REVIEW: QNAP TS-1279U-RP

The last few years have seen vendors of NAS (Network Attached Storage) appliances enhancing their product ranges to meet the needs of, not just traditional SME buyers, but larger customers seeking more scalable solutions. As a result, rack-mount products with built-in RAID and redundant power are now commonplace, supported by fast processors, multiple network ports and iSCSI SAN connectivity as well as NAS file sharing.

Typical of this kind of product, the TS-1279U-RP from QNAP is part of the Taiwan-based vendor’s Turbo NAS Business Series and is capable of delivering up to 36TB of storage in a compact 2U format. Available without disks from around £2,150 (ex. VAT), the QNAP appliance has all the performance and features of a high-end storage platform, including iSCSI capabilities, but with the same easy to configure Web interface as more modest SME products.

All about the storage

Much like a traditional file server, the TS-1279U-RP can be configured to suit a variety of customer networks and applications. At its core is an all-metal 2U chassis supplied with brackets for immediate rack deployment plus dual hot-swap power supplies to enable the appliance to continue running should either unit fail.

The fact that it’s a storage appliance is clear just by looking at the QNAP appliance, with the front of the chassis dominated by twelve hot-swap bays designed to take caddies holding either 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch disks. The disks have to be screwed into the caddies, but these then simply slide into place in the disk bays with a button on each to prevent accidental ejection. On the downside, however, there is nothing to lock the disks is place, which could be an issue in this marketplace.

Ready-populated appliances complete with high-spec disks can be had if wanted but there’s nothing much to be gained through doing so, other than convenience and speed of deployment. Indeed, you can use any SATA drives or solid state disks (SSDs), the 12 bays giving the appliance a nominal capacity of 36GB using 3GB spindles.

Different makes and capacities can be mixed if needed, although enterprise-quality disks are recommended and most customers will opt for the same specification across the board to insure maximum capacity and performance. Support for the latest 6Gbps SATA interface comes as standard and when configuring an array you can choose from RAID levels 0, 1, 5, 6 and 10 protection, with QNAP arrays formatted using either the Linux EXT3 or EXT4 file system.

The driving force

Looking after the processing side of the equation there’s a dual-core Intel Core i3-2120 supported by 2GB of DDR3 memory which can be upgraded to 4GB using ordinary DIMM modules. A pretty impressive setup, this configuration should be capable of supporting large workgroups and their network shares while for customers with greater demands there’s the TS-EC1279U-RP (starting from £3,150 ex. VAT) with an even faster, quad-core, Xeon CPU.

Dual Gigabit ports look after the networking on both models with support for both automatic failover and load balancing built into the operating system employed. Additionally there are two PCI express expansion slots at the back of the chassis which can accommodate standard plug-in LAN adapters, with support here for both Gigabit cards and the latest 10 Gigabit adapters from Emulex or Intel. Available from around £450 (ex. VAT), these are easy to fit and can either be sourced and installed separately or supplied ready-configured by a specialist reseller.

The software side of the street

Like other QNAP appliances the TS-1279U-RP runs a Linux-derived OS which can be managed through a Web-based interface. This proved slick and easy to understand with, for example, simple wizard-driven tools to build arrays, create virtual volumes and make them available on the network.

Putting the appliance to work is very easy, with default set of network shares built ready for use as part of the initial setup process. Plus as well as Windows there’s support for Apple Mac and NFS (Linux/UNIX) file sharing and a built-in FTP server. Printer sharing is also supported.

As well as local authentication support for Active Directory and LDAP integration is provided along with the ability to encrypt storage for security if required. Plus it’s possible to host iSCSI SAN targets on the QNAP and connect these direct to other servers on the network while also hosting NAS shares on the appliance. Added to which there’s a neat ‘virtual disk’ option to connect the appliance to remote iSCSI targets and mount them as NAS shares.

Local storage on Windows clients can be backed up to the QNAP appliance using software supplied, while for Mac clients Apple Time Machine support is another built-in option. Backups of the appliance itself can then be taken to external storage, with USB and eSATA ports for local disk attachment plus support for backup and synchronisation to another, remote, QNAP appliance or Rsync server.

The ability to take iSCSI LUN snapshots is yet another option, as is backup to the cloud using Amazon S3, ElephantDrive or Symform.

Lastly, just like most other storage appliances, the TS-1279U-RP can be configured to run a variety of optional services and applications. A number of business oriented apps are on offer here, including Web and MySQL database servers, an anti-virus scanner and a Web-based IP surveillance console. Presented as tick-box options these are very easy to configure and, just like the storage, can be managed by users who might, otherwise, struggle to cope with a general purpose server alternative.

Summary

There’s a lot to like about the TS-1279U-RP, from the robust and flexible chassis with its high-availability and expansion options to the easy to use interface and feature-rich software. There’s no SAS option on this product but that’s not a big issue. The QNAP appliance still delivers a good mix of enterprise-class features and performance at an affordable SME price.

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