Thecus N3200XXX NAS Server Review

Nemo - 2011-07-06 21:51:49 in Storage / Hard Drives
Category: Storage / Hard Drives
Reviewed by: Nemo   
Reviewed on: October 6, 2011
Price: $459

Introduction:

When the subject of storage arises, the direction always seems to be 'more'. I certainly can't seem to recall ever having heard someone say they had too much storage and were looking to reduce the amount of free space. We have all probably experienced the situation where we thought we had an absurd amount of storage that would never be filled, only to find ourselves scrambling to delete files because storage space was getting low. Let's face it, we're all facing a need for increased amounts of storage, especially as our collections of multimedia files grow. Whether it's music, videos, or photographs, you're going to need the ability to safely store and back up an increasing amount of data.

A recent study sponsored by storage giant EMC, titled Extracting Value from Chaos, found that the amount of data generated worldwide is doubling every two years. Some users might shrug their shoulders and wonder what the big deal is, especially with the availability of 3TB drives from the leading hard drive manufacturers. Besides the problems of addressing volumes greater than 2.1TB, which we won't go into here, throwing larger volumes at the problem ignores some of the greater benefits of turning to a solution such as network attached storage (NAS) servers.

Besides being able to quickly add significant amounts of storage, NAS devices also provide protection against hard drive failures through RAID volumes, allow users to share files across the network, and provide the ability to grow storage capacity through online capacity expansion technology. These are just a few of the benefits offered by NAS servers and we'll be examining the Thecus N3200XXX NAS server designed for the SOHO/home market. The N3200XXX is an upgraded and improved version of the Thecus N3200PRO NAS Server we reviewed a while back.

Thecus has been around since 2004 and specializes in digital media storage. The company offers a complete line of storage devices, ranging from a simple two-bay direct-attached storage enclosure on up to 16-bay rackmount enterprise-grade servers. Given Thecus' focus on storage from both the hardware and software sides, let's take a look at the N3200XXX and see what it has to offer.

Closer Look:

As with the previous Thecus units we've reviewed, the N3200XXX arrived in a heavy-duty corrugated cardboard shipping box with the unit tucked inside. The shipping box protected the unit during shipping, but there was some damage to the the box containing the NAS that had to have happened prior to shipping. The front of the product carton features a picture of the N3200XXX, but more prominent is the 'XXX' moniker, which we'll get into in more detail later – suffice it to say it has nothing to do with what you're thinking about! Moving around to the side of the box, we see graphics depicting suggested ways to utilize the NAS server in a typical home environment. The back of the box mirrors the front with the addition of several features depicted across the bottom. That just leaves the other side where we see where the 'XXX' comes from with text touting the Extreme Speed, Extreme Protection, Extreme Data Backup, and Extreme Power Management of the unit. Yes, I know, that's four 'extremes' and there are only three Xs in 'XXX'. We also see the damage I mentioned earlier — the box has been penetrated, so I'm hoping the unit is undamaged once we take it out.

 

 

 

 

 

Once we open the box, we can see the N3200XX is cushioned by a pair of closed-cell foam inserts. The inserts suspend the unit within the confines of the box and provide an area of dead space between the unit and the walls of the box. In this case, you can thank the packaging engineers for a job well done, as the unit escaped unscathed from the damage to the outside of the carton. A plastic bag covers the unit as well, providing an additional layer of protection. Also inside the carton is a bag containing a quick installation guide, a Cat 5e network cable, and an installation CD, along with additional software including an OEM version of Acronis True Image backup software. Also in the box are an external power adapter and power cord.

 

 

 

With the unit free of all the packaging, you can get a better look at the plastic wrap used as a further layer of protection against scratches. A closer examination showed the unit was in pristine condition, none the worse for wear despite the damage to the box. Looking at the unit directly from the front, you see a scalloped cover with slits exposing the cooling grill for the hard drive bays. The area below the cooling slits is dominated by the LCD panel with the control buttons off to the right with a power indicator light in the middle (the power button itself is protected by the front door to prevent accidentally powering down the unit). Along the bottom you can make out the LAN/WAN and HDD activity LEDs. From the side you can see the slightly concave profile that keeps the enclosure from looking so flat. The rear panel of the unit is mostly given over to the thermally controlled 92mm cooling fan. Along the bottom, from left to right, are the dual Ethernet ports, a single USB 2.0 port above an eSATA connector, and the power connector. There's also an expansion slot reserved for future cards Thecus might release. The bottom of the unit sports a set of four rubber pads designed to keep the unit from slipping, as well as allowing you to stack the unit if needed.

 

 

 

This is a good time to draw some comparisons of the physical characteristics between the N3200XXX and the N3200PRO. The units are physically identical in all aspects except for the front and that's where the differences really show up. If you click on the link for the N3200PRO above, in the pictures at the bottom of the first page, you'll see the upper half of the front is taken up by three grilled openings. This section of the N3200PRO is really a removable cover that you lift off in order to be able to access the hard drive bays. The N3200XXX makes a major improvement in this area as the front cover is all one piece and is now a hinged door with a push-to-open catch on the right side. The door swings open to provide better access to the power switch, as well as the front USB port. The controls on the N3200XXX are a little more refined and sleeker as well. You'll also notice the grill openings are smaller on the N3200XXX, so let's hope that doesn't negatively impact its cooling performance.

Installation:

Like most of the other NAS units we've reviewed here at OCC, the N3200XXX ships without any hard drives. That leaves it up to the end user to purchase and install the drives, so the installation process should be as easy and straight-forward as possible.

The three drive bays are located behind the front door of the NAS, which has a push-to-open catch in the middle of the door on the right-hand side. You can see the bays in the top of the unit with the SATA backplane located at the rear of the enclosure. This backplane contains the power and data connections for the drives so there is no need to install any cables. Unlike other units that make use of trays or caddies for mounting the drives, the N32200XXX uses a tool-less system of mounting rails that secure to the front bays with thumb screws. With the thumb screws loosened all the way, you can remove the rails from the unit. The second photograph shows each rail has a series of protruding tabs that match the mounting holes on the side of the drive. To install the rails, simply align the tabs to the screw holes on the drive and push them in gently. If you've done it correctly, the finished product should look like the last photograph in the series below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the rails attached to the drive, it's an easy matter of sliding each drive into its respective slot and tightening down the thumb screws. Be sure to seat each drive securely by pushing it firmly against the backplane prior to fastening the thumb screws. With no cables to attach, the whole process can be accomplished in a matter of minutes. Once done, you can close the front door and secure it by pressing the latch on the right side.

 

 

Once everything is installed and buttoned up, the next task is to connect the Ethernet cable to the WAN/LAN1 port, which is the lower of the two, on the rear of the case and connect the other end to your network. The last remaining item on the installation list is to connect the power adapter to the unit, plug it in, and turn it on.

Now we're ready to begin configuring the N3200XXX for use.

Configuration:

Now that the 'some assembly required' phase of the process is complete, the N3200XXX is ready to be configured for use. Thecus includes a setup CD in the box that contains a user's manual, setup wizard, quick installation guide, backup utility, and other items for several different NAS models. The setup wizard is used to detect any Thecus NAS devices on the network and allow you to make some initial setup changes on the device selected. To begin, just place the CD in your computer's optical drive and it should launch a welcome screen as long as autorun is enabled. From the initial screen, click on the the N3200XXX button to bring up a menu list of choices. The next step is to click on the Setup Wizard button to install and launch the setup utility. This begins the installation process and the only option is to specify the install directory. Once installation is finished, the Setup Wizard will automatically run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the installation complete, you can click on the Start button to launch the Setup Wizard. This kicks off the Device Discovery process that scans for all Thecus storage units on your network. Once located, the utility will display the host name, IP address, and MAC address for each device it locates – at least in theory. The Version 2.0.4 of the the utility failed to find the N3200XXX, and in fact it didn't locate the other Thecus unit I had installed, the N4100PRO we reviewed previously. I went through a complete troubleshoot and tried various configurations including direct connect, connecting via the ports on my router, and swapping cables, and still the software couldn't find either unit. I even updated the firmware on the N3200XXX to the latest version with no luck. I confirmed I could ping each unit successfully and could load the administration page for the N3200XXX, so I knew it was set up correctly. On a hunch, I loaded the Version 1.1.99 software that came with the N4100PRO and the utility immediately detected both the N4100PRO and the N3200XXX. As Version 2.0.4 is the latest software available, there was nothing more for me to try here.

 

 

 

The last screen shot above is what we should have seen had the 2.0.4 software been working correctly. Since it doesn't work, we can only briefly see what the options are. You highlight the unit you wish to configure and then click the Next button, which takes you to a login page. The default user name/password is admin / admin and then you can set up the network configuration by choosing to let your network DHCP server assign an IP address or choose a static IP address. You can also change the default administrator password and then launch the browser-based administrative UI.

