NAS devices can be substantially cheaper than their data center–class counterparts, in part by sacrificing the use of high-end SCSI or Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) drives for Serial ATA (SATA) drives, and by using a proprietary version of Linux instead of Windows Storage Server. I considered these devices as I looked for a replacement for my aging and power-hungry DAS array, which is comprised of 12 15K RPM 72GB SCSI drives. My list of required features included a need to support common NAS file-serving protocols such as Server Message Block (SMB) used by Windows, Apple File Protocol (AFP) used by Apple Macs, and NFS used by UNIX systems. I wanted a system that could integrate with my Active Directory (AD)-based network, as well as one that offered iSCSI support, so that I could rebuild my wholly virtualized test environment. I also wanted fault tolerance so that I wouldn’t lose any data in the event of disk failure.
I finally settled on the Iomega StorCenter ix4-200d with 8TB of disk space. In addition to meeting my requirements, the ix4-200d can act as an Apple Time Machine backup device, an iTunes and Plug and Play (PnP) media server, and a video recorder for IP security video cameras. It also comes with backup software for desktops and servers, provides remote access to your files over the Internet, offers Bluetooth support, and has print server and USB storage expansion capabilities. A host of other features include support for UPS, SNMP, email alerts, BitTorrent, and more. I was drawn to Iomega’s products because they’re wholly owned by EMC, a heavyweight in SAN devices, and the ix4-200d is based on the same technology.
The ix4-200d is small, compact, and extremely well built. Two thumbscrews on the back let you access the four 2TB user-replaceable hard drives. On the front of the device, which Figure 1 shows, is a display with two buttons that control what’s shown. By default, the device displays its status and configuration information in a loop. There’s also a power button on the front. There are USB ports on the front and back of the device, as well as two 1Gb Ethernet ports and power-in on the back. The Ethernet ports can be bonded for improved throughput or used on separate networks. Hooking up the ix4-200d to my network was as simple as plugging in an Ethernet cable and power.
The device comes with a CD-ROM that contains management and backup software, which was simple to install. When I launched the management software there were a few glitches as it tried to find the ix4-200d; this process could be improved. After setup, you can dispense with the software and use a web browser to manage the device. I joined the device to my AD forest but then immediately put it back into workgroup mode because when it’s joined to a domain, the support for the AFP and Time Machine protocols is disabled. Iomega should fix this problem, because many enterprise environments integrate Macs with AD. Joining and leaving a domain is a breeze.
My next action was to reconfigure the device to use RAID 10 instead of RAID 5, which is the default. My primary use of the device is to serve Virtual Hard Disks (VHDs) to Windows Server 2008 running Hyper-V using iSCSI. RAID 10 is preferable to RAID 5 in this scenario because of the improved read/write performance. It took almost 24 hours to rebuild the volume, which seemed long.
Creating iSCSI volumes to serve was a breeze (as is creating ordinary file share access using SMB, AFS, or NFS). I created a user account and set a password to protect the iSCSI volumes. I also configured the device so that the second Ethernet port was on a private LAN used by my Hyper-V server. Despite the documentation clearly stating that you need to install the Iomega management software on Windows Server systems to access the iSCSI targets, I found that this wasn’t true. The built-in iSCSI initiator worked just fine and let me specify a username and password to connect to the iSCSI targets. Although the process wasn’t as simple as using Apple’s Time Machine products, I configured the device as a Time Machine backup server and both my Mac Mini and MacBook Air were able to connect to the ix4-200d.
Performance was stunning. I’m running 12 virtual machines (VMs), a mix of UNIX and Windows, whose hard drives are on the ix4-200d and are accessed using iSCSI. Although I wouldn’t attempt this in a production environment, the device is perfect for my test lab—I’ll probably end up running 20 or more VMs from the device. Performing installations of OSs does slow the device down, but that might simply be because of extremely high network utilization rather than a bottleneck in the device itself. After installation, everything appeared to be just as fast as when using my DAS.
I bought the device for use as an iSCSI target server for my virtualized test environment, with the goal of storing VHDs on it. The device is excellent for this purpose. However, I quickly pressed it into service as a Time Machine backup server for my Macs, as well as for my Windows desktops and servers.
The Iomega ix4-200d is extremely well put-together, with an impressive array of features that will meet most administrators’ needs. The device is useful for small businesses or for larger organizations with departments that are looking for flexible storage options, as well as for test labs and even some production environments hosting VMs.
Iomega StorCenter ix4-200d