Setup Impressions and OS Features

The ix4-300d and the EX4 were both easy to set up. Some of the NAS units that we have evaluated do not obtain a DHCP address and present a default web UI automatically (forcing the use of 'discovery applications'). The ix4-300d and EX4 both presented web UIs even in diskless mode. For the non-tech-savvy consumers, discovery applications are also provided.

Setting up the ix4-300d

On the very first page in the setup process, we have the ix4-300d's LifeLine OS offering a way to set up the 'Personal Cloud' feature. It basically creates a dynamic DNS entry (myiomegacloud.com) for the NAS, but requires port forwarding to be configured on the router. LenovoEMC's personal cloud feature allows for users to be invited to access configured shares. With firmware updates, they have also been adding support for access to multiple cloud services (such as Amazon S3, Mozy, Atmos etc.).

The ix4-300d also allows installation of apps from lifelineapps.com : The range and number of apps available is quite limited compared to other NAS units with third-party app support (such as QNAP, Synology and Asustor). Support for WOL (Wake-on-LAN) as well as allowing hard drives to go into idle is available in terms of energy conservation features. The System Status pages provide a way to monitor the CPU / drive temperatures, fan speed and board voltages. Backup jobs can be either 'rsync'-based 'Copy Jobs' or done to cloud storage. In terms of media features, we have a media server, torrent downloader and a Facebook / YouTube uploader available in the native firmware.

In terms of storage features, RAID migration and expansion worked without issues, but the UI is not very user friendly. We kept getting prompts to allow overwriting of disk data. The first time around, it was clear that only the data in the newly inserted disk needs to be deleted, but the second prompt was ambiguous (it is not clear whether the data in the new disk or the data in the currently existing volume was going to be overwritten). Sometimes, the prompt indicated that the unit couldn't use the new drive to expand / add to the storage pool, but the expansion process worked fine when the steps were retried (apparently, a result of using disks with existing partitions as the 'new' drives). This issue appears to be fixed in the latest firmware (4.0.8.23976) according to the release notes. In our testing, we were able to process all expansion steps without data loss, but LenovoEMC always suggests that data be backed-up prior to RAID expansions or rebuilds.

ix4-300d: Springing Surprises

LenovoEMC differentiates the px-series and ix-series based on more than just the base platform (x86 vs. ARM). There are a number of firmware / hardware limitations in the ix-series that may surprise regular observers of the SMB / SOHO NAS market:

  • There is no support for hot-swap, which apparently adds a little bit to the cost of the platform
  • The firmware doesn't allow multiple storage pools / volumes, i.e, all the disks have to be configured in a single storage pool as a single volume with one RAID type.
  • The ix- series doesn't support for 2.5" drives
  • The ix- series doesn't have support for encryption of volumes or shared folders

In addition to the above, LenovoEMC strongly advises use of disks with the same size in all the bays. Since there is no hot-swap, RAID migration and expansion have to be performed after switching off the unit and inserting the disks. The lack of hot-swap and absence of the ability to support disks with multiple sizes are the most disappointing amongst the features neutered for the ix4-300d compared to the corresponding 4-bay px-series NAS.

Unless a review is published to coincide with the product launch, we make sure to stress the product and also check out how the unit operates in the long term. Unfortunately, after a few months into the review process (by the time I was done with the initial back and forth with LenovoEMC), the unit started acting up strangely. After every 30 - 40 days, the NAS would become unresponsive (clients couldn't connect to the shares), and even the time reported on the front screen froze. SMB shares used to be the first to fail, and NFS shares remained accessible for some time before they failed too. There was no alternative but to do a hard power cycle. After the hard power cycle, the system would boot up, but the shares would disappear from the Shares view in the web UI. However the UI would allow the adding of a share with the same name as the pre-existing one, and the previously existing content could be found safe inside. There was no data loss, but the freezing experience would have been pretty scary if the unit had critical data stores inside. This symptom, apparently, was not restricted to our review unit alone. There are a few threads on LenovoEMC's support forums started by users with the same issue. For what it is worth, with the firmwares since the one released in November 2013 (4.0.6.19294), I haven't experienced this issue. However, the problem manifests infrequently. It is not clear if the issue has been really fixed (as there are no explicit mentions in the firmware release notes). For all we know, it could be a hardware issue with a particular batch of units, or some issue with the bundled drives (though they all had clean SMART reports).

Setting up the EX4

Moving on to the EX4, we find the UI to be more contemporary compared to the ix4-300d. A configurable dashboard on the web UI provides an overview of the device as soon as the user logs in. This includes NAS capacity, firmware version, resource usage, users and apps currently active on the unit.

