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
POST A COMMENT

38 Comments

View All Comments

  • Icehawk - Thursday, February 27, 2014 - link

    Raid 5? Why bother - the point of these cheap and slow devices IMO is for simple raid mirroring. I have an old WD 2 device job and it is slow as molasses but I don't really care as it is used as an archive dump to hold stuff I'd hate to lose. Reply
  • chizow - Thursday, February 27, 2014 - link

    Accurate review from what I saw, I have the 2-bay version of the Lenovo/iomega NAS and the WD MyCloud EX4 as well. The hardware, mainly the single core CPU in the WD definitely hold it back especially with multi-client accesses, but I think the key feature that I did not see mentioned at all is the MyCloud's excellent cloud functionality. It also has a very easy to use smartphone app that allows you to access the NAS contents securely from anywhere with just a single sign-on username, no need for IPs or hostnames, port-forwarding, SSH or anything else that would scare off the average home user.

    The Iomega units are solid for their price, but they definitely aren't as fast as the Qnap or Synology units of the world, but the Iomegas can be had for a fraction of the price. Good entry-level home NAS units for those that have extra HDDs lying around and want to provide centralized network storage.
    Reply
  • Frolictoo - Sunday, March 2, 2014 - link

    I still can't believe that vendors use SATA II connectors when most new NAS drives come in the SATA III flavor. If legacy reasoning is the case then why not add both options; SATA III is backwards compatible with SATA II. I have just built a new NAS using all WD RED drives on a RAID 10 array and I am truly satisfied with the impressive performance gain over the older SATA II counterparts. Reply
  • M/2 - Sunday, March 2, 2014 - link

    I've never understood consumer grade NAS drives. They're slow and problematic. Why not just set up a 4-bay RAID attached to a small computer and get RAID5 speeds over the network? I've got a 4-bay, USB3, RAID5 box (~$250 plus the cost of the drives) connected to a MacMini. Even on USB3, I get 250 Mb/s read/writes, Voila! 6X faster than NAS!

    Assuming you're using the Mini for other things than just network storage, the cost is about the same. There's also a dozen or so little MicroPC's with USB3 for ~$300-400 that you can do the same thing with if you're doing Windows. I love the MacMini because I can do everything I need over Remote Desktop, I never have to touch the Mini. You can put it in any dark corner and do everything remotely. Mine is in the very back of the entertainment center, it's just one more HDMI input on the AV receiver. If I need a big screen (iTunes, photos, movies) it's always there. Otherwise, it's there for remote clients including, laptops and AppleTV's. Try playing music or movies from a NAS drive! Yes you can do it, but it's not plug and play. This isn't intended to be an advert for Mac's, I just like my setup. You can do the same thing with a MicroPC.

    What am I missing? Be nice, I'm not an IT guy.
    Reply
  • chizow - Monday, March 3, 2014 - link

    2 main reasons I can think of that prevented me from going this route:

    1) Power consumption: if you have something that you could repurpose for a NAS server, it's probably going to be old and power hungry. No way I would want one of my old X58 rigs powered 24/7 just to file server on my network. The WD MyCloud EX4 for example uses only ~15W idle and 30W under load. Huge difference.

    2) Price: There are definitely low-power options available now, even something like a NUC connected over USB 3.0 wouldn't be a terrible option, or a mini-ITX box. But then you are talking real money, and that's before you take the drives into account.

    Consumer-grade NAS boxes are often good enough, especially if you aren't asking a whole lot of them. I use mine to access shared DVRed shows from multiple PC clients wirelessly over the network as well as backing up data on my client machines, tablets, smartphones and it works well enough, provided I don't ask too much of it at once.
    Reply
  • M/2 - Monday, March 3, 2014 - link

    re: Power consumption... You got my curiosity going, a Mac Mini consumes 11W in idle mode (configured for wake on LAN). Mine has SSD's (RAID0 :) ), so it starts quick. I'm using a Dyconn Quartz4 which sleeps, there's no spec, but I'm assuming sleep mode must low, 4-5W? at most it's the same as a NAS.... so not much difference (at least to me)

    Re: NUC --- that's the cheaper option, except for one thing, it's Windows which is a pain in the *ss to manage ( for home use anyway, IMO, I made the switch about 5 yrs ago, never looked back) --- Regardless... I'm assuming the Mini is $0 added cost since I use it for other stuff besides network storage.
    Reply
  • RAYBOYD44 - Monday, March 3, 2014 - link

    John . even though Eleanor `s remark is super, last week I got BMW M3 after having made $6301 this last 5 weeks and over 10-k lass-month . this is certainly the best-work I have ever had . I actually started nine months/ago and straight away made myself over $70, p/h . s Reply
  • vanel86 - Monday, March 3, 2014 - link

    Since i owned a ix2-200d and a ix4-200d(free swap after my ix2 gave up and failed its own disks) i can attest you should run when offered the chance to get a lifeline -based device. If you activate the idle spin-off there is a very real chance the disk will be marked as dead by mdadm and since the disks die like flies in those due to the asthmatic fan(which spin on only if you get catastrophic temperatures) you are risking data daily if you use any powersaving option. The CIFS, NFS and AFS are very unoptimized, you can get unironically faster performance if you create a iscsi storage partition(which is the sole reediming feature of the former emc owned iomegas ixes, full vmware certification) and run a freenas within the storage area Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now