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Small business NAS appliance options

This rundown of four small business NAS appliances dives into their available features to help you decide which product is right for your organization.

Storage needs differ among organizations. This feature discusses four small business NAS appliance options from leading NAS vendors and a glimpse into their feature sets.

Among the appliances discussed are:

  • Buffalo TeraStation 5800DN
  • Drobo B880fs
  • NetGear RN31600
  • Seagate NAS Pro 6-Bay

The basics

The Buffalo TeraStation 5800DN is an eight-bay NAS appliance based around the Intel Atom D2700 2.13 GHz dual-core processor. The unit has a maximum capacity of 48 TB, but is available in 24 TB, 32 TB and 48 TB configurations. A 24 TB unit sells for $2,899.99, with the 32 TB and 48 TB models priced at $4,399.99 and $5,799.99, respectively.

The Drobo B880fs is an eight-bay NAS appliance that can accommodate up to 48 TB of storage. The unit sells for $999 (drives not included).

The NetGear RN31600 is a six-bay NAS appliance based around a dual-core Intel Atom 2.1 GHz processor. The unit has a maximum native capacity of 24 TB, but the capacity can be expanded to 64 TB through an optional EDA500 expansion unit. NetGear does not sell the unit directly to consumers, but a number of websites offer the RN31600 for approximately $850 (online prices vary widely).

The Seagate NAS Pro uses a 1.7 GHz dual-core Intel processor, comes equipped with six drive bays and has capacity ranging from 6 TB to 30 TB. The unit sells for $599 with no drives installed. Seagate sells units that come equipped with drives for an additional fee. A unit that includes the maximum available 30 TB of storage is priced at $1,999.99.

SSD support

Solid-state drives (SSDs) are a popular choice for high-performance storage, so it is a good idea to verify that the NAS appliance purchased provides SSD support. Of the small business NAS appliances described in this feature, just the Drobo B880fs and NetGear RN31600 provide support for SSDs. However, neither vendor mentions SSD-based caching or tiering storage.

Drobo indicates that SSD storage is best suited to file sharing, media editing, database hosting and virtualization (consumer-grade SSDs are not recommended for hosting databases or for virtualization). The NetGear RN31600 also provides support for hard disk drives (HDDs).

According to its hardware compatibility list, the Buffalo TeraStation 5800DN does not support SSD storage. There are currently a limited number of drives listed as being compatible with this appliance. Based on its technical specifications, the Seagate NAS Pro does not officially support the use of SSDs.

Flexible storage support

Ideally, a small business NAS appliance should allow you to use whatever hard disks you want. Some vendors allow any SATA-based drive to be used, while others support only proprietary drives.

Ideally, a small business NAS appliance should allow you to use whatever hard disks you want.

The Buffalo TeraStation 5800DN supports only a very specific list of HDDs. Compatible HDD models include OP-HD1.0WR, OP-HD2.0WR, OP-HD3.0WR, OP-HD4.0WR and OP-HD6.0WR.

The Drobo B880fs is diverse with regard to media support. According to its product page, "Drives of any manufacturer, capacity, spindle speed, and/or cache can be used."

The NetGear RN31600 supports disks up to 4 TB in size.

The Seagate NAS Pro is designed to use Seagate NAS optimized drives. Although it might be possible to use non-Seagate drives in the appliance, the vendor maintains a hardware compatibility list that specifies supported drives. The Seagate drives are available in capacities up to 5 TB each, and are designed specifically for NAS use. It is worth noting that the appliance includes six SATA II channels, and therefore does not support SATA III.

Alerting mechanism

A NAS appliance should alert the storage administrator in the event of a disk failure or other problem. Ideally, an appliance should include a visible indicator and an email notification system.

The Buffalo TeraStation 5800DN displays alerts through its built-in LCD panel. It also supports the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) and can be configured to provide email alerts.

The Drobo B880fs includes drive bay indicator lights, a capacity gauge and status lights. It also supports email notifications and can be managed through the Drobo Dashboard.

The NetGear RN31600 displays alerts through an LCD panel or alerts can be sent through email. The unit can be managed through SNMP and supports local logging.

The Seagate NAS Pro reports its status through a built-in LCD panel. It has a built-in alert management system and can send email notifications.

Supported protocols

Each NAS appliance is designed to work with a specific set of network protocols that dictate how the appliance can be used.

The Buffalo TeraStation 5800DN features twin Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) ports. The unit is designed to work on IP networks, but the product specification sheet makes no mention of IPv6 support. Supported file transfer protocols include CIFS/SMB, AFP, HTTP/HTTPS, FTP/SFTP and NFS. The unit can also be used as an iSCSI target and act as a DLNA, UPnP media server or iTunes server.

