Rackmount network storage Thecus 1U4200XXX
Written by Maxim Klimanov
Until today our still young testing lab has only been testing network storages which were focused on the SOHO segment. Today we decided to overcome this tendency and present to our readers a new one-unit four-disc NAS Thecus 1U4200XXXR in a rackmount design. The vendor qualifies this storage as an enterprise device so we’ll try to see to what extent 1U4200XXXR fits into this category.
Thecus 1U4200XXXR is produced in a metal case designed to be mounted onto a 19’’ telecom rack. The device dimensions are 593*433*44 mm. Lugs are attached to the front panel, however, the device is delivered together with rails. Unfortunately, mounting the device onto a packed rack with the rails turned out to be quite an undertaking. Sadly, mounting procedure onto a rack is not described in the manual.
On the front panel there’re four slots for mounting baskets with hard drives partially covered with a mobile screen displaying information about the current state of 1U4200XXXR.
Also on the front panel are located , , and Esc buttons which allow managing the storage when the network is not available. Also here one can see the power button and the Locator button for the device identification. Four light indicators give the administrator information about power, the device load, the network operation and errors. One can’t but mention the presence of ventilation grates, two USB ports as well as a recessed Reset button for turning all settings to defaults.
Let’s turn to the 1U4200XXXR back panel where there’re four USB ports, an eSATA port, a recessed locator, two Gigabit Ethernet interfaces as well as a socket for connecting to a UPS.
In the Thecus 1U4200XXX line of network storages there’re two models: 1U4200XXXR and 1U4200XXXS the former has two interchangeable power units providing a backup power connection, whereas in 1U4200XXXS there’s only one power unit.
Now let’s look inside the device.
Inside the Thecus 1U4200XXXR NAS virtually divided into three parts (a disc section, a power unit section and a management module) there’re seven boards six of which are intended to simplify the wiring and don’t have anything particularly interesting on them beside copper lanes, buttons, light indicators and ports. We decided to present the photos of some of them to the reader.
Now let’s turn to the motherboard responsible for all intelligent work of the device. All main modules are located on one side of the board.
Two united Afaya MDM4LRSU512MBPCFU4 and MDM4LSU512MBPCFU4 modules work as flash-memory. They’re built on 512 Mbyte Samsung K9F4G08U0B chips one of which works for reading only. Such configuration allows using definitely operative vendor’s firmware to boot and recover firmware in case of serious malfunctions.
The controller responsible for connecting flash memory to the PCI-E bus is JMicron JMB363. An iTE IT8720F controller is responsible for input/output operations. Four user hard drives are connected to SATA300 with the help of two Silicon Image Sil3132CNU modules despite six SATA-ports provided by the Intel NH82801IR south bridge. The network part is represented by two Intel WG82574L controllers. Thecus 1U4200XXXR is based on an Intel Atom D525 CPU.
Now we're through with the hardware and turn to software.
Like other Thecus network storages 1U4200XXXR requires preliminary setup. We connected the device to a port on a switch belonging to a separate virtual network. We added a computer with a preinstalled Thecus Setup Wizard utility to the same virtual network. After starting the utility the device was detected at once.
Naturally, we couldn't help capturing the data transmitted during the search for the Thecus storage with the help of a network protocols analyzer Wireshark. The whole detection process requires the transmission of just two packets presented below.
Now let's start initial configuration. Its course requires entering the user's password which coincides with the login - admin.
The second step is to configure network parameters, after which the administrator will be asked to submit a new password for device management.
After successful application of the new network parameters and the change of the password the device will be ready to work. All further device management is performed with the help a web-browser. The first action that needs to be taken is to create a RAID with the help of the RAID Management menu item of the Storage group with its further formatting.
After all questions have been answered the procedure of the RAID creation will be started, which will allow the administrator to install necessary extension modules and start the 1U4200XXXR up.
Here the necessary stage of initial setup is complete; however we’d like to say a few words about the device registration procedure which allows prolonging the 1U4200XXXR warranty period in Russia to two years. The necessary condition of providing extended warranty for the device is to register the storage within two months from the purchase date. The device can be registered only on the vendor’s Russian site.
