In 2009 TweakTown reviewed an average of one NAS product per month. Most of the products that we tested were from the two biggest names in the NAS server market, QNAP and Thecus. In 2010 TweakTown will continue to review NAS servers and the first two months have brought us a plethora of new products from Thecus, QNAP, Proware, Patriot, Advanced Industrial Computer (AIC) and a few others with products on the way. It is safe to say that our NAS server reviews have started to gain some attention with this market.
Testing NAS servers is a complicated and a time consuming task. For the most part modern NAS products are computers in their own right with some using Intel Core2 Duo processors and up to 4GB of RAM. When writing a NAS review it's easy to focus on the hardware and capabilities, but often the software, applications and setup functionality take a back seat even though these functions are just as important as the hardware.
To help ease the strain on both the reader and the writer, today we are going to cover the latest firmware / software release from QNAP. Just weeks ago we ran a similar editorial on Thecus' software.
The plan is to keep these available as living documents with updates published throughout the coming years when new updates and features are released
Software Version 3.2.2
Today we are going to look at software version 3.2.2, the latest from QNAP at the time of this writing.
Getting Started and the Menu System
Getting to your QNAP NAS server or appliance is easy no matter how the network is configured with QNAP's Finder Tool. The tool will allow you to either get to the main login page of the NAS or setup a new configuration when installing the NAS for the first time.
The main login page puts you right in the middle of the action and you have a few choices that I consider shortcuts to other areas. These include Administration (Management), Web File Manager, Customer Service (A direct link to QNAP's customer service), QNAP WIKI and finally the QNAP User Forums.
Main Menu System
Once inside, the main menu system is called Overview and several commonly used tasks have shortcuts on this landing page.
In our deep dive today we are going to look at each menu and the settings that are available as options inside the menu system.
The System Administration area covers a broad range of setup options that are generally setup before anything else.
In the overview section for system administration we can easily find quick links to everything covered in this section.
The General Setting allows us to dive right in and make changes to the NAS servers name and configure administrator's access. Here you will also find the date and time settings.
The Network Setup is one of the most confusing for novice users, but QNAP has made everything quite easy.
It really doesn't get much easier than that does it? Just plug in the numbers or set the auto setting and the NAS will obtain an IP from your DHCP router.
Newer QNAP NAS products are able to take advantage of IPV6. Here we see the screen that enables this feature.
The Hardware tab allows us to enable, change and observe several features that make the NAS perform smoother.
The first part in the security system allows you to manage the level of security on your NAS.
Several protections can be enabled to help keep your data safe from prying eyes.
QNAP allows you to upload and configure a SSL security certificate.
System Administration - Continued
If you have a hardware malfunction or security breach you want to know about it as quick as possible. With the SMPT server you can have your NAS email you the moment such an occurrence takes place.
Setting up the service is fast and several options are available.
If email is not fast enough for you, there is even an SMS message option that will send a message to your mobile phone.
The Power Management area is where you can reboot or shut down your NAS in an instant. Wake on LAN, Scheduling and Auto Resume are also configured in this area.
If being used in a multi-user environment, the Network Recycle Bin is a nice feature to enable so nothing gets deleted completely by mistake.
Being able to back up your configuration settings makes updating the firmware on your NAS very easy since you can save all of your settings to a file.
With the System Log recording actions you can see who was really the last one to tinker with the configuration and when. You can even download the system log to a client PC.
When the time comes, a firmware update can add new features or even speed up the performance of a NAS. Here we see how easy it is to point the NAS to the firmware and in just a few clicks update the NAS server's software.
At some point you may need to just start over and in the Factory Default tab you can get a fresh start.
Following closely behind Network Management, Disk Management; how to setup your drive arrays is quite important.
In the overview of the Disk Management area we have quick links to the settings found here.
Volume Management is where you start building your drive arrays that will later store your data.
Setting up your array is quite easy. Simply select the number of drives you would like to have in the array, then the RAID level and finish with the file system you would like to use. We have already found that EXT4 can have a write cache feature enabled in the Hardware Settings page and EXT4 is the default file system. Hit create and your array starts building. You can setup more than one array also.
The RAID Management tab allows us to view the status of our array as well as go in and change our settings. There is a special hyperlink at the bottom of this area that will give you detailed information on what each function does.
QNAP NAS servers are able to read SMART information from your hard drives, making it easy to find issues before there is a failure.
If you set your arrays up for encryption you can view the state of the array in the Encryption area.
Last year iSCSI took the market by storm and QNAP was one of the first companies to get onboard at the lower price levels. Here we see the page that enables and configures the initial settings.
Some of the other NAS manufacturer's iSCSI setup procedures can be confusing, but QNAP has taken the process and simplified it so anyone can setup and use this feature.
The iSCSI policy management is also a breeze to setup.
If needed, you can setup virtual disks on QNAP NAS servers.
Access Right Management
No one likes keeping secrets, but sometimes privacy needs to be managed. In the Access Right Management area you can control who sees what is on your NAS.
