REVIEW: WD Sentinel DS6100

Western Digital Sentinel DS6100

Part of the new Western Digital Storage Plus range, when viewed from the outside the Sentinel DS6100 NAS appliance looks much like the Sentinel DX4000 we reviewed last year. Inside, however, it’s all change with a lot more to like in this new and comprehensively revised network storage server which is faster, more scalable and better equipped than its somewhat lacklustre predecessor.

A Real Server

Western Digital Sentinel DS6100

The desktop casing may be small, but it’s what you get inside is that really matters, and inside the DS6100 there’s a real server. Gone is the dual-core Atom processor that powered the DX4000 to be replaced by a much more capable quad core Intel Xeon – an E3-1265LV2 to be precise, clocked at 2.5GHz. And instead of just 2GB of memory, there’s 16GB of DDR3 RAM with ECC protection as standard which can be doubled to 32GB if needed.

The all-important storage gets a makeover too, with the same four SATA bays available as before but populated by 4TB disks courtesy, naturally, of Western Digital. Moreover, unlike the mostly bare-chassis offerings from competitors the Western Digital appliance comes ready-populated with two, three or four enterprise-class SATA disks to deliver 8-, 12- or 16TB of capacity. This makes for simpler setup but does bump up the price.

For example, the two-drive 8TB model we were sent for this review retails for around £2,040 (ex. VAT). Adding extra drives beyond those provided is simple with no tools or special carriers required, the 3.5-inch disks simply sliding into place behind a now lockable access door for extra security.

An on-board storage controller looks after the disks delivering dual boot drives in a RAID 1 configuration by default along with support for JBOD plus RAID 0/1/5/10 if needed. You also get dual Gigabit ports for network attachment plus a third reserved for future IPMI, along with four USB 3.0, two USB 2.0 ports and a VGA connector to take a monitor. A single very large fan cools the DS6100 and redundant power now comes as standard in the form of a pair of very substantial AC adapters shipped with the unit.

Windows Changes

Western Digital Sentinel DS6100

When it comes to software Western Digital continues to spurn Linux in favour of Windows which, on this model, means Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials licensed to handle 25 users and 50 client computers. A full-blown implementation of Windows Server this makes for a very robust platform with plenty of features and options but it does lead to a much lengthier and involved installation process compared to most of the Linux-based alternatives. Ongoing management is more complicated too.

It took us around half an hour to get the DS6100 up and running. The software is pre-loaded but to configure it you have to plug a screen, keyboard and mouse into the back of the unit and go through a conventional Windows setup routine with the DS6100 assumed to be the sole server on the network and a Windows domain controller.

Even after you’ve gone through that process you can’t just type the server address in a browser and start managing it. Rather you have to first download and install the Windows Server Essentials Connector onto a PC and run the Windows Server Dashboard to get in.

In fact every PC on the network needs to download and install the connector before users and their devices can authenticate to the server and access shared storage. Available for both Windows and Apple Mac computers, installing this tool is a fairly painless process, but depending on the host platform it can take a considerable time. It’s also an extra burden if all you want to do is share files on a small network.

The connector also enables client backups to be taken to the DS6100. However, the backup options haven’t changed much compared to the DX4000 and neither have the bare-metal recovery options. Support for server backup to an eternal disk has been added, addressing this serious omission on the DX4000, plus there’s an add-in to take backups to the cloud for which you’ll need a subscription to Microsoft Azure.

There are options too for Office 365, Exchange and Windows Intune integration plus you can run Windows-based line of business applications on the Western Digital appliance. Options not available on Linux-based alternatives but then not all small businesses need them.

A Good Little Worker

Western Digital Sentinel DS6100

As with all storage appliances, performance will depend on a number of factors including network bandwidth, the way the storage is configured and the number of users access the server at any one time. For our tests we used just one of the two Gigabit ports for network attachment and the default mirrored disk configuration with a Windows Storage Space for data. Using IOmeter to connect to this configuration we recorded a peak read throughput to a single client of just over 100MB/sec and between 80- and 90MB/sec for writes. Reasonable results but not hugely impressive.

The Western Digital appliance can also be configured to act as an iSCSI target. To configure this option, however, you need to abandon the dashboard and delve deeper into the Windows desktop. Ideally too you would install more disks than we had to improve on the throughput figures we achieved which were around 10% better than for NAS sharing.

Take Your Choice

As well as the DS6100, the slightly lower specification DS5100 (from £1,599 ex. VAT) similarly manages to pack a well-specified Windows server into a desktop box. The new Sentinels also manage to squeeze in some decent redundancy options and scalable enterprise-class storage that can be configured for NAS or iSCSI SAN sharing.

The choice of Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials instead of Linux, however, is questionable as, although a robust and powerful platform, Windows Server is lot harder to manage compared the Web front-ends on Netgear, QNAP and Synology boxes.

If you understand all this and still see Windows Server as your best option, then the WD Sentinel DS6100 certainly has the hardware needed to deliver it, and in a remarkably compact footprint. If not, and you think something simpler would be more cost effective, then look at the many Linux-based alternatives instead.