Beside the registration described above the user can register his device with the help of the web-interface of the storage itself (the Online Registration item of the System Information menu group), however this action will only give access to the latest firmware versions and will not affect the warranty period in any way.
Let’s update the firmware and install extension modules.
Firmware upgrade and module management
Firmware upgrade is performed manually in the Firmware Upgrade item of the System Management menu. The user has to download 63 Mbytes of the new firmware from the vendor’s site and to start the upgrade itself by choosing the image file, uploading it to the storage with the help of the web-interface and confirming the upgrade start.
The whole upgrade process takes around three minutes without the time it takes to reboot the device (70 seconds).
Now let’s study the process of installing extension modules. For manual installation one has to turn to the Module Installation item of the Application Server group and to choose a previously downloaded file.
Automatic installation through the Auto Module Installation item will only ask the user to choose the required point from a list.
Now let’s move on to studying the abilities of the web-interface.
The 1U4200XXXR web-interface home page can be presented to the user in two variants: traditional and flash. Independent from the presentation of the page to access the storage settings one has to enter the administrator password which is by default admin.
After entering correct user data the administrator gets to the device homepage. The device web-interface is available in twelve languages: English, traditional and simplified Chinese, Japanese, Korean, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese and Russian.
Now let’s turn to the items of the menu to the left. We’d like to mention straightaway that we’re not going to study all the abilities of the web-interface, but will only stop at the most interesting ones. The first of them is the System Information group containing the following item: General, Status, System Log, Online Registration and Syslog Management.
The General item provides brief information about the vendor and the storage model, the firmware version as well as the device uptime.
Information about the CPU load, the cooler work and power supply, the system uptime ant the statuses of supported services can be found in the Status item.
Everything happening to the 1U4200XXXR is put down to the system log available in the same-name item. In our view, it would be more logical to put this and the next item in the System Management group; moreover, there’s a similar Notifications item.
Besides keeping a local system log the device can send messages to the Syslog-server. Corresponding configuration can be performed with the help of the Syslog Management item.
Now let’s go to the items of the System Management group. The Date and Time item allows either setting date and time manually or synchronizing with an NTP server. The Thecus 1U4200XXXR’s ability to act like an NTP-server itself seems a bit unusual. It’s not exactly obvious if the realization of this option is really of use, however it won’t hurt, either.
Unfortunately, 1U4200XXXR doesn’t support Cyrillic domains, i.e. it won’t be possible to synchronize date and time with a server like время.провайдер.рф spelt by name.
Setting exact time will be very helpful for sending e-mail notifications which are configures in the Notifications item of the System Management group as well as for scheduling turning the storage on and off (Scheduled On/Off item). It’s worth noting that the device can be switched on and off not only against a schedule or with the help of the power button on the front panel but also via the network using the WOL (Wake-on-LAN) technology.
Besides getting notifications to the e-mail address or to the Syslog-server, the administrator can get information about the 1U4200XXXR work via SNMP to configure which one has to turn to the SNMP item.
The Administrator Password item allows setting a password for accessing the device via the web-interface or with the help of an OLED-display on the storage front panel. The device can be managed with the help of the buttons and the display on the front panel when connection to the storage through the network is not available.
The file system check can be started from the same-name item.
The System Network menu has two items: WAN/LAN1 and LAN2 which allow managing network connections. For the WAN/LAN1 interface the IP-address can be specified manually or otherwise dynamically received via DHCP. The LAN2 interface parameters can be only configured manually. A nice option is the ability of 1U4200XXXR to support aggregated channels that can be used for load balancing between physical ports or for providing a fault tolerant system of connecting the storage to the net.
Now let’s look at the items of the Storage menu. Information about the installed discs, scan launch as well as disc power management are available in the Disc Information item.
Data on the RAID state are presented in the RAID Management item.
Resources for iSCSI are managed with the help of the Space Allocation item. Not the first location you could think of, is it?
