Review: QNAP TS-509 Pro Turbo NAS

The TS-509 Pro Turbo NAS is a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device from QNAP.  It also functions as a SAN (Storage Area Network).  The appliance is a hard drive chassis that has bays that will support up to 5 hot-swappable SATA drives, has 5 USB 2.0 ports for expansion and printer sharing, and 2 gigabit network ports than can be load balance or offer failover support.  The TS-509 can function as a NAS offering conventional file sharing, or it can function as a SAN acting as an iSCSI target.

I recently had the chance to review the Drobo Elite, a solution from Data Robotics Inc., which functioned exclusively as an iSCSI SAN.  While a solid iSCSI solution, it also has a hefty price tag.  I took the opportunity to compare the Drobo Elite to the QNAP TS-509 Pro.  In a follow-up post I will evaluate the performance of the device.  But for now I want to take a closer look at the TS-509’s feature set.

The TS-509 is something of a jack-of-all-trades.  At its core it is a RAID solution with 5 hot-swappable SATA drive bays.  RAID 0, 1, 5, 5 with hot spare, 6, and JBOD are all supported offering a great deal of flexibility.  The box offers file server support for Macintosh, Windows, and Linux/UNIX based operating systems.  File services appear in a Windows based network via an internal Windows networking service, and are available to Macintosh based systems via the included Bonjour network service.  And the device is managed via a web-based interface that is both easy to use and powerful.

Many RAID devices suffer from a lack of flexibility.  The TS-509 still plays by the rules of RAID, so it is strict in regard to the mixing of different capacity drives.  Ideally, all 5 bays will be occupied by that same capacity mechanisms (current max capacity drive is 2TB).  And, should the admin mix even a single 1TB drive in with 4 other 2TB drives, that max accessible space, per drive, will be reduced to 1TB as a result.

But the TS-509 does offer more sophisticated RAID features.  For example, it is possible to start with only 3 drives in the chassis and expand over time.  Down the road, a fourth and fifth drive can be added (ideally matching the capacity of the initial 3 mechanisms).  In which case the TS-509 offers the ability to expand the RAID volume across the newly added drives without the need to reformat or reinitialize the RAID container.  This keeps the data intact and makes the device easy to expand.

Hot swap is also supported, so a single drive failure is easy to recover.  Simply pull the failed drive and insert a replacement of the same capacity and the RAID will restripe to secure the data with no loss (depending on the RAID level configured).  And since Level 6 RAID is also supported, it is possible to protect even against dual drive failure.

The real power of the TS-509 is its wide feature set and flexibility.  For example, the device can function as a file server while simultaneously providing iSCSI services to the network.  File server support provides network users group access to shared data while the iSCSI support provides discrete access to portions of the shared drive space at more optimized speeds.  But where many solutions offer an either/or style approach to data access the TS-509 can provide these services concurrently adding flexibility to the network.

Since the TS-509 has two gigabit network ports onboard, there are a variety of configurations under which the network interfaces can be configured.  Options include several load balancing algorithms as well as a failover redundancy and port trunking options.  But while the ports support up to gigabit speeds, one missing feature is support jumbo-frames.  Other QNAP chassis support jumbo frames, but oddly the TS-509 is not among them.

The TS-509’s RAID support is a powerful means of data protection.  But the device also has the ability to backup internal data to external USB based devices via a schedule offering additional backup redundancy.  And a network equipped with multiple TS-509 boxes can even be configured to replicate data between boxed via the included encrypted rSync service.

And the box offers a range of backup services to network users.  The TS-509 can function as an Apple Time Machine backup location for network users.  I tested this feature myself but ended up being more satisfied simply creating a network share that functioned as a Time Machine backup location.  Time Machine support as a backup service seemed a little problematic in test.  This could be due to the fairly rapid evolution of Time Machine as Apple updates OS X.

But the TS-509 also has a front facing USB port that can be configured as a one-touch backup for USB based data.  Just plug in a USB based drive and tap the button on the front of the TS-509 and the data is replicated to a folder on the RAID with no additional user interaction required.  This makes the TS-509 a great repository for backups of external USB storage drives.

User and group access can be controlled via the devices web based interface, or it can be controlled via Windows based Active Directory.  The TS-509 also supports quotas making it easy to control how much storage space network users can access.  Any number of file shares can be created on the box.  Each simply makes a directory on the device available as an individual network share and permissions are very easy to set.

In addition to its powerful RAID features, what really makes the TS-509 a potent solution is the included iSCSI support.  The iSCSI target service makes a portion of the drive array available to a user at a block level.  This means that a user can access an iSCSI target with optimized access to the data.  With the data being written to the drive at a block level, there is no additional overhead related to file locking and the user has higher speed read and write communication with the RAID array.  And the TS-509 can host many iSCSI based targets simultaneously.  Allowing the TS-509 to function as both an iSCSI target device and a file server concurrently is powerful and flexible, and makes the device well suited for a wide range of network needs.

The TS-509 can also be updated via firmware flashes meaning that new features can be added over time.  But the device also supports QPKG plug-ins, essentially 3rd party packages that can add new features to the device.  The package format allows new functionalities such as MYSQL database hosting, Tomcat support, or Asterisk voice over IP services.

Where the Drobo Elite was simply a dedicated iSCSI based SAN solution, the QNAP TS-509 Pro offers the same service as well as a wide variety of other powerful features.  And on top of that, it does this at a fraction of the price.  Where a Drobo Elite bare chassis (no drives included) currently lists for $3,495.00, the TS-509 chassis (no drives included) is available for $899.99.  Though the TS-509 lacks 3 of the Elite’s drive bays, the feature set, specifications, and the price combined make the TS-509 a compelling solution for networks requiring high speed access to massive amounts of redundant storage space.

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