Thecus N12000 moves up a gear with support for 6Gbits/sec SAS drives, fine performance and a good range of business network storage features
Despite the proliferation of small business NAS appliances, only Thecus has made any effort to support SAS drives. It went on the offensive with the excellent N7700 and now ups the ante with its rack mount N12000 – the first in this sector to support the latest 6Gbits/sec SAS drives.
Supplied to us by Origin Storage, the N12000 is a 2U rack chassis with room for up to twelve hot-swap drives. The price above includes six 600GB Seagate Cheetah 6Gbits/sec SAS drives, but Origin also offers near-line SAS and SATA drives if capacity is a higher priority than performance.
The N12000 is a solidly built system, with a sturdy flip-down panel hiding the drive bays, the power and reset buttons, and an OLED display and control pad. It also hides two USB 2 ports, with four more at the back.
The motherboard design has allowed Thecus to be imaginative with features. Rather than use a riser it has three low-profile PCI Express slots, with the first occupied by a dual-port USB 3 adapter. One of the motherboard’s SATA interfaces has been cabled out to the back using an eSATA header card. However, Thecus doesn’t currently offer any expansion shelves.
The drives are handled by an LSI SAS PCI Express card, and the appliance is 10-Gigabit ready. Origin offers a single-port Intel X520-SR1 card for £799 and a dual-port SR2 card for £999. Two Gigabit data ports are provided, and a third is used as a heartbeat link to another N12000 for high availability (HA). Thecus currently supports HA for single-array systems but it aims to support HA for multiple arrays in the coming months.
Installation is little different to Thecus’ desktop units: a Setup Wizard finds the appliance on the network and provides quick access to the main Ajax-based web console. A substantial redesign makes features a lot more accessible.
For testing we chose to place all six SAS drives in a single RAID5 array. You can’t access any services while it’s building, and the array took just over two hours to create.
With a fast 2.93GHz Intel Xeon X3470 processor and 4GB of DDR3, the N12000 delivered a top performance in our lab tests. Using a Broadberry dual-X5560 rack server running Windows Server 2008 R2 64-bit, drag and drop copies of a 2.52GB video clip returned read and write speeds of 103MB/sec. The FileZilla FTP client reported averages of 103MB/sec for uploads and downloads, while our 17.4GB collection of 10,500 files copied to the appliance at a rate of 71MB/sec.
The N12000 supports link aggregation, so we bundled the two Gigabit ports into an 802.3ad LACP dynamic link, which our HP Procurve 2848 switch spotted and automatically created for us. Partnering the X5560 server with a Dell PowerEdge R515 server, we mapped separate shares to each one from the RAID array and saw Iometer report a cumulative raw read speed of 219MB/sec.
IP SAN features are good. Thecus supports thin provisioning, which lets you create high capacity virtual volumes that start small and have blocks dynamically allocated as they grow in size. Performance is excellent, with Iometer reporting a high raw read speed of 110MB/sec for a 50GB target.
For backup, the price includes five copies of Acronis’ Backup and Recovery 10 for Windows Servers. Once you’ve created a vault on the appliance, backups of selected disks or volumes on the server can be run at daily, weekly and monthly intervals
Along with good data restoration features, Acronis provides plenty of disaster recovery tools. You can create a boot disk and enable the Startup Recovery Manager feature, which adds an option to the boot-up sequence allowing the server to run a recovery environment for bare metal restores.
Other backup options include support for Rsync, where the appliance acts as a target for other appliances. A free add-on module allows it to replicate to other targets, and Thecus has another that enables scheduling of folder backups on the appliance to local USB and eSATA devices.
As with Netgear’s ReadyNAS 4200, Thecus doesn’t offer any expansion capabilities so you can’t daisy-chain JBOD units from the main chassis. However, its Stackable feature does allow you to declare iSCSI targets on other Thecus appliances to the N1200, which can then export them as network shares.
By combining plenty of business related features with a decent server backup package, the N12000 moves Thecus into the big league for network storage. The 6Gbits/sec SAS drives deliver fine performance, it’s 10-Gigabit ready and it looks good value too.