Thecus 1U4200XXXR permits mounting an ISO-image for creating a shared resource. The corresponding configuration is made in the ISO Image Mounting item. For sharing folders there’s an item Share Folders.
Users and their groups can be administered and disc quotas configured with the help of the User and Group Authentication group items. Besides manual creation/deletion/renaming of single accounts, it’s also possible to create users from file semi-automatically. Moreover the 1U4200XXXR supports work with Windows Active Directory.
Network file services (Samba/CIFS, AFP, NFS, TFP, TFTP, HTTP, UPnP and Bonjour) can be configured with the help of the Network Service menu.
Now we’re going to study the Application Server group containing the following items: iTunes Server, Modules and Auto Module Installation. The former is designed only for configuring the iTunes module, and the other two – for managing all other extension modules whose installation can run in a manual or automatic mode. A more detailed description of the installation of extension modules was given above in the section devoted to firmware upgrade.
Besides configuring backup operations with the help of Rsync, the items of the Backup group allow creating up to five configuration copies including firmware.
As external devices 1U4200XXXR in a standard system configuration supports only printers and UPS’s; for managing them one has to address the items of the External Device group.
Here we are through with the review of the storage web-interface and move on to the information available via SNMP.
The SNMP-interface review
We’re not going to give a detailed description of all the abilities of accessing the storage via SNMP, but will only stop at several most interesting ones. The access is switched on in the web-interface (System Management-SNMP).
For management we took a quite simple Getif utility version 2.3.1. Altogether we discovered six interfaces.
Now let’s jump to the MBrowser tab where you can find all available parameters located in the .iso.org.dod.internet.mgmt.mib-2 branch. Information about the system is presented in the parameters of the .iso.org.dod.internet.mgmt.mib-2.system branch.
The interfaces’ parameters are available in the .iso.org.dod.internet.mgmt.mib-2.interfaces branch.
Statistical data about IP, ICMP, TCP, UDP and SNMP are gathered in the corresponding points of the .iso.org.dod.internet.mgmt.mib-2 branch.
Also, several interesting parameters not immediately related to the network are gathered in the .iso.org.dod.internet.private branch.
We added 1U4200XXXR into testing monitoring system based on Cacti as a new device to get a graph of the network interface load while the storage was being managed.
The brief review of the SNMP-interface is over and we’re moving to the stacking process.
Stacking and aggregation
Thecus network storages can be stacked. Such stacking enables more effective use of the disc space. Certainly we couldn’t miss such an opportunity and asked for another device for tests. Then, besides the 1U4200XXXR we already had, we got a NAS N8200XXX; on these two storages we’re going to study the stacking process.
The first thing to do is to create an iSCSI target volume on the storage that will be connected to the main one. For doing so one has to go to the Space allocation item of the Storage group and to specify the resource name and size. If the connection between the storage is not secure it's possible to use CHAP authentication.
After successfully creating an iSCSI target volume on one of the storages you have to add it on the other one. Adding is performed in the Stackable item of the Storage group where the administrator has to state the IP-address of the stackable device and to detect available iSCSI resources. It’s worth noting that we weren’t able to stack a NETGEAR ReadyNAS Ultra 2 Plus storage about which we wrote earlier. To all our stacking attempts 1U4200XXXR responded with unavailability of the remote device. It seems that beside iSCSI other add-ons or checks are used.
Now that the target is added we must format it.
Here the process of connecting a new storage to the stack is over. Any supported network protocol like NetBIOS and FTP will help to get access to the connected volumes.
It’s worth noting that a stacked network storage hides from the user the logic of working in a stack, i.e. the user thinks that he is exchanging data only with the main device. When addressing the data located outside the main storage, the user’s requests are sent to the connected storage. To test this statement we connected a test computer as well as 1U4200XXXR and N8200XXX to the Fa0/1, Fa0/2 and Fa0/3 interfaces of one Cisco Catalyst 2950 switch, respectively. Then we started copying files from the test computer to the connected folder. With the help of a Wireshark network analyzer we found out that data exchange takes place only between the test PC and Thecus 1U4200XXXR which is the main device in the stack. Also we decided to analyze the mean load of the switch ports – as can be seen below.