All these options are available from within the Web UI, so we'll just have to move on and look at how to change them there.

Configuration:

The N3200XXX is managed using a web-based user interface accessed via your browser. All the setup, maintenance and monitoring functions are conducted via he UI. Without being able to determine the default IP address using the Setup Wizard, we need to refer to the quick reference guide on the CD to find out the default is 192.168.1.100. Typing http://192.168.1.100 in the address window of the browser and hitting enter brings up the login page for the UI. The default login is 'admin', and we don't need the user name as it supplies the administrator user name for you. There are two different flavors of default UI pages – traditional and Flash-based — and the functionality is identical, it's just a matter of personal preference. I kind of like the eye-candy of the Flash version myself. Although it doesn't show in the screen shot, there is a small amount of animation with the Flash version. You can flip between the two using the tab-like icon on the lower left side of the screen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now that we're logged in, there are some initial warning/information dialogs that appear. The first is a warning dialog offering several caveats, which all amount to the simple fact that Thecus is not responsible for your data or the time it might take to replace it in the event of a data loss. You can check the 'I agree' checkbox to avoid having to see the warning every time you log on. The next screen is a dialog prompting you to install the picture viewing and Web Disk file management software from the install CD; we'll get around to that later on in the review. The final is a quick look at the error logs that calls your attention to any problems or issues that may have occurred.

 

 

 

Once you make it past the initial set of dialogs you can see the home page that allows you to access all the features and configuration settings. Along the left side of the page is a frame containing a set of options, and each section can be expand to expose a subsection of items.

System Information – in this section you can view general information about the product and up time, system and service status, system logs, and more.
System Management – this section allows access to general configuration settings, such as date and time, configuring error notifications, schedule on/off settings, firmware updates, and many other options.
System Network – you can configure the various network settings for each of the Ethernet connections here, including IP address, DHCP settings, and jumbo frame support.
Storage - the storage section provides all the administrative tools concerning disk information and power management, configuring RAID volumes, allocating space, designating iSCSI targets, and creating shares and ISO mounts.
User and Group Authentication – you can configure ADS support in this section, along with creating and maintaining local users and groups and assigning disk usage quotas.
Network Service – the different file-sharing protocols, such as CIFS, AFP and NFS, can be enabled in this section, along with various other network services, such as Web Disk, UPnP and Bonjour.
Application Server – additional services, such as the iTunes server, and additional modules can be enabled and installed in this section.
Backup – This section is for backing up the configuration settings, as well as creating and running Rsync backup jobs.
External Devices – you can manage external devices, such as printers and UPS units, via options in this section.

To the right of the options menu is a Home pane containing icons that will take you directly to some of the more commonly accessed sections. Above that pane is a menu bar giving you access to context-based help information, a set of user-defined favorites, a shortcut to the shutdown/reboot options, and a logout option. I must say the Shutdown option is most welcome, one that is often wished for when doing these reviews, as it makes it easier to reboot the system without having to remember the section it is in and clicking through until you find it.

 

System Information:

 

There are five subsections under the System Information section that provide information about the system, allow you to register the product, and view the system logs and configure access to the log entries.

General

This section provides manufacturer name, product name, and the installed firmware version. This information is also always displayed in the lower right-hand corner of all the UI pages.

Status

The Status page has two sections – System Status and Service Status. Under System Status, you can see the CPU load factor, system fan status (which only tells you whether the fan is OK, not the current fan speed, which I think would have been much more useful), and the current up time for the server. The Service Status section shows the status of the services on the box and whether each is Running or Stopped. This provides a single location to get this information without having to visit each service page. In this screen shot, all services are currently stopped, which is the factory default. We'll configure these services later on in the review.

System Log

The logs display three levels of messages – Info, Warnings, and Errors. You can display all messages or filter on each level. You can also sort the messages based on timestamp, change the number of lines per page, and more. You can also truncate (clear) the logs or save the log file as a download.

Online Registration

Enabling this option will register the product with Thecus. It will also send the e-mail address from the notifications section, which Thecus will use to notify you of firmware upgrades and new modules. If you wish to receive notifications, be sure to set that up in the System Management section prior to registering the product. NB: If, like us, you didn't get a chance to configure the RAID volume in the Setup Wizard, you may receive a warning message telling you “You don't have any RAID system.”

Syslog Management

If you enable the syslog daemon, the system generates system log messages for the syslog server and stores them on your NAS in 'Nsync > log > messages'. You can choose whether to access them locally using Samba/CIFS or remotely, and you can also choose the log level — All, Warnings and Errors, or Errors only.

 

 

 

The next step is to begin configuring the items in the System Management section.

Configuration:

System Management:

There are many configuration options related to the general setup of the N3200XXX in this section. These include setting the system date and time, configuring e-mail notifications, upgrading the firmware, setting the password, and system shutdown/reboot, just to name a few. We'll look at each of the options and turn to see what's involved.

Date and Time

This section contains options for setting the system date and time, as well as the appropriate time zone from the drop down list. You can also choose to allow the NAS to act as a network time protocol (NTP) server for other devices on the network. Once the time is set, you can enable synchronization with an external NTP server to keep the time as accurate as possible. You can choose one of the servers from the pre-configured drop-down list or you can type in one of your own.

Notifications

The N32000XXX can be configured to notify you when events occur on the system. This can range from normal informational items, such as reboots and shutdowns, to warnings and errors concerning disk or RAID volume issues. You can turn on audible notifications as well as set up the system to send out e-mails to alert you to issues. Unfortunately, with beep notifications, there is no way to cancel the beeping without going in to the Notifications screen and disabling the option. To set up e-mail notification, you will need access to an SMTP server and the proper authentication protocol. The unit is pre-configured with different authentication types including 'login', which should work for most normal accounts requiring authentication and Gmail for those wanting to use Gmail as their SMTP server. Once you put in the server name and authentication type, you'll need to supply the account ID and password information. You can supply up to four e-mail addresses to receive e-mail alerts. You can also choose which level of alerts to send – All, Warnings and Errors, or Errors only. There is an E-Mail Test button to send out test e-mails to ensure you have everything properly configured. Be sure to hit the Apply button to save the changes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Firmware Upgrade

The N3200XXX shipped with the 5.00.02 version of the firmware, so one of the first things I did was check the Thecus website for a more recent version. In fact, I did this before I started looking at the Web UI so that everything would be based on the same version. On the Thecus support site, I downloaded the binary for the latest version, 5.01.04, and placed it on the network where I could get to it easily. I used the Browse button to locate the upgrade file on the network. I also checked the box to save the current firmware and system configuration in case there were any issues. Since this was a brand new setup and we hadn't configured a volume yet, there was no 'nsync' folder available, so I plugged a USB drive into the rear of the N3200XXX and the system made a backup copy and stored it as '20110730_1330_N7700_5.00.02.img' on the root of the USB drive. Once you hit the Apply button, the system backs up the old firmware and uploads the new image. The system will ask permission to shutdown several network services before applying the upgrade. Once complete, you will need to reboot the NAS server in order for the changes to take effect.

 

 

 

Scheduled On/Off

You can set up a weekly schedule to power the N3200XXX on and off with two different time slots per day. Checking the Enable Scheduled On/Off checkbox then allows you to select an action/time pair to turn the unit on and off. The time is chosen from a pre-set drop down list of times in five-minute increments. As with other system setting changes, you must click the Apply button for the changes to take effect. The system will notify you via e-mail of a scheduled shutdown if you have information level notifications enabled.

Administrator Password

The default password for the N3200XXX, like many of the NAS devices we reviewed, is an easy-to-guess 'admin'. Normally we would have changed it at the beginning using the Setup Wizard, but you can use this page just as easily. You should use a strong password of at least ten characters, using a mixture of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols.

 

 

Config Mgmt

This section allows you to download the system configuration file to a location for safekeeping. It defaults to using the file name 'conf.bin' and will use your browser's default download location, although you can change both the file name and default folder. You can also choose to restore the system configuration from a stored file by browsing to the configuration file location and using the Upload button.

 

 

Factory Default

You can use this section to revert back to all the default settings that came on the box from the factory. While Thecus claims your data will not be destroyed, it's always a good idea to back up data before attempting to restore the factory setting.

Reboot & Shutdown

In this section you can choose to reboot the server or safely shut it down. In either case, the system will prompt you to confirm your action. In the past this was the only place to access these functions, but now the system also allows you to access these buttons from the menu bar using the Shutdown icon — a very welcome addition in my opinion.

 

 

File System Check

The N3200XXX can perform a file system check to determine the integrity of the file system on the disks. Hitting the Apply button will bring up a prompt asking permission to reboot the system. Once the system has been rebooted, you can select the volume you wish to check and press the Next button to proceed. If you change your mind, you can press Reboot to reboot he system and cancel the check.

