Thecus, makers of fine storage products for all kinds of users and platforms, recently sent us the Pro version of their N7700 class NAS device. With a little help from our friends at Seagate, who graciously donated 8 TB of hard drives for us to test with, we take the N7700 Pro for a spin around the block and see what differentiates this storage device from an ever crowding field.
[DISCLAIMER: Thecus provided an N7700 Pro NAS unit for review in exchange for advertising space on PlanetAMD64 and PlanetX64. Seagate donated the drives to us with no compensation other than to be mentioned as our source of hard drives.]
Despite the “Pro” moniker, the Thecus N7700 Pro uses a mini-tower form factor. This is not a rack-mountable device. However, it is smaller than a typical PC mini-tower, so it does not occupy that much space. If stored in a rack enclosure on some sort for shelf, it will occupy a little over 7U of space, so plan accordingly. Clad in anodized black and silver, the mini-tower can hold seven drives in its chassis. That’s potentially 12 TB of RAID-5 storage with the largest drives currently available.
Status information is provided via an LCD display on the front. Several manual controls on the front can be used to modify basic setup settings in case the network gets misconfigured and the web interface is not accessible.
Where to start? The unit is fully buzzword compliant and has recently been awarded VMware compatibility status. This means that VMware’s Hypervisor can reliably recognize the N7700 Pro as a storage device and even boot virtual machines from mounted iSCSI images.
Supported clients can be any combination of Windows, Mac, or Linux/Unix.
The N7700 Pro has Thecus’ Dual DOM architecture which means if the primary DOM gets messed up during an update, you can boot from a secondary DOM and reset the primary.
RAID modes offered include: 0, 1, 5, 6, 10 & JBOD. Up to 3 modes can be supported simultaneously.
The unit is managed via a browser-based UI that is clean, well-designed and easy-to-use.
During setup you are offered a staggering variety of filesystems (EXT3, XFS, & ZFS) to choose from. Most notable among them is ZFS, a 128-bit journaling filesystem designed and built by Sun Microsystems which packs upper storage limits so ridiculously large, you would have to use every atom in the Earth’s crust to fill it. ZFS also allows for data expansion via zpools, so you can start small and add drives later to expand. Combine this with RAID-6 (dual parity redundant) volumes and you have the makings of a storage device that can only be taken out of commission through acts of sabotage. By creating ZFS volumes you can enable Snapshot version control for the ultimate in data redundancy.
It supports online migration, online expansion, hot-swap, & hot-spares.
It can communicate directly via RS-232 & USB to UPS systems.
The 7700 Pro sports 2 GbE ports which can be load-balanced, 802.3ad (ganged) or setup in a failover configuration. But for real speed, there is a 10 GbE option (for all you bleeding-edge types.)
Add a wireless dongle and the N7700 Pro also acts as a wireless access point.
The N7700 Pro can act as a DHCP Server or Client.
The N7700 Pro includes backup software for Windows and Mac clients. Linux/Unix client can backup via cron+rsync, as can more gregarious Mac users. I tested the rsync facilities using ChronoSync for Mac. By mounting an iSCSI target volume, Mac user can designate the N7700 Pro as a target for Time Machine backups. If you are going this route, I highly recommend setting up the network as 802.3ad ganged for maximum throughput (unless you have access to 10GB switches and NICs for Macs.)
The N7700 Pro includes a print server, media server (Windows Media and iTunes), Download Manager (Bittorrent, FTP, HTTP)
The N7700 Pro provides a plethora (I love using that word) of methods to access your data:
The N7700 Pro is also extensible. Thecus offers several add-on modules to enhance the functionality of the device (as if it didn’t do enough already.) The list (as of this review) includes:
- Mail Server Module
- Backup to USB/eSATA External Drive Module
- RAID Volume Replication Module
- Twonky Media Server Module
- MySQL Module
- Web Server Module
- Bi-directional USB Copy Module
- IP Camera Server Module
- NZB News Server Module
In a nutshell, the N7700 Pro is FAST. I only had it configured with one GbE port and was able to back up my entire Windows Home Server (3.5 TB of data) via a Thermaltake BlackX USB drive toaster over the network in a matter of three days. The bottleneck there is the USB drive. In regular operation, I saw a noticeable improvement in my photographic workflow which includes saving a copy of all of my RAW image files to the NAS at ingestion.
The media server functions all work as advertised providing streaming audio, video, and photo services to any device on the network that understands the protocols. Installing the Twonky Media Server adds file transcoding to the N7700 Pro’s burgeoning resume. I was able to see videos on Macs, PCs and even my DirecTV HR200 DVR.
iSCSI targets are limited to 5 per filesystem but this is not really much of a limit in the N7700 Pro’s target demographic: SMB’s and advanced home networks.
While not empirically tested, the N7700 Pro’s design has reliability as a top priority. If I had to pick a nit in this area, I would cite the lack of a redundant power supply as the only missing feature. Still, with a nice strong UPS attached the N7700 Pro offers users a product that can be counted on to keep their data safe.
I have seen the N7700 Pro as low as $843 USD (without drives) in some casual Google searches. The average price tends to hover around $950 USD and some places as high as $999 (the MSRP.)