Switch#sho int fa0/2
30 second input rate 76898000 bits/sec, 9330 packets/sec
30 second output rate 75582000 bits/sec, 9132 packets/sec
Switch#sho int fa0/3
30 second input rate 1607000 bits/sec, 3108 packets/sec
30 second output rate 77111000 bits/sec, 6354 packets/sec
From the obtained data we can see that incoming and outgoing data streams for Fa0/2 are approximately equal and correspond to the files being copied. The Fa0/3 interface load is absolutely different – asymmetric. Here there’s only one considerable outgoing stream. When files are being copied from the PC to the storage first the data are sent to the main storage and then towards the connected device.
The given stacking scheme has one major shortcoming: if there’re substantial multidirectional streams (users upload and download data simultaneously) the stack master’s network interface can become fully loaded and this will result in decreasing data transmission speeds. Perhaps, in this case it may be reasonable to use the second network interface exclusively for the stack operation. The alternative to this method is physical interface aggregation or installation of a 10 GE adapter into the master-storages supporting such adapters.
We consider the ability to stack Thecus network storage to be very useful in situations when one has to store big amounts of data and have unified access to them. Unfortunately, we failed to make a stack with another vendor’s device though its iSCSI connections were enabled and adding an iSCSI target went without a hitch.
It wasn’t without a purpose that we joined stacking and aggregating into one section. The thing is that both technologies can substantially improve quantitative characteristics of the device. For instance, with the help of stacking the administrator can increase the size of available disc space whereas statistically interface aggregation allows load distribution between two physical interfaces.
To perform channel aggregation one has to turn to the WAN/LAN1 item of the Network Service group. Thecus 1U4200XXXR offers several load-balancing schemes depending on the features supported by the switch to which the storage is connected.
We had a Cisco Catalyst 2950 (WS-C2950G-24-EI) switch at hand, that’s why we decided to try aggregation using the 802.3ad technology. We connected to the switch’s Gi0/1 and Gi0/2 interfaces on which we performed the following configurations.
switchport access vlan 2
switchport mode access
channel-group 2 mode on
switchport access vlan 2
switchport mode access
channel-group 2 mode on
switchport access vlan 2
switchport mode access
It’s worth noting that the Cisco Catalyst 2950 switch is an exclusively L2-device and allows balancing an aggregated channel only on the base of MAC-addresses; this is unacceptable for turning the storage into a separate segment as all requests coming to it would come from MAC-address – the MAC-address of this segment gateway. L3 switches allow balancing data transmitted through an aggregated channel not only on second-layer headers (MAC) but also using OSI third-layer headers (IP). Cisco Catalyst 3750 is an example of such a switch.
Now let’s finally turn to testing the storage.
The first traditional test – determining the storage booting time under which we mean the time interval between switching power on and receiving the first echo-reply via ICMP. Thecus 1U4200XXXR boots in 63 seconds. We consider this result to be up the scratch.
The device security against network attacks has become our second traditional test. We used Positive Technologies XSpider 7.7 (DemoBuild 3100) as a network security analyzer. During scanning we connected to the storage via the WAN/LAN1 interface. Before scanning we gave access to 1U4200XXXR via three protocols: Samba, FTP and iSCSI. Altogether we discovered 10 open ports: TCP-80 (HTTP), UDP-123 (NTP), UDP-137 (NetBIOSName), TCP-139 (NetBIOSsamba), TCP-443 (HTTPSSL), TCP-445 (MicrosoftDS), TCP-631 (HTTP), TCP-1194 (unknown), TCP-2000 (FTP) and TCP-3260 (iscsi-target).The most interesting results that we obtained are presented below.
A Twonky Media server installed as an extension module works as a multimedia server. We readily connected to 1U4200XXXR with the help of Windows Media player and looked through our photos, watched a film and listened to music.