 

 

 

To begin the check, press the Start button on the Status page and you can monitor the progress of the integrity check where the last 20 lines of information are displayed. Again, you can choose the Reboot option to cancel the check and reboot the system or press the Stopped (sic) button to cancel the check after it's been started. Once finished, the bottom pane contains the results of the check. You will need to press the Reboot button to restart the system and return to normal operating mode.

 

 

 

Wake-On-LAN

The N3200XXX supports wake-on LAN (WOL) service, which you can turn on using the Enable radio button. Once enabled, you can activate the server by sending a special formatted broadcast frame known as a 'magic packet'. Once received, the NAS turns itself on and goes through the normal boot process. I tested this feature on the N3200XXX using a magic packet sending utility and was able to turn the server on remotely without a problem.

SNMP Support

The N3200XXX provides support for the System Network Management Protocol (SNMP), which provides the capability to manage devices over the network using a management host. Most SOHO setups would not need to worry about this feature as it usually would only be useful in a large enterprise environment with lots of nodes on the network.

UI Login Functions

You can enable or disable the Web Disk and Photo Server functions from this screen. On the N3200XXX, these modules must be installed separately after enabling them here. You'll recall from the previous page that there was a dialog that appeared when we first logged in reminding you to install the Piczza photo and Web Disk packages from the installation CD. We'll do that later on in the review. For right now we'll just click on the Enable radio buttons for both services.

 

 

That wraps up the System Management section and it is time to move on and look at the network options.

Configuration:

System Network:

The System Network section provides the tools needed to configure the network connections on the N3200XXX.

WAN/LAN1

The N3200XXX has two Gigabit Ethernet connections with the first designated as WAN/LAN1, designed to connect to that portion of your network which has access to the Internet. On the rear panel of the N3200XXX server, this is the lowermost of the two and is clearly labeled 'WAN LAN1' as shown on the first page in the Closer Look section of the review. The NAS comes with a factory-default, fixed IP address of 192.168.1.100. Depending on your network configuration, you might want to assign a different IP address or use a dynamic address and this is where you make those changes.

The host name defaults to N3200XXX and you can provide a different name if desired. The same goes for the Domain Name, which comes set to 'thecus.com'. The Windows Internet Name Service (WINS) servers can be set to the appropriate values for your network as well. The above values typically apply to Windows networks controlled by some flavor of the Windows Server operating system.

The server also supports jumbo frames in sizes ranging from 2000 to 15000 bytes in 1000 byte increments. This is a major improvement over what we saw in the original N3200PRO, which only supported frame sizes of 4000, 8000, 12000, and 16000. As we just mentioned, the N3200XXX has two Ethernet ports and you can choose to enable IP sharing mode, which allows users on the LAN2 port to access the WAN/LAN1 segment of the network, which would also include access to the Internet. Link aggregation is the ability to combine both ports to act together in one of six different modes: Load Balance, Failover, Balance-XOR, 802.3ad, Balance-TLB, or Balance-ALB.

The final selection is really the one we're interested in and that is setting the proper static IP address for the N3200XXX, which we'll set to 192.168.1.32. You also need to set the proper netmask value, gateway, and DNS servers for your network. Be sure to hit the Apply button to save the changes. If you choose to set the server up to use a dynamic IP address assigned by your network's DHCP server, all you need to do is select the Dynamic tab and hit the Apply button. Whichever your choice, changing the IP settings and hitting the Apply button causes the system to request a reboot in order for the changes to take effect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

LAN2

The LAN2 connection can be configured to a specified static IP address and it supports a wide selection of jumbo frame sizes as well. You can also set the N3200XXX to act as the DHCP server for the LAN2 network and give it a range of IP numbers from which to assign addresses and specify the gateway and DNS server addresses.

 

That is all there is to setting up the network connections, so we can now get to the heart of the configuration process and look at setting up a RAID volume.

Configuration:

Storage:

The storage section is used to monitor disk information and health, create disk volumes, mount ISO images, and manage share folders on the volume.

Disk Information

The Disk Information section provides basic information on all the disks installed in the N3200XXX. Information on each disk includes formatted capacity, model number, firmware version, health status, and an option to scan the physical disk for bad sectors. The total combined capacity is also displayed. Another feature available is Disk Power Management, which allows you to set an idle time from 30 minutes to two hours, in 30-minute increments, after which the NAS will power down the drives.

Double-clicking on the Status column entry for each drive will display the S.M.A.R.T. information dialog for that particular drive, including disk model number, power on hours, temperature, and other disk information. You also have the option of selecting the short or long SMART test, which you can launch using the Test button. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RAID Management

The RAID Management screen serves a couple of functions. It is where you can create a new volume on the system, either as a single volume or one of the supported RAID levels. It is also where you can monitor the status of the volume, get information on available space, or remove an existing volume.

With a new setup, there is no existing volume as evidenced by the lack of any volume information on the RAID Management page. We need to create a new volume, which begins with clicking on the Create icon in the upper left corner of the RAID Management pane. Once you click on the Create icon, the system will walk you through the process step by step using a series of RAID Volume Creation screens. This is a six-step process and you can go back and forth between screens until the final creation step. If you haven't decided on the volume type, now would be a good idea to determine which volume type you are going to choose. The N3200XXX supports up to three disks, so you have four different choices: JBOD, or Just a Bunch of Disks, (multiple drives are configured as a single large volume and is not technically RAID), RAID 0 (also known as striping, where two or more identical drives are set up as one larger drive), RAID 1 (also known as mirroring, where one drive maintains a copy of the other drive), and RAID 5 (uses striping similar to RAID 0, but also provides redundancy for data protection) The benefits and limitations of each type of setup are outside the scope of our review, but a concise explanation can be found in The Official OCC RAID Guide, Version 2.0.

Your decision on RAID volume type will likely force your hand when determining the number of disks to use, which is the first step. We're going to create a RAID 5 volume for our example, so we need to choose all three drives, the minimum required for a RAID 5 volume. To select the disk, we need to check each box in the Used column. You'll notice there is also a 'Spare' column, which could be used to designate a hot spare for a RAID 5, if the NAS supported more than three drives. The next step is to determine the RAID level as mentioned above. The third step is to fill in the RAID Property Setup information. You can name the RAID volume — useful if you were forming multiple RAID volumes on a single server — as well as designate whether this is to be the Master RAID, as one RAID volume must be the Master in a multiple-RAID setup. The N3200XXX also supports volume encryption, which must be selected at the time the volume is created. A USB drive plugged into one of the rear USB ports is required to store the encrypted password. The Quick RAID option speeds up the volume creation process for those setups that do not have an existing partition.

 

 

 

The fourth step in the process is the RAID System Setup, which involves selecting a stripe size, choosing the file system, and determining how much of the available space to use. Stripe size refers to the size of the blocks of data that are written across the disks in the RAID volume. There is no magic formula that will guarantee the exact right stripe size, as performance will change based on the size of the files your are writing to and reading from the RAID volume. As a general rule of thumb, if you are mostly dealing with larger files, your performance will improve with a larger stripe size. The N3200XXX supports stripe sizes from 32-4096KB. We will be using the default size of 64KB. The OS used by the N3200XXX is Linux-based and you have a choice of four different file systems ranging from the venerable EXT3 to the more recent EXT4, with ZFS and XFS also supported. Like choosing the stripe size, there is no perfect answer for all situations. We are going with the default EXT4 file system and we'll leave it up to you to research the right choice for your situation. The last choice to make in this step is how much, percentage-wise, of the available space to allocate to the volume. By not allocating all the available space now, you retain the flexibility of using some of the space as an iSCSI target (more on this in the next section) while still having the option of allocating more space to the volume in the future. You set the desired percentage using the slider on the screen. For this example, we set it to 50% and clicked the Next button. Finally we get a chance to review and confirm our choices prior to creating the RAID volume: we are using three disks to create a RAID 5 volume with a stripe size of 64KB, using the EXT4 file system, while allocating 50% of the available space.

 

 

 

The system warns you that all active services will be stopped while the RAID volume is created and then processes for a minute or two prior to asking you to press the Finish button to kick off the RAID volume creation. The actual process of formatting and initializing the RAID volume can take several hours depending on the number and size of the disks used, as well as the space allocated to the volume. This is not a 'go get a cup of coffee' moment, it's more of a 'kick it off and go to bed' moment while the process runs overnight.

 

 

 

Now that you've had a refreshing night's sleep, and if all went well, you should be able to wake up to a page that looks like the screen shot below, with the new RAID volume showing a healthy status and a pie chart depicting how much space was allocated to the volume and home much remains unused.

Space Allocation

Internet SCSI, or iSCSI, is a networking protocol that allows block level access over IP networks. In the Space Allocation section, you can create an iSCSI target on the N3200XXX and then access the storage from a client computer running an iSCSI initiator, either hardware-based or through a software client. You can then permanently assign a drive to the storage on the NAS and have it appear as a local drive.

