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Hardware Review: Promise SmartStor NS4600 – Part IV

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This is a series of posts on the Promise SmartStor NS4600 home storage server.  Previous posts:

One essential feature in any home NAS product is the ability to back up data.  The NS4600 has three options for data protection; snapshots, NAS replication and a feature called Easy Backup.

Snapshots

The snapshot functionality is pretty much as you’d expect and can be found under the “Backup” menu option.  Snapshot settings are set on a per-volume basis and unfortunately the maximum number for any one volume is four.  This is somewhat limiting and could be pretty restrictive if the NS4600 was being used in a home/office environment where hourly backups would be more preferable.

Easy Backup

This feature enables data to be backed up to and from external devices across either the USB or eSATA interfaces.  Data from the external device is backed up to a named folder on the NS4600.  Backing up from the NS4600 can either be a full or synchronised copy.  This can be useful when wanting to ensure a copy of data is available outside of the NS4600, in case the device malfunctions or worst case, is destroyed or stolen.

NAS Replication

Whilst the previous two features are useful, the one I  could see more benefit from was NAS replication.  This enables two NS4600 devices to replicate data between each other over the network.  Setup of this feature is quite simple. One device acts as primary, the other as the secondary in a replication pair.  There’s no ability to replicate in both directions at the same time as the feature is uni-directional.  The screenshots show the setup of the replication feature and a replication task in progress.  I had some trouble initially establishing replication as the documentation doesn’t make obvious what data is replicated.  In fact it appears to be every file share in every volume and the target device needs to have an identical volume name structure to allow replication to work; so if the primary appliance as a VOLUME2, the target appliance must also have VOLUME2.  Although replication is a useful feature, there are few shortcomings that should be addressed to make this a more usable.  These would include:

  • More detailed log information on the success/failure of a replication task.  If replication fails, the only way to get detailed information on the failure is to have enabled email alerts.  The management log provides insufficient detail on the failure reason.  Email support might not always be easy for users to implement as it requires SMTP server details.
  • More granular selection of the replication shares.  I’d like to exclude some files from replication; for instance music files don’t need to be replicated necessarily, but accounts information does.  Allowing at least share level replication would be a start.
  • I’d like to be able to specify source and target folders.  NAS replication is simply using rsync, so it should be possible to achieve.  I like to be able to clearly identify which directories are backups of primary data to prevent multiple update issues.
  • There doesn’t seem to be any way to stop replication once it has started.  This could be a real issue if the replication task starts taking lots of network bandwidth and the only abort option is a reboot of the appliance.

Clearly Promise have realised that it’s essential to be able to secure data away from a single appliance.  RAID and snapshots alone aren’t protection enough for device failure, theft or fire.  Data copying also needs to be simple and no doubt in this regard the NS4600 replication is simple to establish.  However this simplicity has also resulted in a lack of features, which needs to be addressed in future releases.

In the final article I’ll discuss some of the other features of the NS4600 and provide an overall summary of my thoughts.

About Chris M Evans

Chris M Evans has worked in the technology industry since 1987, starting as a systems programmer on the IBM mainframe platform, while retaining an interest in storage. After working abroad, he co-founded an Internet-based music distribution company during the .com era, returning to consultancy in the new millennium. In 2009 Chris co-founded Langton Blue Ltd (www.langtonblue.com), a boutique consultancy firm focused on delivering business benefit through efficient technology deployments. Chris writes a popular blog at http://blog.architecting.it, attends many conferences and invitation-only events and can be found providing regular industry contributions through Twitter (@chrismevans) and other social media outlets.
  • .A. R. Rørvik

    I agree wholeheartedly in your commend. I’m using a NS4300 and NS4600; trying to replicate from the NS4600 to the NS4300 using the latest firmware available. At the present time there is an issue regarding the rsync functionality. Some files sync, others don’t. No logging, impossible to know the cause. Not able to abort rsync, can not exclude files from rsync etc. Absolutely room for improvement. But it is a great start. Promise, when will new releases follow that addresses these issues? :-)

  • LD

    Hey there,

    I’m currently trying to choose between the Drobo S and the Promise DS4600. The DS4600 is way cheaper so that’s an advantage :)

    Anyway, the raid’s purpose for me would be to serve as my main storage for photography, which means I need it to be very fast so I can access my photos with no hiccups.

    I am a Mac user and I thought about connecting it using Firewire 800.

    Do you think the Promise would be fast enough for this purpose? What about the Drobo S?

    Thanks!

  • Steve M

    Can the drives in the NS4600 be upgraded to larger capacity drives without losing data? The readynas units call this Smart Raid. I can’t tell if the NS4600 supports this or not.

    Thanks.

    • http://www.brookend.com Chris Evans

      Steve

      I don’t believe the drives can be hot swapped for larger drives although I haven’t tried. If I get a chance I will try on my device and see what happens.

      Chris

  • Andre

    Question: I am new at this. Can I start off with 1 drive, then over time add more drives to the Promise SmartStor NS4600? What is the minimum drive requirement for it to work? Does it have to be fully loaded with all 4 drives at all times?

    • http://www.brookend.com Chris Evans

      Andre

      You can add as little as one drive, which would be unprotected from a RAID perspective. You can add more drives at any time (hot plugged too). However you can’t dynamically change the RAID configuration. You’d have to start again or create a separate RAID group.

      Regards
      Chris

  • Benny

    I am using the NS4600, it is a nice device, but I have to point-out 2 important issues:
    1) I used RAID 5 with 3 HD. I added a 4th HD, and added it to the RAID. The system increase the raid size, but did not increase the system file size, i.e. – I got NOTHING.
    Customer service said I had to erase the RAID and rebuild it….
    2) You have to use a good PSU with it, as every power fail the system crash and it is unrecoverable….
    Benny

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