The Drobo B880fs features two GbE ports, but the specification sheet makes no mention of IPv6 support. Supported network protocols include CIFS/SMB and Apple AFP.

The NetGear RN31600 supports a wide range of protocols. The unit features two gigabit network ports with link aggregation support, works with IPv4 and IPv6, and supports jumbo frames. Supported transfer protocols include CIFS/SMB 3, Apple AFP 3.3, Linux NFS v4, HTTP(S), FTP, SSH, WebDAV, iSCSI and rsync. In addition, the unit can act as a DLNA-based media server, or iTunes or Plex media server. Tivo archiving is supported.

The Seagate NAS Pro supports a variety of protocols. The unit features twin gigabit network adapters and supports link aggregation. It supports IPv4 and IPv6, jumbo frames and dynamic DNS. Supported network file protocols and services include CIFS/SMB, NFS v3, AFP, HTTP(S), FTP/SFTP, SNMP, SMTPm UPnP, Bonjour, WebDAV and DFS-N. The unit also supports several media streaming protocols, including UPnP A/V media server, DLNA compatibility, iTunes (DAAP) server and MTP/PTP.

Thin provisioning

If you plan to create multiple volumes on a NAS server, thin provisioning is a handy feature to have. Thin provisioning allows volumes to be created without immediately claiming a significant amount of disk space. Instead, physical storage space is allocated to the volume only when data is written. Thin provisioning can help an organization make the most efficient use of its available storage.

The NetGear RN31600 supports thin provisioning, while the Drobo B880fs supports both thin provisioning and storage reclamation.

Based on their technical specifications, the Seagate NAS Pro and Buffalo TeraStation 5800DN do not appear to support thin provisioning.

Support for mixed drive sizes

A small business NAS appliance needs to support mixed disk sizes. If a disk fails, you may be unable to find a replacement that exactly matches the capacity of the original disks. Furthermore, hot adding larger disks is a common way to increase the capacity of a NAS appliance.

Hot adding larger disks is a common way to increase the capacity of a NAS appliance.

The Drobo B880fs includes support for mixed HDD sizes. When the unit's capacity needs to be increased, existing drives can be hot swapped for larger ones. The Seagate NAS Pro includes an HDD mix-and-match feature that can be used for auto-RAID migration or volume expansion.

The specification sheets for the Buffalo TeraStation 5800DN and NetGear RN31600 make no mention of the ability to mix-and-match drive sizes.

Flexible data protection (RAID options)

Most NAS appliances protect against data loss through the use of RAID configurations. The supported RAID levels indicate the levels of redundancy and data protection provided by the appliance.

The Buffalo TeraStation 5800DN accommodates up to eight disks and supports a variety of RAID levels, including: RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 6, RAID 10, RAID 50, RAID 51, RAID 60, RAID 61 and JBOD.

The Drobo B880fs incorporates BeyondRAID, which emulates RAID 1, RAID 5 and RAID 6. BeyondRAID is designed to be far more flexible than traditional RAID, and supports the ability to change levels of protection (such as moving from single-disk redundancy to two-disk redundancy) with the click of a mouse. BeyondRAID also allows for thin provisioning, instant expansion, drive reordering and a virtual hot spare.

The NetGear RN31600 supports the X-RAID2 standard, which allows for automatic, single volume online expansion. It is also possible to expand multiple RAID groups. RAID levels supported by the appliance are RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 6 and RAID 10. You can also designate one of the unit's disks as a global hot spare.

The Seagate NAS Pro supports Seagate SimplyRAID (the default configuration), JBOD, RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 5 with a hot spare, RAID 6 and RAID 10.

Battery backup

Some small business NAS appliances include a battery that can help the appliance remain functional during a power failure. Some appliances do not include a built-in battery, but are uninterruptible power supply-aware and can be shut down gracefully by the UPS in the event of a power failure.

The Buffalo TeraStation 5800DN, NetGear RN31600 and Seagate NAS Pro do not include a built-in battery backup. However, all three units are UPS-aware.

The Drobo B880fs datasheet does not mention battery or UPS support.

Next Steps

Smaller, scale-out NAS offerings offer capacity and performance

A deep dive into NAS architecture and buying decisions

Get the most out of your rack-mount appliance

This was last published in September 2015

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Have you had any issues with these small business NAS devices?
Nice overview.....but a comparison grid of the models discussed and different NAS characteristics would have been useful as well.