To add an iSCSI target, just click on the Add button below the iSCSI Target tab, which brings up the iSCSI Volume dialog. The first order of business is to determine how much available space you want to allocate to the volume. In our example, we can allocate up to 50%, which really means 50% of the disk space is unallocated (not used) and is available to be used by the iSCSI volume. Again we use the slider tool to set the amount of space to around half of the unallocated space. You can enable or disable the iSCSI volume using the radio buttons here. If you leave it to the default value of disabled, you won't be able to access it as the initiator will not be able to see it. The target name can consist of numeric values 0-9 and lowercase alpha characters a-z only. The iqn_Year, iqn_Month, and LUN ID all combine with the target name to create a unique target identifier (in this example it works out to "iqn.2011-8.com.thecus:raid.iscsi0.vg0.n3200xxx"). You can specify whether to use challenge-handshake authentication protocol (CHAP) by clicking the CHAP radio button and supplying the user name and password.

 

 

 

Once you press the OK button, the system will ask you to confirm the iSCSI target volume creation and then notify you when it is completed. The newly created volume appears in the Volume Allocation List pane and you can also see the space allocated to the volume reflected in the pie chart in the RAID Management section. You can create up to five iSCSI target volumes on the N3200XXX.

 

 

With the iSCSI target volume in place, you also have access to the Modify, Expand, and Delete buttons. The Modify button lets you modify any of the information entered when the iSCSI volume was created. The Expand option adds flexibility to your management options, as you can add capacity to the volume as needed instead of overallocating space at the start. You use the now-familiar slider to add capacity from the pool of unallocated space on the NAS. The next step is to hit the Expand button and respond with a typed 'Yes' that you wish to expand. As with any changes on the NAS involving the disks, it is always prudent to back up your data first. The systems pops up a dialog when the expansion process is complete and you can see the newly added space reflected in the Volume Allocation List for that volume. You can highlight a volume in the list and press the Delete button to permanently remove it from the NAS. You will see a warning dialog informing you the data will be removed as well.

 

 

 

A new feature I've not seen before is the ability to add iSCSI Thin-Provision Targets. Thin-provisioning is a concept found in more sophisticated storage area networks and may not be that useful in a SOHO environment. Traditional methods, such as those we have seen above, are called 'fat provisioning', as you allocate dedicated physical storage to a volume whether or not that storage is actually being used. That space, once allocated, can't be used for anything else until it is freed up and re-allocated. This can lead to buying more physical disk space than you actually need. With thin-provisioning, you can over-allocate space so that the system can view more space than is physically there. Thin-provisioning means each target only uses the space it needs, driving utilization rates close to 100%. This also means you can more easily add space and expand volumes as you don't have to rebuild the file system if it already thinks there is more space due to over allocation.

In the Thecus implementation of this feature, you create a single iSCSI thin-provision volume and then create up to five thin-provision targets on that volume. The N3200XXX will issue a notification when 90% of the physical iSCSI Thin-Provision volume has been used, allowing you time to add additional space. Creating the volume is identical to a regular target, where you click the Add button and use the slider to determine the amount of space to allocate to the volume.

 

 

 

With the iSCSI thin-provision volume created, we can then create up to five iSCSI targets. Just as we did with a regular iSCSI target above, we begin by clicking the Add button and selecting the virtual size. Even though there is currently only a bit over 550GB of physical disk space, I can create a target of up to 16TB in size. I'll choose a size that is a bit more reasonable, like something close to 1TB. Once all the appropriate information is entered, you can click OK to create the target after confirming that it is okay to do so. The final tab is labeled Advance Options (sic) and here you can set the block size of either 512 byte or 4K bytes. You can also choose whether to used a CRC/checksum. If you enable them here on the NAS, be sure to enable them on the initiator side as well.

 

 

 

That takes us through three of the six sections in the Storage category. Let's take a quick break and pick up again on the next page with a look at the remainder of the items starting with something called NAS Stacking.

Configuration:

Storage:

We've had a good long look at the RAID and iSCSI features of the N3200XXX and now it's time to pick up where we left off and finish the remainder of the items in the storage section.

NAS Stacking

You can expand the storage capacity of the N3200XXX through the NAS Stacking feature. Using this, you can add the storage of up to five other NAS units' stack target volumes to have that storage become accessible through the N3200XXX. The unit being added to the stack must have an iSCSI target volume created and enabled on it. The next step is to use the Add button on the NAS Stacking page to add an iSCSI target. The Add Stack Target dialog window appears and you can specify the Stackable Target IP and hit the Discovery button. As long as there is an iSCSI target volume on the other NAS, it should come back with the iSCSI qualified name (IQN). You can choose to Enable or Disable the volume as needed using the appropriate radio buttons. If the target iSCSI volume has security enabled, you will need to provide the user name and password. You can assign it a stacked target name that will show up in the list of folders on the N3200XXX, along with a description if needed. Finally you can make it browsable from the network and choose whether or not to make it a public folder. For non-public folders, the ACL (access control list) button will be active and you can set access rights to the volume. Once completed, you can hit the Apply button and you should see the new stack volume show up in the list and also see a folder on the NAS under the name you specified.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we saw in the iSCSI setup section earlier, you also have Edit and Remove buttons as well and this is where we ran into our first problems. Trying to edit a Stackable Target by changing the Public radio button from 'no' to 'yes' resulted in an error message when we tried to save the changes using the Apply button. We got an error message telling us the share name was a duplicate and to pick another name. After we left the page and came back, clicking the Edit button for that target volume brought up an empty page. It seems you better get all the parameters set correctly the first time around, as they aren't really editable later.

In an effort to start over, I tried to remove the volume, which leads us to the second error I encountered. Hitting the Remove button and confirming the change results in the list being updated showing the stack target is still there with N/A for the capacity. I rebooted the NAS device, which caused the stackable target I had removed to show up again as if nothing had happened. After this, you can neither edit the entry nor re-add the target volume from the same IP address. The only alternative was to reset the device to the factory defaults and go back and restore all the changes we'd made up to this point. It sounds as if I should have gone into the Config Mgmt section under System Management and backed everything up before making the changes.

ISO Image Mounting

Another interesting and useful feature is ISO image mounting, which enables you to create a virtual drive containing the files in an ISO image and then make them available over the network. You begin by selecting a folder from the drop down list that contains the ISO image. With the folder selected, the system will display the ISO images in a tree structure on the left. Selecting an image will place the name in the File Selected box and you can specify a mount name or leave it blank and let the system default in the ISO image name. Click the Add button to add the image to the mount list on the right. After verifying you wish to mount the ISO, the mount is created and a success message returned. You can now see the mount path, which you can use to map to from your client PC and access the files in the ISO image directly.

 

 

 

Share Folders

While iSCSI target volumes, NAS stacking, and ISO mounts may seem a bit esoteric for the normal user, share folders are an essential part of your daily use of the N3200XXX, as it allows you to organize your data as well as establish permissions around which users and groups can access data on the NAS by assigning access rights to folders. After building a volume on the NAS, you will find a set of standard system folders are present that are used by various functions of the server, such as an iTunes music folder, folders for backup and synchronizing, and more. These folders cannot be deleted since they are system folders, but you can set the access control list (ACL) for those that are not already marked public.

You can use the Add button to create a new shared folder. If you have multiple volumes on the NAS server, you will need to identify which volume is the target for the new folder, specify a folder name and description, and choose whether or not to make it browsable or public using the associated radio buttons. If you choose to make it public, all users will have access to the folder and the ACL button will be grayed out. Once you hit the Apply button, you will be asked to confirm you want to make the changes, and after a few seconds you should see a dialog confirming the folder has been created. With the folder created, you can highlight the entry in the list and you will see additional buttons become available like Edit and Remove. The Edit button brings up the same dialog as the Add button and allows you to change the folder name, description, and whether the folder is browsable or public. The Remove option is pretty self explanatory, as it allows you to delete a folder. To make sure you want to delete a folder and the data it contains, you must respond with a typed 'Yes' as a safeguard. You will need to enable network file system support in the Network Service section, which we'll cover later on in the review, in order to make the features on the NFS page accessible. You can then provide the host name and OS type in order to share the folder with a host using the Network File System protocol.

 

 

 

One option that may have you wondering since it is grayed out and unavailable is the Snapshot button. This option is only available with the ZFS file system and allows you to take 16 snapshot versions of the folder for backup purposes. The final choice available is the ACL button, which is the access control list that enables you to control which users and groups have access to a given folder. We're going to take a rain check on this one though until after we've created users and groups in the next section.

Configuration:

User and Group Authentication:

The N3200XXX supports users and groups either through Windows Active Directory Service (ADS) or locally defined on the NAS server itself. This section is used to create users, assign them to groups, and perform general maintenance around those items.