The overview page in this area shows us that there are not too many sections. Let's see how each section works to keep your privacy.
Right at the start we can get right into setting up individual users and their level of access. If you already have a list it is possible to import the data or even back up the configurations once finished.
User Groups allow you to add users to bunches of classes and manage the entire group with just a few clicks.
The Share Folder area is where you make, manage or delete folders on your NAS server. The location is a little odd and if you are not familiar with the QNAP system you will be looking for this area often.
Quota management is very important in the enterprise; there is always that guy that thinks he can backup his entire collection of digital content to the NAS.
The Network Services area is where you will be able to configure your additional network features that allow for advanced network functionality.
The over view page shows gives us links to the area settings.
Windows users will want to set this page up so it works with their system seamlessly. Here you name your workgroup or domain.
Apple users will want to go in and configure the Zone settings.
The NFS Service can be enabled in this section for users of advanced networks.
FTP Services have been around for what seems like the beginning of time. Here you can setup your connections and port ranges.
If you still use it then QNAP most likely still have an option for it. Here we see the Telnet and SSH options.
SNMP has a few settings that you can setup as well.
It is possible to use your QNAP NAS as a web server. This feature comes in very handy when developing a new website. You are even able to setup a PHP.ini file which makes setting up Joomila and other software much easier.
UPnP Service is a favorite around the house with consoles like the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 being able to stream media over the network. Bonjour is also available for Apple users.
One area that QNAP really stands out from the crowd on is their applications and QPKG packages. Sure, other companies allow you to install add-on software packages, but none are as easy and for that matter, as many. My personal favourite is SANnzbd+, a Usenet file download manager. We will talk more about add-on packages in the User Community portion of this article.
QNAP has several innovative applications pre-installed and ready to do your bidding. You can also install additional software packages that would show up in the Applications area once installed.
Many of these are simple enable or disable functions, so we will just show you the screens and report on the QPKG Plug In Install at the end.
Even if you are not sure what a QPKG is, you can access the QNAP webpage that has QNAP's tested applications listed. Each application package has a full description and you can find the page here.
As mentioned previously, installing the QPKG packages are very easy with QNAP NAS servers. Just two to three clicks gets the setup rolling.
One of the primary uses for NAS servers is to back up your data. QNAP has taken this feature to another level and incorporated several useful features.
Don't be put off by the small number of icons in this area. QNAP has turned data backup into an art form.
If you have ever wondered what all of those USB ports are on QNAP servers, here is the area you need to explore. On the front of the flagship models is a USB port with a button that says Backup. Here you choose where you want your portable device backed up or sync'ed to.
More USB One Touch Copy functions can be set in this area.
Remote Replication allows you to backup one portion of the NAS to another or even an external server.
Apple Time Machine is also supported.
External Devices and System Status
If you have a drive attached to the system with eSATA or USB it is possible to format the drive before making it available to the system.
Plugging in a printer to a QNAP NAS server is an easy way to make a printer available to everyone on the network. Here you can manage each printer installed.
No storage device is completely secure without a UPS "battery backup" to keep the juice flowing during a power outage. Here you can setup specific functions.
One of the nicest features of the AJAX software is instant real time updates. On the System Information page we are able to see exactly how each component of the NAS is functioning.
The System Services page allows for easy confirmation that a service is enabled or disabled.
The Resource Monitor page gives real time status updates that cover CPU Usage, Disk Space and Bandwidth Transfer.
Forums and User Communities
NAS servers are very powerful tools and they can be used for a lot more tasks than what the original designers intended. As mentioned in the introduction, these are for the most part full computers that are essentially running a Linux operating system. There are many talented software writers out there that build additional functions into QNAP NAS products.
It is important to remember that most of these application packages are beta and testing is usually limited by the group of early adapters like yourself. QNAP has a nice list of approved and tested applications, but that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Below are a list of known forums and websites dedicated to NAS products and some Thecus specific groups.
- QNAP Official Forums
If you own a QNAP NAS server and are looking to obtain more knowledge or gain additional functionality, these are all good places to start your research.
QNAP was one of the first to launch AJAX based configuration software and since continued to build on its success. I really hate to make statements like 'best available' or 'best that I have used' in a document that will be updated from time to time when features are added or removed, but the QNAP software just flows so well. I am not really sure if it is just how fast the software is when transitioning from one page to another, or the nice graphics. Maybe it is both, but my personal favorite setup software at this time is what you saw today.
As it sits right now QNAP also has the best add-on packages for their NAS servers. I particularly like the app that runs the Usenet downloads; to each their own. Web designers will really like being able to install the web server application and add-ons that are available for it.
Once you get started installing packages it can quickly get out of control and you need to know the limits of what all you can run on the hardware you purchased. If you are planning on taking advantage of going all out with the extra software, be ready to purchase one of the higher end models or at least look into upgrading the amount of RAM in your NAS.
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