Over the past few years, small business storage appliances have changed beyond all recognition, the latest generation of products offering levels of performance and capacity once only available to large corporations with equally large budgets.
Typical of this new breed is the TS-1079 Pro, part of the TurboNAS family of QNAP business appliances, capable of delivering up to 30TB of storage using a mix of NAS and iSCSI SAN (Storage Area Network) sharing. There’s support too 10GbE network connectivity and facilities to integrate with VMware and other virtualisation platforms, and all in an affordable, easy to manage, small business format.
Build your own array
A desktop rather than rack-mount solution, the TS-1079 Pro can accommodate ten 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch disks, using hot-swap carriers which slide into place at the front. These are neatly arranged with a row of eight bays across the top plus two more placed horizontally underneath, making for a remarkably compact product. Power, meanwhile, is delivered via a single integrated supply with separate large diameter fans to look after the cooling without making the unit overly noisy.
Supplied bare the recommended price is £1,969 (ex. VAT), although this model can be found discounted online at around £1,600 (ex. VAT). Naturally, the cost of disks needs to be factored in on top of this with enterprise-grade SATA drives recommended on both performance and reliability grounds.
Prices are largely dependent on capacity but, at the time of writing, 2GB Seagate Constellations (6Gbps SATA; 7,200rpm) were selling for around £175 (ex. VAT), bringing the price for a fully populated 20GB appliance up to around £3,700 (ex. VAT). Not cheap, but it compares well against similar solutions from other vendors and also against general purpose file servers, particularly those running Windows.
For buyers with bigger budgets 3TB drives can be employed and there’s support too for Solid State Drives (SSDs), although these are still hugely expensive and hard to justify on a small-business product. SAS drives are not an option on this model.
The disks in the array can be left to operate independently if wanted—described as JBOD, short for Just a Bunch of Disks. However, most customers will go for a RAID setup to boost either throughput or availability (or both) with support for Level 0, 1, 5, 6 and 10 arrays plus a choice of hot sparing options including sharing a single hot-spare across multiple arrays to maximise capacity.
Power behind the disks
Large arrays call for a fair amount of processing power, so the TS-1079 Pro sports a dual-core Intel i3 2120 processor accompanied by 2GB of DDR3 RAM. Network connectivity is looked after by a pair of Gigabit Ethernet ports, and these can be configured for both load balancing and failover resiliency.
Further Gigabit ports can be added by plugging standard LAN adapters into an expansion slot at the back with support too for 10GbE cards. These are now readily available for around £500 (ex. VAT) although, as yet, few small businesses will have the necessary switching infrastructure to support this option.
The operating system firmware needed to run the QNAP is loaded from dedicated flash memory so it doesn’t consume any disk space, with a fairly straightforward Web console to configure and manage the TS-1079 Pro plus a choice of either NAS or iSCSI SAN deployment, or a mix of the two.
You say NAS…
Where file sharing, backup and collaboration applications are the main requirements, NAS is arguably the best solution. Here you simply create volumes on the appliance then make them available over the network just like a conventional file server, the TS-1079 Pro providing support for Windows, Apple and Linux file sharing as standard.
A wizard helps make light work of the NAS setup process, while for security it’s possible to encrypt shared volumes, manage access using local ACLs or Active Directory/LDAP authentication and screen out malware using built-in anti-virus and anti-spyware technology.
iSCSI is somewhat different in that it allows volumes to be mounted by remote servers and accessed using block-level protocols, just like locally-attached disks. This setup delivers far better throughput, especially with applications that generate large amounts of I/O traffic, such as email and database servers. It also helps when it comes to clustering and is often a requirement to support real-time migration of virtual machines between hosts.
On the downside setup of iSCSI is a lot more involved than NAS, but no harder on the TS-1079 Pro than on similar appliances from other vendors. The QNAP firmware also has built in snapshot technology to provide for backup and restore of iSCSI volumes.
And the rest
Other features that make the TS-1079 Pro stand out include support for VMware, Hyper-V and Citrix virtualisation platforms plus a ‘virtual disk’ option to present iSCSI targets located on other servers as local shares.
Backup is another key option with bundled software to store client backups on the TS-1079 Pro plus USB and eSata interfaces enable backups of the appliance to be taken to externally attached disks. Backup to the cloud is yet another option plus real-time remote replication of data held on the appliance to other remote servers.
And lastly, as with many other storage appliances, you get a bundle of other extras. Here, however, QNAP has wisely opted to leave out media servers and other consumer options in favour of more business oriented applications, including built in Web and database servers, plus a print server and a surveillance station that can be used to monitor and record video from network cameras.
Inevitably there are a few things missing such as SAS support, for example. Plus there’s no data de-duplication or performance tiering, both becoming commonplace on enterprise storage solutions. But then the TS-1079 Pro is a small-business product and one that, otherwise, delivers the core feature set, performance and capacity now demanded by buyers in that market.