ADS Support

If you have a Windows Server environment handling authentication on your network, either through an ADS server or a Windows NT server, you can enable support on the box and choose one of the authentication methods. Once you click on the Enable radio button, the fields will be available and you can provide the server name, realm, and login credentials. If you are using ADS, you will not need to define local users or groups. You can also define the work group or domain name on this page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Local User and Group Configuration

While user and group configuration are two different subsections, it make sense to discuss them together as users are best administered in groups and groups are meaningless without users. They just go together, sort of like Bogie and Bacall.

Like other items we've seen so far in the review, when you want to create an entity like a user, you click on the Add button. This brings up the Add page where you key in the user name and password. A unique user ID is provided for you, although you can change it if you desire. The new user is automatically added to the default 'users' group. On the right-hand pane you see the group list, which is blank for now as we haven't created any groups. After you click the Apply button and confirm you want to create the new user, you'll see a confirmation message and then you can use the Edit button to change the user's password or edit the group list. You cannot change the user name or user ID once the user has been created.

 

 

 

On the Local Group Configuration page, you can see the default group 'users' listed. As you might expect, creating a new group is much like creating a new user in that you use the Add button to get started. You need to enter a group name and the group ID if you don't like the default. The Members List pane is empty, so we can add a user to the group from the list of users on the right. To add a user, you see one or more rows from the Users List pane and drag and drop them in the Members List area and hit the Apply button when done. You will see the newly-created group in the Local Group Configuration window, where they can then be edited or removed.

 

 

 

Now that we have a group created, we can return to the Local User Configuration section and edit a user in order to add it to the group. Like we saw in the group creation page, adding a user to a group in the Edit user pane simply involves highlighting the group and dragging and dropping it on the Group Members pane. Removing a member from a group is the reverse of adding a group, where you highlight the group in the Group Members pane and drag and drop it back on the Group List pane.

 

 

Batch Input

If you have a lot of users to input at one time, like when first setting up the NAS server, entering them one at a time and selecting the proper group can be tedious. That's where the Batch Input process comes in, where you can create a comma-delimited text file consisting of user name, password and group name, and then performing a bulk upload of the users into the system. You can use the browse button to locate the input file and then hit the Import button to read the contents of the file. If everything looks good, you finalize the loading by hitting the Apply button and confirming you wish to add the users. If everything is set up correctly, you should see a confirmation message telling you the users were added successfully. The new users are now visible in the Local User Configuration pane. Editing the local group, 'OCCTestGoup', will show all the new users are now members of that group.

 

 

 

Share Folders Access Control List (Revisited)

When we were examining share folders in the previous section, we skipped over the Access Control List because we hadn't set up users and groups at that point. Now is a good time to see how we can control access to a non-public share using the ACL. To do this, you highlight the folder in the list and click on the ACL button to bring up the ACL Setting page. On the left-hand pane, you will see a list of the groups and users, color-coded to denote source and type. You have a search button at the top in case you want to locate a specific entity. Above that is a check box labeled “Recursive'. Checking this box means that all sub-folders inherit the rights of the parent.

You can deny rights, grant read-only access, or grant read/write access. As we saw earlier, you do this by highlighting a group/user and dragging and dropping them in the appropriate column. Granting a group access rights mean all users in the group have the same level of access. For large numbers of users, you can eliminate a lot of administrative headaches by managing rights only at the group level. However, you could choose to grant different users different levels of access, if you so desire.

 

 

 

User Quota

The ability to limit the amount of storage space any single user can utilize by assigning a user quota is a feature that the N3200PRO and N4100PRO both lacked, using previous versions of the management firmware. You will first need to click on the Enable radio button and hit Apply to turn quotas on. Once you confirm the action, the system will also populate the user list. A value of '0' means there is no quota assigned and the user is only limited by the physical amount of space in the volume. Each volume on the server will be listed by name to the right of the quota column, which in our example is named 'RAID' (how clever). If you have multiple volumes, the quota applies separately to each volume. Quotas cannot be assigned at the folder or group level.

 

 

Now that we know how to manage users and groups, we'll move on and have a look at the network services section.

Configuration:

Network Service:

There are several services supported by the N3200XXX used for various file sharing purposes ,such as Samba/CIFS, AFP for Apple computers, NFS, FTP, TFTP, and Bonjour. Let's sort out the alphabet soup mess of acronyms by looking at each one separately below.

Samba/CIFS

This service is used to allow Linux-based systems to share files over the network with Windows PCs using the Microsoft Server Message Block / Common Internet File System (CIFS). The File Access Cache is enabled by default and will help increase performance of single-client access to folders on the NAS under the CIFS protocol. You should leave this enabled unless you start experiencing 'Delayed Write Failed' errors in Windows; then disabling this option may help. The Samba Recycle Bin option allow for a recycle bin similar to Windows to hold deleted files on the N3200XXX. Samba Anonymous Login Authentication requires users to log in with a user name and password even on folders marked as public. The Samba Native Mode is for those on a Windows ADS environment with the Windows Server running in native mode. The next two options, Optimize Block Size and Server Signing, are not referenced in the Thecus documentation.

AFP

The N3200XXX supports Apple networking via the Apple Filing Protocol (AFP), enabling you to support computers running the Mac OS X and Mac OS operating systems. Once enabled, you can change the Mac character set, specify an AppleTalk network zone, and enable support for the Time Machine backup utility.

NFS

You will need to enable support for the Network File System (NFS) protocol in order to communicate with Linux/Unix-based systems. This service is disabled by default.

FTP

You can set up the N3200XXX to act as a FTP server by enabling the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) service. This will allow you to exchange files directly with another computer. You have the option to change the standard FTP port number (21) and the passive port range. You will also need to enter these settings in the port forwarding section of your router. You can also change the standard character set, decide whether to allow anonymous access, and set the upload and download bandwidth allowed using the slider bars at the bottom of the screen. FTP service is disabled by default.

 

 

 

TFTP

The N3200XXX also supports the Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP), a simple protocol generally used for automated transfers between computers on the same network, such as configuration or boot files. Once you enable this service, you can choose which network connection on the N3200XXX to use, the port number, and the share folder containing the files. Since there is no authentication capability in TFTP, only public folders are included in the drop down list. You also need to specify the folder permissions, which include Read, Write and Overwrite.

Web Disk (HTTP)

Enabling Web Disk allows multiple users to manage their files over the network or Internet. Web Disk is disabled by default and you will need to enable either Web Disk or Secure Web Disk service in order for users to be able to access and manage files using a browser. As we mentioned earlier in the System Management/UI Login Functions section, the Web Disk module must also be installed from the installation CD provided with the N3200XXX. Since Secure Web Disk uses SSL/TLS protocol, you must also provide the proper certificate information.

UPnP

The Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) service should be enabled in order to support the UPnP media server. Enabling UPnP also helps other users to find the N3200XXX on the network. Once enabled, you can also key in a description of the server.

Bonjour

Bonjour is used by Mac OS X to discover devices and services on the network. It is also used by iTunes to locate shared music on a network. This service is disabled by default, but you will need to enable it if you want iTunes on another computer on the network to automatically detect any shared music files on the N3200XXX.

 

 

 

We're finished with the network services available on the NAS and we're ready to examine the applications and modules available on the server.

Configuration:

Application Server:

The N3200XXX is more than just a storage device, it's a fully functional server and Thecus has provided a way to extend the functionality through different applications and modules. The unit comes with the ability to function as an iTunes server, but there are many more modules you can install, such as the Web Disk and Piczza Photo server we've mentioned previously, along with additional modules, such as the Twonky media server, a web server, MySQL, mail server, a BitTorrent client, and many more.

iTunes Server

The N3200XXX can function as an iTunes server, making the music files in its iTunes_music folder available to other iTunes-enabled clients on the network. The last thing we discussed in the previous section was the Bonjour service. With this service enabled, along with enabling the iTunes Service, iTunes clients can find the N3200XXX under the name specified in the iTunes Server Name box. You can also specify a password users will need to access the music files, along with the rescan interval and one of nine different MP3 tag character sets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Module Installation

You can install modules such as Web Disk and Piczza manually from an install file you can find on the installation CD or from the Thecus web site. You will need to unzip the file to a location on your local drive and use the browse button on the Module Installation page to locate it. Module installation files will have a .mod extension and once you have the file path you need to hit the Install button. You will need to confirm the install and then wait while the file uploads and installs. You can see the module now listed in the Module Management pane, but the first column labeled Enable shows 'No' for the Web Disk module. Over in the far right column there is an Action column with a right-pointing arrow that you need to click to enable the module. Once the module is enabled, you see the module name is now a hyperlink you can use to launch the Web Disk directly from within the UI. The arrow has been replaced by a check box you can use to disable the module. There is also an 'x' you can click on to uninstall a module.

 

 

 

 

Auto Module Installation

The Auto Module Installation feature is akin to a package manager in a Linux distro, such as Yum or Synaptic. It's an extremely useful feature for locating the most recent version of all the packages supported on the N3200XXX. You can highlight a module and click the Action icon to install the module from the online repository. From this point on it is identical to the manual installation, as you will have to confirm the installation and then wait while the module uploads and installs.

