The latest addition to the Buffalo TeraStation NAS range, the 4-disk TS4400D is designed to appeal to small and medium-sized businesses alike, with a fast dual-core processor, extensive RAID options and iSCSI support for IP SAN as well as NAS deployment. It can also be used to share printers, take backups of networked PCs and record video from network surveillance cameras. However, a fair amount of technical expertise is required to take advantage of all that the new TeraStation has to offer, expertise not always available the smaller organisations at which it is aimed.
What You Get
In the past, TeraStation products have always shipped with disks already configured inside, but the TS4400D comes without. That means you can choose exactly what disks to use and also helps keep the price down –the bare TS4400D enclosure selling for just £375 (ex. VAT).
Housed in a compact desktop casing there’s a small display at the front and a lockable door to protect the drives with room inside for up to four 3.5-inch SATA disks. These can be up to 4TB each with screws and carriers provided to allow them to simply slide into place.
For best results Buffalo publishes a list of officially supported drives, although it will work with others. Prices will vary depending on make and model, but we found good quality 1TB drives retailing for just £50 (ex. VAT) and 4TB examples selling for about £140 (ex. VAT). So, to fill the TS4400D with 4TB drives is likely to add £560 (ex. VAT) to the cost of the appliance.
The amount of storage you end up with will depend on the number of disks fitted and the RAID protection applied with several configurations to choose from including RAID 5 and 6 enabling the array to carry on in the event of one or two simultaneous drive failures respectively. You can also configure one disk as a hot spare – to kick in automatically in the event of a failure – and swap disks in and out without powering down.
Processing is handled by a dual-core Intel Atom D2550 CPU supported by a fixed 2GB of DDR3 memory, while most of the interfaces needed to connect to the TeraStation are located round at the back. These start with a serial port for monitoring a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) should you want to add one, together with two USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports plus a pair of Gigabit Ethernet network ports.
The USB ports can be used to connect external storage devices and to share printers on the network while the Ethernet ports can be used independently or aggregated to boost network bandwidth. A large fan keeps everything cool and, although not silent, the TS440D could be deployed in a small office without causing too much annoyance.
Unfortunately, installation proved a lot more involved than we were expecting as the appliance boots from a Linux-based operating system which needs to be loaded onto one of the disks before anything else happens. To do this you have to flick a switch on the TeraStation to tell it to boot from a supplied microSD card which, in turn, needs to be slotted into a USB adapter, also provided in the box.
That done, you recover the OS from the SD card onto the first hard disk by responding to messages on the small front display. Not difficult, but time consuming and possibly confusing for some small business buyers.
The install procedure will automatically format the boot disk for you, but the others have to be formatted manually. To do this you’re prompted to install a custom management tool (the Buffalo NAS Navigator) although this really only calls up a browser which you can do for yourself instead.
The interface looks very simple, but we found navigating the various options far from intuitive with a mix of stylised on/off switches combined with pop-out menus that don’t quite gel together. There is an ‘Easy Admin’ option, but this only groups tools together for ease of access and you still have to know what you’re doing especially when configuring RAID levels or opting to use the TS4400D as an iSCSI target on a storage area network (SAN).
On the plus side, NAS and iSCSI volumes can be hosted together on the TS4400D, but only by first enabling the Buffalo Logical Volume Manager (LVM), plus you’ll have to start over if you forget to do this during the initial setup. You can also expand volumes online, but thin provisioning isn’t an option.
We tested as a NAS server using just one Gigabit network connection and in simple file copy tests achieved throughput rates of 90MB/sec for reading and 78MB/sec writing data. Reasonable results for this class of appliance but not outstanding and others can do better. It’s also worth noting that Buffalo didn’t supply any disks for our evaluation and better throughput might be possible by swapping the Seagate Barracuda drives we used for something quicker.
The TS4400D can also be used for backups using the NovaBackup Business Essentials software supplied which can be used to take backups of up to 10 Windows clients. Similarly, on an Apple network, the Buffalo NAS can be configured as a Time Machine target. The appliance itself can also be backed up – to another TeraStation, an external USB disk or the Amazon S3 cloud.
Among other goodies you get anti-virus scanning in the form of the cloud-based TrendMicro NAS Security product, although this has to be licensed separately. Likewise you can configure the TeraStation to record video from IP surveillance cameras using the SoleraTec software provided. However, you’ll need a PC to run it and, although it supports cameras from a variety of vendors, you only get a licence for one.
A Flexible NAS Enclosure?
As a small business storage appliance the Buffalo TS4400D does what you might expect of it and, at the same time, ticks a lot of the boxes when it comes to functionality including supporting remote Web access to shared data. However, it’s not the easiest to manage and in a very competitive market there are plenty of alternatives capable of doing the job better and with a lot less effort. [3/5]
UPDATE: You can watch a video overview of the Buffalo TeraStation 4400D here.