The UI has a ribbon of options at the top. These include the capability to add users, configure shares, set up cloud access (wdmycloud.com) without the need for port forwarding and set up backup jobs. These backup jobs can be to an attached USB drive, a rsync-based remote backup, internally to a different volume or folder or to the cloud. Under the Storage menu, we have options to configure the RAID, disk status and iSCSI target configuration / target initiation. The Apps option lets users install third-party apps. While the selection isn't very extensive right now, it looks like Western Digital is on the right track by offering SDKs to third-party developers while also putting out a few applications on their own. The EX4 also provides advanced services such as DFS (Distributed File System) and Active Directory support. Various link aggregating modes are supported for the two network ports. ISO mounting, DLNA and iTunes servers round up the other features

In terms of RAID expansion and migration, the EX4 started off well. The current firmware supports JBOD to RAID1, JBOD to RAID 5 and RAID1 to RAID 5. However, RAID5 expansion (i.e, a 3 disk RAID-5 to 4 disk RAID-5) is not currently supported. Fortunately, RAID-5 rebuild (replacing a faulty disk in a 4-disk array) went smoothly. However, WD indicated that a fix for online RAID expansion would be made available soon. On the whole, except for the issue with the online RAID expansion, the reliability, wealth of features and ease of use of the EX4 give it a slight edge over the ix4-300d.

Shell Access

The ix4-300d and EX4 both provide SSH access. SSH access to the EX4 can be enabled via the settings page.

However, for the ix4-300d, things are a bit more complicated. SSH can only be enabled through a 'hidden' page which doesn't have any links from the main UI. Visiting http://<NAS IP>/manage/diagnostics.html leads to a support page which allows users to enable SSH access, generate and download debug logs and perform driver recover. (file system check / data reset). The username for SSH access happens to be root, and the password is soho followed by the admin password / root password set on the diagnostics page.

LenovoEMC makes it clear that enabling SSH (unless instructed by support personnel) and modifying the unit through that interface completely voids the warranty.

Teardown and Platform Analysis Single Client Performance - CIFS and iSCSI on Windows
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  • OoKiE69 - Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - link

    Having owned a LenovoEMC ix4-300d for two months before returning it, I am surprised to see that your review does not mention the intermittent slow downs experienced. Or flagging perfectly good disks as failed. Or the random dropping of all your data on a RAID 10 configuration. This really annoying considering it takes over a day to establish the raid 10 on 4 x 3TB drives. None of these faults even generate a single email alert. Yes the email alerting was configured and tested.

    Despite claiming Full Windows 8 compatibility, it's not. None of the shares can be added to a library without a bit of fudging under the hood. Even with the fudging done it doesn't work with any of the Modern UI applications.

    Fortunately a HP Micro Server and a license for Home Server 2011 all for just a little bit more money seems function with the same hard drives in RAID 10 without a single issue and fast. In short I found LenovoEMC ix4-300d NAS to be just really bad.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - link

    What was the firmware version you used before sending back the unit ? I had lots of trouble with 3.x and even the first 4.x version (documented with links tot he support forums in the article under the ix4-300d: Springing Surprises sub-section). However, with the November firmware release, things have improved quite a bit. Still not trusting the NAS with any essential data, though. Reply
  • crazysurfanz - Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - link

    Quote: Still not trusting the NAS with any essential data, though.

    Really isn't much more that needs to be said about it then is there.
    Reply
  • Bob Todd - Thursday, February 27, 2014 - link

    If you don't mind rolling your own and want a small footprint, those almost-always-on-sale at Newegg HP micro servers and something like WHS are indeed a very good option (with RAID or even something like DriveBender/SnapRAID). Reply
  • blaktron - Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - link

    Hey, great article. I wonder, on either of these units can you configure the NICs independently? Do they have VLAN support?

    I have a storage VLAN and prod VLAN at home, and without the ability to attach one NIC to each VLAN for separate purposes then I'm still locked out of the home NAS market :(
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - link

    Not sure what extent of VLAN support you want, but if you want the NICs to be in separate subnets - yes, that is possible. Reply
  • muratai - Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - link

    Can anybody explain me why 2ghz cpu WD nas performs far worse than Synology DS413J with same model but 1.6 ghz cpu? Reply
  • ganeshts - Thursday, February 27, 2014 - link

    As I explained in the teardown and component analysis, there is a bottleneck in the way the drives are connected to the SoC. Out of two PCIe lanes, one is dedicated to the USB 3.0 to PCIe bridge (Etron EJ168A) leaving only one PCIe lane for the 4x SATA to PCIe bridge (the only link through which the four drives can talk to the SoC). Ideally, a 4x SATA should be connected through four PCIe 2.0 lanes for good performance.

    I can't comment / analyze the performance of the 413J unless I take a look at the components on the board.
    Reply
  • Uwanna - Thursday, February 27, 2014 - link

    So, I still do not understand why I would choose a NAS that has a proprietary SATA controller and software over an Intel ICHR 5- 24. If these units fail which you review there are no alternatives offered to replace these units with anything which can replace the reviewed units.
    If I at least "build my own" BYO, then I at least have the option to upgrade the entire BYO NAS with the equivalent Intel ICHR chipset or a more current offering.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Thursday, February 27, 2014 - link

    Neither of these units use hardware RAID.

    If the unit fails, take the drives out, image them and access the data using a Linux system or, if on Windows, something like UFS Explorer. [ Check the last paragraph / gallery here: http://www.anandtech.com/show/4510/lg-n2a2-nas-rev... ]
    Reply

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