 

 

 

As with the manual installation, you must return to the Module Installation section and enable the module in order for it to become available. The new module can also be accessed from here using the hyperlink and you will notice two new additions to the home web page where you can now log in to the administration page, Web Disk or Piczza.

 

 

 

One of the other modules Thecus offers that is worth mentioning is the Dashboard, which allows you to monitor the status of the NAS over the network or Internet using an iPhone, iPad, or Android-based smart phone.

We're done here, so let's move on to the backup features on the N3200XXX.

Configuration:

Backup:

You can back up the data on the N3200XXX to another device using the Rsync synchronization utility. You can also back up the system configuration stored on the disk on module (DOM).

DOM Backup

The disk on module (DOM) contains the system configuration information and you can have the system automatically back up the information daily at 1:00 AM. You can alternatively choose to establish your own daily, weekly or monthly schedule and the system will store up to five versions of the configuration files. You can also kick off the backup manually if needed. Unfortunately, the documentation is fairly useless on this subject and doesn't tell you where the backup files are stored, so using these to restore to a previous version may be a moot point.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rsync Target Server

You can establish the server as a Rsync target in order for other NAS devices to back up to the server using Rsync. You must click on the Enable radio button and enter the user name/password combination the source server needs to use to authenticate. The final step is to hit the Apply button and confirm the changes.

 

Rsync

Rsync is a backup utility you can use to synchronize files to another storage device accessible via the network or Internet. The first step is to click on the Add button to create a new task. The task name is pre-filled with a generic name and you can change it if desired; you can also add a task description. Rsync supports two backup modes – Synchronize and Incremental. With Synchronize mode, the source and target will match exactly, so if you delete a file from the source server, it will be removed from the target server as well. As you can see, there could be drawbacks to this method if you accidentally erase a file on the source. Incremental mode backs up new and changed files and does not delete files on the target if they are removed from the source. You can then specify the source folder(s) to back up by clicking on the 'Select source folder' and highlighting them. The target server is identified using a destination IP address and port number (873 is the default port for the Rsync utility). Note that the IP address could be a fully qualified domain name on the Internet. You also need to specify the destination path, which consists of a folder/sub folder name. You will need to specify the login credentials on the target server and a log folder to store the results of the backup. You can use the Test Connection button to verify you can connect to the target server. Finally, you can enable the task and set a time for it to run. Hitting the Add button adds the task to the task list and you can monitor the job in progress as well as check on the status of the last backup run.

 

 

 

 

During testing, I was able to successfully use the Rsync utility to back up to a Thecus N4100PRO NAS server on the network through port 873 as shown in the screen shots above. I was disappointed to see there was no capability to choose to back up to a legacy NAS server as there has been in prior versions of the firmware (this feature was available in version 3.04.03 and earlier). I tried changing the port to 21, the default for FTP, but it would not connect to the FTP server. There is also no way to manually launch a backup, another feature available in earlier versions.

That finishes the backup features and it's time to look at the last configuration section on external devices.

Configuration:

External Devices:

The N3200XXX has a single rear USB port that can be used to connect external devices, such as a printer or an uninterruptible power supply (UPS).

Printers

The Printers subsection lists any USB printer connected to the N3200XXX via the rear USB port. There is no configuration involved as the NAS server will automatically detect the printer manufacturer and model name as soon as it's connected. Once a printer is attached, the Remove and Restart buttons become active and you can clear the print queue and Restart the printer service. The N3200XXX acts as a print server, making the attached printer available to anyone on the network. In order to access the printer from a local machine, you will need to add the printer as "http://N3200XXX_IP_ADDRESS:631/printers/usb-printer" where 'N3200XXX_IP_ADDRESS' is the IP address of the NAS server on your network.

Uninterrupted Power Source

You can connect the N3200XXX to a UPS unit via USB cable and have it monitor the status of the UPS and whether there has been a power failure. You must first enable UPS monitoring and then manually select the make and model of the UPS unit from the drop down list. You can also adjust the time between a power failure and when the server notifies you of the event. When the UPS battery charge falls below a predetermined level, the N3200XXX will shut down gracefully to avoid any loss of data and reduce the chance of corrupting the RAID volume. It would have been nice to have the server automatically detect the UPS instead of having to manually select it from a list.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That concludes our tour of the configuration sections, so let's move on and see what it's like to actually use the N3200XXX.

Web User Interface

Up to this point, all the configuration work has been performed using the administrator's account. Users can also log in to the server and manager their files through Web Disk. Users can also manage and share their photos through the Piczza photo server.

Web Disk

As we saw earlier in the Network Service configuration section, you must have enabled and properly configured the Web Disk Service. You must also have the Web Disk module installed, which we demonstrated earlier in the Module Installation section where we installed version 2.0.2 of the software. Web Disk is a file manager that allows you to access to the files on the NAS directly via your browser. You can upload files to the server, create new folders, rename files, move files between folders, and delete them.

From the home web page, you click on the Web Disk icon to log in under your user name. This brings up the Web Disk page. As you can see, the interface is clean and uncluttered – almost spartan in appearance. So spartan in fact, it might make you wonder where the controls are. You access the file and folder management tools by right-clicking in the right-side pane. This brings up a menu showing the normal cut/copy/paste/delete functions, as well as upload/download for loading files to/from the server. New folder is used for creating sub folders under an existing folder; you cannot use Web Disk to create folders on the root path – that capability is reserved for the administrator under the Storage section we examined when we were setting up the NAS. It's also nice to see you can upload up to 999 files at one time – on older versions of the software, we saw a limit of only seven files, something we raised as a complaint during the review of the N4100PRO. The display can be changed to list detailed information and you can sort the list by any of the headings. You can also highlight a specific file and use the Attributes option to list detailed information on a single file.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Piczza Photo Server

Piczza is a software package that enables the N3200XXX to act as a photo server. With this package, you can upload photos to the server, share them with others on the network, create photo albums, and more. You can also use it to tag people in photos and publish pictures to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Piczza organizes photos in albums and you must select an existing album or create a new one in order to upload and display your pictures. Creating a new album involves choosing a name and determining who has rights to view the album's contents. Once you have set an album to work with, you can click the Next button to go to the upload page.

 

 

 

You can choose multiple photos at a time and then click the Upload button. Once the upload is complete, the system will build thumbnails of each item and then prompt you to go to the Manage option to edit information about each photo.

 

 

 

The Manage option allows you to enter a description for each photo, along with location information. Piczza also gives you the option to tag subjects in a photo by centering the cross-hairs over an area, left-clicking, and entering the person's name. The next option, View, presents a thumbnail view of an album's contents. Double-clicking a thumbnail brings up a full-size image of the photo along with its EXIF information. You, or someone else viewing your album, can also leave a comment about the photo. Piczza also provides links to several social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, if you want to share your photos there. Gallery and Favorites are ways to view pictures from multiple albums, whether your own or other users' shared albums, from one place. Clicking on a picture in one of these collections brings up the same page as in the View option, with a full-size picture and EXIF information.

 

 

 

We've looked at two of the major applications for the user web interface, but there are many more as we saw when we went through the Module Installation portion of the Application Server configuration section. Time and space constraints prevent us from including them all in this review, but there are a couple worth noting, such the Download Manager 2 for managing BitTorrent and other types of file downloads, and Twonky Media server for sharing multimedia files to DLNA-certified media devices.

Specifications:

 

 Model Number  N3200XXX
 Hardware Version  N/A
 Firmware Version  5.01.04
 External Interface  RJ-45x2 : 10/100/1000 BASE-TX Auto MDI/MDI-X
 Jumbo Frame Support  2000-16000 bytes MTU
 Additional Ports  USB 2.0 host port x2 (1 x Rear, 1 x Front)
 1x eSATA (rear)
 HDD Size  3 x 3.5" SATA Drives (not included)
 Drive Capacity  Up to 3.0TB drive
 CPU  Intel Atom N270 1.6 GHz
 Memory  1024MB DDR2 SODIMM SDRAM
 Flash  128MB DOM
 SATA Controller  Intel ICH8
 NIC  Intel 82574 GbE Controller
 OS  Linux kernel version 2.6.35
 File System  EXT3 / EXT4 / XFS / ZFS
 HDD Configuration  RAID 0, 1, 5 and JBOD
 Power Supply  External 96W power adaptor
 Cooling  92mm fan - thermally controlled
 Dimensions  220 x 175 x 160 mm (H x W x D)
 Weight  4.14 kg gross weight without HDD
 OS Requirement  Microsoft Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista/7
 Unix/Linux
 MAC OS X
 Regulatory
 Certification
 CE, FCC, BSMI, C-Tick, RoHS Compliant
 Warranty  2 Years Parts and Labor

 

Features:

Extreme Speed

The N3200XXX is powered by an Intel Atom N270 processor for excellent system response and file transfer speed. With RAID 5 and vastly improved data throughput, the N3200XXX redefines the three-bay NAS once again with increased usability, functionality, and performance.