Now let’s measure the device speed parameters. The main parameters of the testing stand are summarized in the table below.
|Motherboard||ASUS P5K64 WS||ASUS M60J|
|CPU||Intel Core 2 Quad Q9500 2.83 GHz||Intel Core i7 720QM 1.6 GHz|
|RAM||DDR3 PC3-10700 OCZ 16 Gbyte||DDR3 PC3-10700 Kingston 8 Gbyte|
|NIC||Marvell Yukon 88E8001/8003/8010||Atheros AR8131|
|Operating system||Windows 7 x64 SP1 Rus||Windows 7 x64 SP1 Rus|
The access test via NetBIOS was performed with the help of an Intel NASPT utility version 1.7.1. We deliberately reduced RAM available to the system on test computers to 2 Gbyte.
The first test of the storage performance was measuring the access speed to an external hard drive connected via USB. We used a 750 Gbyte Transcend StoreJet 25M3 as such a drive.
For testing access to a RAID in 1U4200XXXR we installed 2 Tbyte Seagate Constellation ES ST32000644NS discs. The results of this test are on a special diagram below.
We also didn’t forget about access with the help of iSCSI. The functions of the initiator were performed by a standard iSCSI client in Windows 7. After connecting a remote device via iSCSI we formatted it. We used two standard Windows 7 file systems: NTFS and FAT32.
As well as with testing the hard drive performance being directly connected to the PC the results of access via iSCSI in the DirectoryCopyToNAS Throughput test are not correct as they exceed even the capabilities of the Gigabit Ethernet interface through which the storage was connected.
When the article was almost complete and almost all the tests had already been run the vendor released a new firmware version – 5.01.04. One of the announced updates in this version was network performance improvement. Naturally, we decided to see how the performance had changed and rerun a number of tests with the new firmware (JBOD EXT3 and RAID10 ZFS) for SMB and iSCSI. The diagrams of comparison are presented below. We should say that we didn’t notice any substantial increase in the performance; in some tests there was even a slight degradation in the characteristics; however, all discrepancies lay within the margin of measurement error.
One of traditional features of such level equipment is its ability to provide cryptographic protection (encryption) of the stored data for which reason even stealing the disc won’t give the culprit easy access to the data. We created several encrypted disc arrays and tried to compare data access speeds. The results of this comparison are below.
Unfortunately, thus far the access speed to encrypted data is considerably lower. Perhaps, the situation will change dramatically when network storages begin using CPUs with AES hardware acceleration, but it’s still a long way.
Besides the network protocols described above, Thecus 1U4200XXXR supports a number of other ones among which are FTP and TFTP. The results of measuring data transmission speeds via these protocols are presented below. We tested the rates for one and two parallel streams. Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 x64 was used as an FTP client. For TFTP a standard Windows 7 console client was used.
Also, we can’t but mention speed characteristics of the drives used.
The presence of two physical network interfaces allows the device to perform not only the functions of a storage but those of a router as well. We measured the routing with translation speed for 1, 5 and 25 simultaneous TCP data streams. For measurements we used a Jperf utility version 2.0.2.
Here the testing section is over. Let’s make conclusions.
Thecus 1U4200XXXR is the first rackmount network storage of enterprise level that appeared in our testing lab. The device niche brought about the presence of several enterprise functions like the ability of stacking the device, aggregating channels, the presence of auxiliary power supply and so on. Though the implementation of some of these functions isn’t perfect, in general we were quite pleased with the device.
The advantages of 1U4200XXXR are below.
- High access speeds to the storage.
- Ability of aggregating network interfaces and stacking several storages.
- Presence of an auxiliary power block in the 1U4200XXXR model.
- Ability to manage the device with the help of buttons and a screen on the front panel.
- Security against network attacks.
- Possibility of installing extension modules free of charge.
However, we can’t but point out some disadvantages.
- Objectionable scheme of mounting the device onto a rack.
- Lack of Cyrillic domains support.
- Impossibility of stacking with other vendors’ devices.
- Rather low speeds of accessing encrypted arrays.
When the article was being written the price for 1U4200XXXR in Moscow online shops was 50000 RUR.
The author and the editorial team would like to thank the Tayle Company for providing the equipment for testing.