NAS devices offer big storage on small networks

If your storage needs are heading into terabyte territory, you may want to check out these network-attached storage units.

The unit arrived in a tall brown box with the actual NAS enclosure at the bottom and an upper-foam compartment that housed and protected the five Western Digital WD5000AVS drives waiting to be installed. These are 500GB hard drives with an 8MB buffer -- one of Western Digital's "Green Drives" -- and with five you have a total of 2.5TB possible. It's priced a bit on the upscale side at US$1,349, but the available options are somewhat more upscale as well.

Along with the more common RAID 0 and 1, the MaxNAS also supports RAID 5 (single-drive failure tolerance), RAID 6 (allows for two drives to fail), RAID 1+0 (a combination of 1 and 0), JBOD and Span drive assignments.

Beyond that, the unit ships with three USB ports -- two at the rear, one upfront -- for attaching additional drives or a printer. You can copy the data from any storage device connected to the single front-mounted USB port by pressing two buttons on the front panel in succession.

The drives themselves are already installed into their carriers. All you need to do is slide the carriers into the MaxNAS unit. I followed along with the Quick Start guide and was done in under a minute. The latches on the drive carriers have locks so you can lock them into the unit for extra security.

With that out of the way, I connected the AC and network cables provided. I plugged the drive into a nearby wall outlet, attached the network cable to the MaxNAS and to my switch, and then pressed the power button. Along with the typical complement of LEDs, the unit has a two-line status display on the front panel. All told, it's a nicely organized status and information center.

The installation software gives access to the drive's configuration options. Other than run the CD and install the software, I had to do absolutely nothing to get the MaxNAS up and running as a RAID 5 device. It was, in fact, the second-most labor-free installation of the three (it took a backseat to Iomega's StorCenter ix2, but just barely). The software is browser-based; everything is laid out intuitively and accessible via pull-down menus.

In testing, the MaxNAS had very strong write credentials. It was fastest, by a sizable margin, when having data written to it. Reading from the drive wasn't as speedy. That operation was more in line with the times needed by Iomega and Promise -- the MaxNAS was slightly slower than the former and somewhat faster than the latter.

Although I could easily get by with a RAID 0 or 1 unit for a personal or even a SOHO environment, among these three the MaxNAS would have to be the choice for a SMB (or even a high-end SOHO). The high price is a bit daunting (especially if you move into the 5TB and 7,5TB units), but the additional RAID and connectivity options offset the pain somewhat.

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Bill O'Brien

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