Extreme Data Backup

Secure your data with the sophisticated features and refined simplicity that only Thecus can offer. Incremental backups and recover data with Acronis’s True Image software, take and revert back to system snapshots at your leisure, and remotely backup to anywhere in the world with native Rsync support.

Extreme Power Management

N3200XXX supports scheduled power on/off. With this feature, users can set what time the system turns on or off. This feature is a big plus for people who want to conserve energy. Wake-On-LAN enables users to remotely turn the system on without leaving their seat.

Extreme Protection

Put safety first with AES256bit RAID volume encryption and USB Key functionality. An impenetrable wall of protection is at your disposal to make sure only those you want can access your data, and no one else. Simply set up a USB flash drive key that unlocks your data with no hassle and maximum protection.

iSCSI Thin Provisioning Support

Get the most out of your storage space with the extreme speed of iSCSI and the efficiency of iSCSI thin provisioning. Connect through iSCSI for the fastest data transfer speeds available and make wasted disk space a thing of the past with thin provisioning's flexible storage functionality.

Online RAID Volume Management

Managing RAID volumes has never been easier thanks to the N3200XXX's Online RAID Volume Management. Administrators can easily expand or migrate RAID volumes without having to power down the system, eliminating costly downtime.

All information courtesy of Thecus @ http://www.thecus.com/product.php?PROD_ID=49

Testing:

To test the N3200XXX, I will use SiSoft Sandra 2009 using the File System benchmarks. I will also use the Intel NAS Performance Toolkit (ver. 1.7) to gauge performance under several realistic usage scenarios. The tests will be conducted on all supported hard drive configurations with and without jumbo frames enabled. The N3200XXX will be connected directly to the Marvell PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet controller using a Category 6 Ethernet cable to eliminate any variations due to network components or traffic.

Comparison Units:

Benchmarks:

Testing:

SiSoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

File Systems

 

 

 

Higher is Better

 

Lower is Better

 

Higher is Better

 

Lower is Better

 

Higher is Better

 

Lower is Better

 

 

Lower is Better

The test results show some very favorable results for the N3200XXX. In the RAID 0 test, the N3200XXX bested the other units, although the QNAP TS-509 was a close second. With five drives, you would have expected the TS-509 to come out ahead, so that speaks well of our test unit. In both the RAID 1 and JBOD tests, where the number of drives is the same across all units tested, the N3200XXX does even better, turning in results of over 50MB/s. It's only in the RAID 5 test that the N3200XXX falls behind the other units, closely following the N3200PRO and Synology DS408, while losing out to QNAP TS-509 with its two additional drives. Pretty impressive performance for the N3200XXX. Let's see how it holds up in the NAS Performance Toolkit testing.

Testing:

The Intel NAS Performance Toolkit is a set of tools used to test and analyze file systems and enable direct comparison of the performance levels of different network attached storage devices. It utilizes a set of tests based on real world applications, such as HD video playback and recording, office productivity, photo album manipulation, and file and directory copying. The toolkit uses a set of traces based on these applications and mimics the file system traffic generated and records the system response. In our evaluation, the toolkit was run in batch mode, which runs the series of tests five times in succession and the median throughput value is used to report the results. The hard drives were reconfigured and the N3200XXX was rebooted before each test was run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HD Video Playback (higher is better)

 

The HD Video Playback series of tests involve streaming a 720p HD video file using Windows Media Player and 256kb reads. The tests play either 1, 2 or 4 files simultaneously using different percentages of sequential reads (99.5% for the single file, 18.1% for the 2x HD Video Playback and 9.6% for the 4x HD Video Playback).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2x HD Video Playback (higher is better)

 

 

 

 

4x HD Video Playback (higher is better)

 

 

 

 

The video playback tests concentrates on reading large files, such as one might find if you were streaming video. The tests measure a single stream as well as two and four simultaneous streams. What we see across these tests is the N3200XXX outperforming its Thecus siblings across the board. We don't expect it to outperform the Synology DS408 or the QNAP TS-509 that contain four and five drives respectively compared to only three drives in the N3200XXX. That is what we see in configuration where number of spindles makes a difference, i.e. in the RAID 0 and RAID 5 tests. However, the N3200XXX held some surprises for us in the RAID 1 and JBOD setups, where it beat all contestants and came out ahead in all tests.

HD Video Record (higher is better)

This test writes a single 720p HD video file to the NAS device employing 99.9% sequential 256kb writes.

 

 

 

 

This test flips the tables on the previous tests as it concentrates solely on writing to the server. Not only are the tests flipped, but the results are as well, as the N3200XXX throughput falls behind that of its predecessor, the N3200PRO, in three of the four tests, coming out ahead of the N3200PRO only in the RAID 5 test. While it bested its Thecus N4100PRO relative, it couldn't beat the QNAP or Synology units.

 

HD Playback and Record (higher is better)

The HD Video Playback and Record test combines the two previous tests and reads and writes a HD 720p video file simultaneously.

 

 

 

 

Things got interesting when we threw simultaneous reads and writes into the equation. The N3200XXX came in third when configured as a RAID 0 volume, but came back to take home first place honors in all the other categories, even beating out the Synology and QNAP units in the RAID 5 test.

Testing:

Content Creation (Higher is better)

This test simulates content creation on the NAS device, such as might occur when rendering a video. There are 99 files used and is composed of 95% write operations with up to 64kb block sizes and consists of 39.1% sequential operations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not all units come away from the content creation test with their pride intact. However, The N3200XXX has nothing to be ashamed of. Picking up where it left off on the previous page with the HD Playback and Record test, the N3200XXX comported itself quite well, coming in second in the RAID 0 test behind the Synology DS408, but walking away with first place honors in all other categories, turning in its best performance when set up as a RAID 5 volume.

 

Office Productivity (higher is better)

The Office Productivity test is roughly evenly distributed between read and write operations, using 607 small files consisting of 1KB and 4KB reads and mostly 1KB writes.

 

 

 

 

The Office Productivity test is the longest and most abusive of all the tests in the NASPT suite. It is here where the true measure of a NAS is taken and the N3200XXX held up well against the competition, although the margin over its Thecus counterparts narrowed substantially. In The RAID 0 test, the N3200XXX came in a distant second to the Synology DS408, while it managed a narrow victory in the RAID 1 test and lost out on the RAID 5 and JBOD tests by a narrow margin. All-in-all, it was a pretty good showing on an incredibly brutal test.

 

File Copy to NAS (Higher is better)

The File Copy test copies a single large file to the NAS unit using 100% sequential 64kb write operations.

 

 

 

 

Writing a single large file to the NAS resulted in fairly consistent numbers of 26-27 MB/s across the four configurations. Pure writes are not the strong suit for the N3200XXX, as it only came out ahead the the N3200PRO in the RAID 5 test, but fell behind the more powerful units from QNAP and Synology.

 

File Copy From NAS

This test reads the single large (1.4GB) file from the File Copy test from the NAS using 64kb read operations.

 

 

 

We see a stronger performance from the N3200XXX with the direction reversed and the file being read from the NAS. In RAID 0, it puts up a good showing although it was slightly behind the Synology unit for a third-place finish. In RAID 1 and JBOD, it came out first and also finished second in the RAID 5 setup, again turning in a consistent performance with numbers ranging from 41-42MB/s.

 

Dir Copy to NAS (Higher is better)

This test copies a directory structure with 126 files to the NAS device using predominantly 64kb writes, but also includes a wide distribution under 16kb.

 

 

 

Remember how we said writing to the NAS wasn't the the N32000XXX's strong suit? Well, here we see the worst performance of any of the tests with throughput of only 5-9MB/s, which provided mixed results against the other Thecus units, but certainly put it behind the Synology and QNAP servers.

 

Dir Copy From NAS (Higher is better)

This test copies the same directory structure of 126 files from the NAS device using 64kb reads.

 

 

 

 

Copying the directory of files provided better throughput for the N3200XXX, but the same can be said for the other units. Against the N3200PRO, our test unit managed to win one, lose two, and come in dead even on the fourth.

Photo Album (Higher is better)

The Photo Album test simulates the viewing of 169 photo files of various sizes stored on the NAS and consists of 100% read operations.

 

 

 

 

We finish up the testing with another stressful test and maybe we should just call this the equalizer test, as all the units returned similar results with throughput ranging from 7.5-10MB/s.

