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Home Networked Storage: Infrant ReadyNAS NV+

Our digital lives result in an inevitable accumulation of electronic data -- more and more files and folders, and bigger and bigger files, especially audio and video clips. We'd like to keep these these collections managed and organized, but as they grow our files spread out among multiple disks and machines. As a result, not only is it hard to find stuff, but our data is at risk, since we're typically sloppy about backing up. In addition, as our homes get more networked with multiple devices (desktop, laptop, handheld), we'd like our files to not only be organized and archived, but also immediately accessible and sharable among all our devices.

One good answer to this growing need is to bring the enterprise concept of NAS (Network Attached Storage) to the home and small office. Instead of hanging multiple disks off networked computers, you can bring them together and attach them directly to the network as a large shared server. Then you can collect your files on a single big device, protect them with built-in RAID redundancy, secure them as desired with passwords, and then share them with both computer devices and home media players.

Thanks to the extensive review by Brian Dipert on his EDN blog, I became interested in the Infrant Technologies ReadyNAS product line, and finally bought into this vision late last year with the new Infrant ReadyNAS NV+, a compact but loaded server with up to 3 TB of networked RAID storage.

And it's been wonderful -- unlike too many other devices with set-up, configuration, and networking problems and glitches, the ReadyNAS NV+ just works. The volumes reliably mount as external networked devices under Windows networking (with and without passwords), so I can run daily backups to the disk and share photo and other media files within the home. So refreshing -- Why does this have to be so hard sometimes?



Infrant has several versions of ReadyNAS products based on its RAID technology, including desktop and rack-mount units, but the ReadyNAS NV+ is interesting because it's compact -- 5.2 x 7.9 x 8.6 inches, and 16 lbs. with 4 hard disks installed. (It has a convenient metal carrying handle on the back.) And though it has fans to keep the disk cooled, the noise is fairly well muffled -- It's certainly quieter than some of my other external drives.

X-RAID and Storage

What makes the ReadyNAS line interesting, however, is Infrant's custom network storage processor, which supports RAID 0, 1, and 5, plus Infrant's own X-RAID implementation (see Wikipedia on RAID).

X-RAID is Infrant's Expandable RAID technology, which allows you to swap in new drives and then will automatically reconfigure the storage to take advantage of the new space. Unlike other systems, you can actually hot-swap drives while the system is running. And there's no need for you to be an IT database manager and manually reconfigure the RAID if you cahange the disks -- you can just go ahead and add a new disk for more storage, or even replace an existing disk with a bigger one.

The X-RAID protection is not just mirroring files by duplicating them on a second drive (doubling the required storage). Instead it uses striping to spread files across multiple physical drives along with additional error correction to be able to reconstruct the contents of a drive. As a result, you get RAID protection plus more capacity with more drives:

1 Drive = NAS
2 Drives = NAS + RAID Protection
3 Drives = NAS + RAID Protection + Double Capacity
4 Drives = NAS + RAID Protection + Triple Capacity

So a system with 4 disks of 750 GB each has 3 TB of total storage, with over 2 TB of usable capacity with the RAID overhead.

For further expansion, the ReadyNAS NV+ has one USB 2.0 port in front, and two more in the back. These can be used to share and transfer data across the network (whether from a camera or an external USB hard drive), or for backup -- the disks just mount as additional shares.

The system has additional enterprise-type features including data journaling, hot spares, and volume snapshots. It's also self-monitoring, so it can generate e-mail alerts when issues are detected, and even shut down automatically on disk failure or too-high temperature.

The product also includes a 5-user license for the EMC Retrospect backup application for Windows and for Mac.

Connectivity and Security

The ReadyNAS NV+ supports up to gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000), with performance specs of 32 MB/sec read, 24 MB/sec write (with jumbo frames optimization).

It can join your network automatically using DHCP (or act as a server), or you can manually set IP addresses. For secure access, you can set up password-protected shares, or more advanced Share/User/Domain security modes.

The ReadyNAS NV+ network interface supports Windows, Mac, Unix, and Linux through a variety of protocols including CIFS, NFS, and AFP, plus you can access it directly with a web browser (HTTP) or FTP client.

And for media sharing it supports UPnP AV, iTunes Streaming Server, and other protocols for streaming media files to compatible devices.

Software

To check the status of the ReadyNAS NV+, Infrant provides the RAIDar application to search your network to find any ReadyNAS devices, and display a status summary. RAIDar even has a Locate option to flash the LEDs on the front of the selected device so you can confirm which unit you are working with.

You then can use the Infrant FrontView Web interface to drill down into all the options and status on the device, including Network configuration and protocols, Security passwords and accounts, file and streaming Services, disk and USB Volumes, protected Shares, shared Printers, Backup jobs, System settings, and overall Status.

The bottom of the front panel also has a LCD display for status -- especially to monitor startup or shutdown.

Pricing


The Infrant ReadyNAS products are available from a variety of distributors and online retailers,
and the Infrant Online Store.

See Infrant ReadyNAS on Amazon.

The bare diskless unit with 4 empty disk trays is $649, so you can then add your own compatible SATA disks. It's also available with one or more pre-installed hard disks of different capacity, up to 1, 2, and 3 TB. A fully-loaded system with 4 disks of 750 GB is $2,799.

Other Networked Storage Options

Buffalo LinkStation / TeraStation, www.buffalotech.com

LaCie Ethernet Disk, www.lacie.com

Maxtor (Seagate) Shared Storage, www.maxtorsolutions.com

Manifest Tech Site

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This entry posted on March 5, 2007.

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