NAS Roundup

Network attached storage (NAS) is a hot market these days, not only for the SMB (Small to Medium Business) market, but also for the home user. As more and more computers appear in our homes, the need for shared storage is becoming a lot more prevalent than in the past. Also, with drive sizes approaching a terabyte, backing up and storing important files requires more than the typical single drive enclosures. The million dollar question, however, is which device do you buy?

With Gigabit networking and multiple drives on all these devices we went into this article with the hope of high throughput. Unfortunately this was short lived once we dived into the benchmarks. Most of these devices are running tiny processors and software-based RAID. The result is transfer rates that average 10MByte/second, which is quite slow if you're used to copying data off of a hardware based RAID array. However, the purpose of these devices isn't necessarily to be able to read and write at theoretical gigabit line-speeds. These devices are designed to provide long term shared storage, backup a few machines on a network, or stream a few DVDs to a media device.

The most difficult part of this article was developing the benchmarks. There are a number of different utilities out there to perform I/O benchmarking, and some are better than others. We tried IOMeter, IOZone, and we developed a couple of our own. The problem we kept running into was that most of the benchmarks were not producing numbers similar to a windows file copy, which is exactly what most users will be doing. In the end, we selected IOMeter and we developed a very simple command-line benchmark that will time a file copy. Descriptions and links to these benchmarks are on the test configuration page.

Contenders and Configuration


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  • yyrkoon - Friday, December 8, 2006 - link

    My problem is this: I want redundancy, but I also do not want to be limited to GbE transfer rates. I've been in communication with many people, via different channels (email, IRC, forums, etc), and the best results I've seen anyone get on GbE is around 90MB/s using specific NIC cards (Intel pro series, PCI-E).

    The options here are rather limited. I like Linux, however, I refuse to use Ethernet channel bonding (thus forcing the use of Linux on all my machines), or possibly a combination of Ethernet channel bonding, with a very expensive 802.11 a/d switch. 10GbE is is an option, but is way out of my price range, and 4GB FC doesn't seem to be much better. From my limited understanding of their product, Intel pro cards I think come with software to be used in aggregate load balancing, but I'm not 100% sure of this, and unless I used cross over cables from one machine, to another, I would be forced into paying $300usd or possibly more for a 802.11 a/d switch again. I've looked into all these options, plus 1394b firewire teaming, and SATA port multipliers. Port multiplier technology looks promising, but is Dependant on motherboard RAID (unless you shell out for a HBA), but from what I do know about it, you couldn't just plug it in to a Areca card, and have it work at full performance (someone correct me if I'm wrong please, Id love top learn otherwise).

    My goal, is to have a reliable storage solution, with minimal wait times when transferring files. At some point, having too much would be overkill, and this also needs to be realized.
  • peternelson - Tuesday, December 12, 2006 - link

    It sounds like your needs would be solved by using a fiber channel fabric.

    You need a FC nic (or two) in each of your clients, then one or more FC switches eg from Brocade or oems of their switches. Finally you need drive arrays to connect FC or regular drives onto the FC fabric.

    It isn't cheap but gives fantastic redundancy. FC speeds are 1/2/4 Gigabits per second.
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, December 5, 2006 - link

    I've been giving Areca a lot of thought lately. What I was considering, was to use a complete system for storage, loads of disk space, with an Areca RAID controller. The only problem I personally have with my idea here is: how do I get a fast link to the desktop PC ?

    I've been debating back and forth with a friend of mine about using firewire. From what he says, you can use multiple firewire links, teamed, along with some "hack" ? for raising to get 1394b to 1000MBit/s, to achieve what seems like outstanding performance. Assuming what my friend says is accurate, you could easily team 4x 1394b ports, and get 500MB/s.

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