This concludes all the performance testing on the N3200XXX, so it's time to take stock of the results. The N3200XXX was tested using the EXT4 file system and Seagate Constellation ES.2 ST33000650NS 3TB hard drives. This is a step up from our previous testing configuration, which we need to point out before comparing results. The N3200XXX is designed for SOHO/home use as its predecessor, the N3200PRO, was. The other units sport four and five drives, as opposed to the three drives in the N3200-series. The N3200XXX showed improvement over the N3200PRO in many of the tests, with some tests going the other way. It also managed to put up a good performance against the the larger QNAP-TS509 and Synology DS408 units, and even pulled out a few wins over those boxes. The N3200XXX proves that it can serve as a good performing file server for home and small office use. It could even be pressed into service as a light-duty server for a small workgroup.

Testing:

There are two aspects concerning the operation of the N3200XXX we need to examine next and that concerns the cooling performance and power consumption of the system.

Cooling

The 92mm fan on the N3200XXX is thermally controlled based on the processor temperature. It's centrally located on the rear panel, which allows it to pull air through the front grill intake and across the drives and exhaust the warm out out the back. Thecus doesn't publish noise levels for the fan, but it certainly wasn't audible from a few feet away, especially over the noisy hard drives.

Using the NAS Performance Toolkit, I ran a full series of tests with the NAS configured with a RAID 5 array and used the S.M.A.R.T. drive temperature readings for each individual drive. I also used a digital temperature probe that I inserted into the center of the case. System temperature and fan speed were obtained from the LCD readout on the unit. Temperature readings were taken with the system in idle mode prior to the tests and then monitored throughout the tests.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Idle Test
Ambient Room 22 °C 22 °C
Case Interior 31 °C 46 °C
System 31 °C 55 °C
S.M.A.R.T. Drive 1 29 °C 46 °C
S.M.A.R.T. Drive 2 28 °C 46 °C
S.M.A.R.T. Drive 3 31 °C 47 °C
Fan Speed (RPM) 1383 1418

The temperature readings here came as somewhat of a surprise, showing the largest temperature deltas of any unit we've tested to date. SMART hard drive temperatures increased by 16-18 degrees Celsius with case temperatures climbing 15 degrees Celsius. The thermally controlled fan didn't break much of a sweat though, only increasing its speed 35 RPM. I raised a concern on the first page of the review concerning the grill opening on the front door and whether that might negatively impact cooling. The reduced grill size, especially compared to its N3200PRO predecessor, combined with a low fan speed, resulted in some disappointing cooling numbers.

Power Consumption

One of the advantages of having a NAS appliance for storage versus a standalone PC is lower power consumption. The N3200XXX also offers the ability to put the disks in a low-power mode after a period of 30-120 minutes of non-use.

I tested the power usage of the N3200XXX in an idle state with the disks spinning but no activity, during a full RAID 5 test with read and write activity, and finally in power management mode with all drives set to power down after the minimum 30 minute period. All measurements were taken with a P3 International P4400 Kill A Watt power meter.

State Watts
Power Mgt. Mode 15
Idle 36
RAID 5 Test 39-41

The N3200XXX managed to use about the same amount of power as a 40W light bulb, even under heavy loads. It's predecessor, the N3200PRO came in a couple of watts lower, but we're using 3TB drives in this test versus 500GB in the previous unit. In power saving mode, the N3200XXX lived up to its claim of 'Extreme Power Management' by using only 15 watts.

Testing:

RAID 1/5 Data Protection

The N3200XXX supports up to three drives giving it the ability to support RAID levels 1 and 5 that afford a level of redundancy in the case of a single drive failure. Thecus also touts its server as having 'Extreme Protection' leading one to expect the unit to keep your data available, as well as provide some level of recovery. That proves to be the case with RAID 1 protection on the N3200XXX, which requires two drives, also offering you the option of designating the third drive as a hot spare. The N3200XXX also supports RAID 5, which requires at least three drives, but can keep data available in the event of a single drive failure.

We'll test the ability of the N3200XXX to recover from a single failed drive in both RAID 1 and RAID 5 configurations. For both configurations, I simulated a 'failure' by removing a disk drive from the unit while powered on. Since the server supports hot-swapping drives, you can remove and replace drives without having to power the unit down.

With the RAID 1 test, I created a volume using all three drives, but since RAID 1 uses only two drives, the third drive automatically becomes the hot spare by default. With Disk 1 removed to simulate the failure, the volume is showing a Degraded state and in the lower left corner, the volume and disk icons are red, indicating a problem. By the time I placed Disk 1 back into the server, the system had already begun the rebuild process using Disk 3 as the hot spare. We can see that Disk 1 now automatically becomes the hot spare as only two disks are used in a RAID 1 volume. Several hours later, the volume is rebuilt and back to a healthy status. The N3200XXX automatically began the rebuild process using the designated hot spare and the volume was returned to normal without loss of data.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again with the RAID 5 test, I formed a volume using all three drives. Since RAID 5 requires a minimum of three drives, we could not test with the auto-rebuild using the hot-spare. After removing Drive 1 to simulate the failure, the volume went into degraded mode and once the drive was replaced, the auto-rebuild process began, resulting in a healthy volume some fourteen plus hours later.

 

 

 

 

With both scenarios, removing a drive from the box caused the corresponding hard drive light on the front of the unit to turn red, indicating there was a problem. Additionally, with notifications enabled, I received a stream of e-mails letting me know that the drive had failed, the volume was in degraded mode, that the volume was being rebuilt, and a final message when the rebuild completed and the volume was healthy again. The N3200XXX certainly lived up to its 'Extreme Protection' claim and was able to successfully recover from a drive failure in both RAID 1 and RAID 5 modes, while keeping the data safe in the process.

RAID Migration/Expansion

You can expand the capacity of an existing volume by allocating unused space to the volume. Back in the Storage configuration page, we looked at the RAID Management section and saw how to build a RAID volume. In the example here, I built a RAID 1 volume, but did not allocate all the drive space to the volume. In fact, only about half of the available space was dedicated to the RAID volume. When we click on the Edit button, we see there is an Expand tab also available. Clicking on that brings up the Expand Capacity slider, which we can use to determine the additional space available and how much to add to the exiting volume. You will get a couple of warning dialogs when you press the Apply button before the expansion process starts.

 

 

 

During the process, the Status columns displays 'Expand RAID' and you will need to wait until the process completes, after which it will show the additional space in the volume. Another way this capability comes in handy is when you want to expand the capacity of the unit by adding larger-capacity drives. You can replace the drives one at a time, wait for the volume to rebuild after each drive is replaced, then expand the volume using the new space.

 

 

RAID migration is the process of changing, or migrating, a volume and its data from one level of RAID to another. There are several directions you can migrate in when it comes to different RAID levels, but the reality is, on the N3200XXX with three drives, the only available option is to migrate from a RAID 1 two-drive volume to a RAID 5 three-drive volume. For some odd reason, the N3200XXX UI also offers a RAID 1 – RAID 6 option, which is physically impossible, since RAID 6 requires four drives and we only have three drives in the N3200XXX.

To migrate the RAID from one level to the next, you need to highlight the volume in the Storage/RAID Management window and click the Edit button. From there, you click on the Migrate RAID tab. Here the system will present the RAID Level options available to you, which is limited to 'RAID 1 → RAID 5 (Online)', make sure to check the box next to Drive 3 to add it to the RAID 5 volume and then press the Apply button. You'll receive the obligatory dialogs telling you it could take a long time and warning you about the potential for data loss.

 

 

 

Once you agree to the warnings, the migration process begins and the systems switches from the two drives used in the RAID 1 array to a three-drive RAID 5 volume and the build process begins. This was a rather lengthy process taking over eighteen hours to complete. In the end, you're left with a healthy RAID 5 volume with all your data intact.

 

 

Conclusion:

Back when we looked at the N3200PRO, we were impressed with the size and the fact that you were able to get RAID 5 in a small unit designed for SOHO/home use. In the N3200XX, you get that and more, with an upgraded design, upgraded hardware, and a thoroughly modern GUI based on AJAX technology. With the improved firmware comes a set of features to rival most larger units, with iSCSI, NAS Stacking, ISO image mounting, RAID level migration, and expansion. For a small unit, it has a big feature set and the performance to go with it.

We dinged the N3200PRO on its documentation and lack of an online help feature. The N3200XXX comes with its own online context-sensitive help feature, so that problem has been addressed. However, the quality of the user manual hasn't improved – it's poorly written, the English at times can be rather tortured, and several features weren't documented at all. We also saw problems with getting the Setup Wizard to recognize the unit initially, along with some minor problems with some of the other software, like the NAS stacking.

So, where does that leave us? The problems mentioned above are more annoyances than showstoppers. Disappointing to see, but not something that couldn't be addressed by Thecus in a future release. The full feature set should meet even the most demanding user's needs, especially in a home unit. The RAID 5 capability is certainly a plus, and its RAID rebuilding capability provides proven protection against data loss in the event of a hard drive failure. With the ability to use drives up to 3TB in size, you can store up to 9TB of data, which should be enough to last most users for a while. The N3200XXX could be a really great choice for any home or small office user, especially if Thecus could correct the few shortcomings we found.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: