Drives 12 x OCZ Technology Vertex 4 64GB (Offline in the Host OS)
Network Cards 6 x Intel ESA I-340 Quad-GbE Port Network Adapter
Chassis SilverStoneTek Raven RV03
PSU SilverStoneTek Strider Plus Gold Evoluion 850W
OS Windows Server 2008 R2
Network Switch Netgear ProSafe GSM7352S-200

Thank You!

We thank the following companies for helping us out with our NAS testbed:



Setup Impressions - Rescue Web Admin & SimplyRAID

The 5big NAS Pro comes in a package similar to the 5big Storage Server. In the box, we have the unit itself, a USB key, a plastic 'key' to lock/unlock the drive bays, a 150 W AC/DC adapter and a single 6ft. Cat 5E LAN cable (we would have liked two, given the dual GbE links in the NAS).

Tackling the Diskless Configuration Issue

Diskless NAS units often require some sort of setup program running on one of the clients to be able to get the NAS up and running with the proper configuration. For example, Netgear uses the RAIDar utility while Synology has the Synology Network Assistant. On the other hand, some NAS vendors make their unit obtain a DHCP address even when diskless (without waiting for any special setup procedure / timeouts). LaCie adopts an innovative strategy here. Instead of relying on the internal firmware to do this (which might be an issue if that is itself corrupted), LaCie provides a bootable USB key. The rescue disk can also be downloaded from the website and put on the user's own USB drive, if necessary. One needs to simply plug in the key to one of the USB 2.0 ports of the NAS and boot up the unit. After entering the MAC ID of the network interface, the unit can be configured as per the user requirements. Disks can be added and the firmware can be upgraded, amongst other things

LaCie's rescue USB key is an interesting way to tackle the problem of corrupted firmware or diskless configurations. I am sure other NAS vendors will also recognize the advantage to this type of approach. However, we will give LaCie credit for being the first NAS vendor (that we are aware of) to provide such a feature.

RAID Setup

Standard RAID setups are fine for scenarios where all the disks are of the same size. However, variable sized disks result in wasted capacity. To address this issue, NAS vendors have come up with their custom solution to maximize disk usage while also providing the required redundancy. Netgear has X-RAID 2 and Synology has the Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR). These custom solutions shield the novice user from the intricacies of understanding the various RAID levels. Now, LaCie has also joined the bandwagon. Their solution is called SimplyRAID, and the features are very similar to that of Synology Hybrid RAID.

LaCie's review configuration of 2x 1TB and 3x 2TB drives would have been an ideal setup to show how SimplyRAID works. However, for today's review, we will just be using SimplyRAID with 5x 4TB disks with a 1-disk redundancy. In this case, there is no difference between RAID-5 and SimplyRAID. We will go into detailed evaluation of SimplyRAID in the second part of our review. The short message is that it is good for LaCie to have a novice-friendly RAID solution similar to its competitors.

NAS OS 3 in the 5big NAS Pro

The UI of the NAS OS 3 hasn't really changed since the 2big NAS review. Certain additional options are available thanks to the 5-bay and dual GbE link nature of the offering. The available file serving protocols include SMB, AFP, NFS, FTP, SFTP and iSCSI. In today's review, we will be only looking at SMB (CIFS) and iSCSI. NFS evaluation will follow in the second part of the review. An interesting aspect is that each of these protocols can be set to be active on one or both of the network interfaces. However, we set up the network interfaces for link aggregation in our benchmarking. The ability to allow protocols to operate on certain interfaces only provides the network administrator with more control over performance in the bigger scheme of things. A limitation of the FCS firmware will be that only one iSCSI target is available right now. For a mid-range SMB NAS, it is essential that multiple iSCSI targets be supported (particularly since LaCie claims the 5big NAS Pro is suitable for up to 50 users). Fortunately, we were assured that multiple iSCSI targets are definitely in the pipeline. Multiple application services such as Wuala (more on this in the next section), TimeMachine, DLNA server, iTunes, printer server, rsync backup and Download Machine (BitTorrent / HTTP) are available. Access protocols can be enabled on a per-share basis.

Link aggregation can be set up in either load balancing or fault tolerance mode. We used the load balancing mode in our review. Unlike the Thecus N4800, it is possible for the teamed interface to obtain a DHCP address. In addition to Wuala cloud access, remote access over the Internet can also be enabled. Appropriate ports need to be forwarded in the router (the OS does try to set up port forwarding automatically on supported routers in simple configurations). Power management features (including sleep timer for the HDDs and power on/off scheduling) are also available.

On the whole, the UI and NAS OS 3 are functional right away. However, some aspects such as the HDD SMART information reporting and other such details are unavailable in the current beta firmware. We will see whether they are addressed in the FCS firmware in the second part of the review.



LaCie's Hybrid Cloud - Wuala and a LaCie NAS in One Interface

LaCie's marketing impetus for the 5big NAS Pro is focused on three main aspects - the rescue web admin, SimplyRAID and the Hybrid Cloud. The first aspect is innovative, but nothing ground-breaking. The second aspect is simply LaCie catching up with the competition in terms of RAID management features. The third aspect is what we feel may make certain consumers strongly consider the 5big NAS Pro for their usage scenario.

Wuala - Cloud Storage and Backup Done Right

I had been vaguely aware of Wuala as a Dropbox-like service from LaCie. Dropbox, undoubtedly, has caught the imagination of the general public like no other cloud storage company. Personally, I use Dropbox to backup and maintain versions of my review notes and other material which I need to work on from multiple computing platforms. Would I trust Dropbox to backup really sensitive data? I would probably not, because, Dropbox hasn't been the most secure solution going around, and is often cited as a poster child for cloud insecurity.

Under these circumstances, it is important that the public be made aware of solutions which offer additional security. Wuala is one such service. Similar to most other cloud storage services, there is 5 GB of free space upon sign up. However, the differentiating aspect is that the data stored on the Wuala servers is encrypted before even being uploaded. Even, LaCie doesn't have access to the user data. A slight downside to this aspect is that web access to an account on a computer without the Wuala client is not possible without Java.

When compared with Dropbox, Wuala provides many more features. Some of these include the ability to choose multiple pre-existing folders on the computer for storing to the cloud. There is no specific 'My Dropbox' folder. Easy access to all stuff stored in the cloud is available through a separately mounted Wuala drive network location. In addition to the locally associated folders, it also has data backed up / synced from other computers associated with the same Wuala account. Unlike Dropbox, Wuala differentiates between backup and sync. Syncing ensures that data updated on one computer is also reflected on another computer associated with the account. Backup, on the other hand, periodically updates the contents of the relevant folder in the Wuala servers. Versioning is also available.

Hybrid Cloud - The Differentiating Feature

How does Wuala tie in with the LaCie 5big NAS Pro? While installing Wuala on a machine, it searches for compatible NAS devices in the same network by broadcasting a UDP multicast message to which the NAS responds. These devices can be added to the Wuala account. In addition, after associating a NAS with Wuala, it is possible for administrators to use the Wuala interface to provide an access code to any e-mail address (creating a new user in the process). It becomes possible for a remote NAS and its contents to be associated with a Wuala account, without the user actually being connected directly to the same internal network (through VPN or otherwise).

After associating devices with a Wuala account, the concept of a hybrid cloud becomes much more evident. Within the same interface, it is possible for users to look at both their backed up / synced folders as well as the NAS content that they have access to. On top of that, the devices appear in the Wuala network drive too. NAS units to which admin access is available can also be configured from Wuala.

The hybrid cloud concept is definitely a very impressive differentiating point, and LaCie deserves a lot of credit for this. It will be slightly difficult for other NAS vendors to match this feature because of the non- availability of a in-house Dropbox-like solution. That said, some work needs to be done to make the Wuala features easier to use. From the perspective of a LaCie 5big NAS Pro administrator, it might make more sense to control / edit / add Wuala user account names from within the web configuration interface. Currently, only enabling or disabling of the Wuala service is available through the NAS web interface.

 



Windows Performance: CIFS and iSCSI

The single client performance of the 5big NAS Pro unit was evaluated on the Windows platform using Intel NASPT and our standard robocopy benchmark. This was run from one of the virtual machines in our NAS testbed. All data for the robocopy benchmark on the client side was put in a RAM disk (created using OSFMount to ensure that the client's storage system shortcomings wouldn't affect the benchmark results.

LaCie 5big NAS Pro CIFS Performance - Windows

We created a 250 GB iSCSI target and mapped it on the Windows VM. The same benchmarks were run and the results are presented below.

LaCie 5big NAS Pro iSCSI Performance - Windows

In future reviews, we will be presenting results from other NAS units (our plan is to rerun the benchmarks using the new enterprise hard drives) along with the NASPT results (and we will also make sure to update this page with results from them as and when they become available). A single client with one GbE link is not able to saturate the bonded interfaces. To check up on the full power of the link aggregated interface, we have to look at the multi-client performance benchmark.



Multi-Client Performance Benchmarks

We put the LaCie 5big NAS Pro through some IOMeter tests with a SMB share being accessed from up to 25 VMs simultaneously. The following four graphs show the total available bandwidth and the average response time while being subject to different types of workloads through IOMeter. IOMeter also reports various other metrics of interest such as maximum response time, read and write IOPS, separate read and write bandwidth figures etc. Selected metrics from the evaluation of the LaCie 5big NAS Pro are available here.

The graphs show that the performance tracks the Thecus N4800 in terms of how the NAS behaves as the number of users increase. However, the average and maximum response times as well as the bandwidth figures are better than those of the Thecus N4800. A caveat here is that the Thecus N4800 was tested with a different set of disks, We are currently repeating the benchmarks on the Thecus N4800 using the Western Digital 4TB enterprise drives and we will update the relevant graphs as soon as that gets done.

 



Miscellaneous Factors and Concluding Remarks

Our NAS reviews include RAID expansion and rebuild times as well as an overview of the power consumption of the unit during various operations. At the time of the lift of the NDA, our RAID-5 rebuild is 85% done (Update: Done!). However, we do have the elapsed time and power numbers for some of the other operations.

LaCie 5big NAS Pro RAID Expansion and Rebuild / Power Consumption
Activity Duration Average Power Consumption
     
RAID-0 to RAID-1 (4 TB to 4 TB / 1 to 2 drives) 11h 50m 45s 41.14 W
RAID-1 to RAID-5 (4 TB to 12 TB / 2 to 4 drives) 32h 50m 22s 58.84 W
RAID-5 to RAID-5 (12 TB to 16 TB / 4 to 5 drives) 44h 14m 19s 67.86 W
RAID-5 Rebuild (12 TB to 16 TB / 4 to 5 drives) 23h 27m 39s 68.73 W

Concluding Remarks - Setting the Stage

In terms of concluding remarks, it has to be said that we didn't encounter any show-stopper bugs or disappointing performance figures. LaCie had three main differentiating aspects and the verdict on each of those factors is positive to overwhelmingly positive. The SimplyRAID novice RAID feature is a welcome addition to NAS OS 3. However, it is the minimum LaCie had to implement to lay claims to being user friendly and catch up with the competition. The rescue web admin USB key is innovative and the hybrid cloud technology is a refreshing and praiseworthy approach to secure cloud storage and tying it up in a seamless manner with access to private NAS storage.

We have to wait for a few more firmware versions before features that users take for granted in a SMB NAS are made available. Some of these include drive health check up and scans (or, at the least, SMART status reporting), multiple iSCSI targets and SSH access for advanced users. Readers can look ahead to evaluation of these features as well as NFS performance in the second part of the review.

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