Iomega StorCenter ix4-200d: One Snazzy NAS

Feature-rich SMB and home office multi-terabyte storage products are falling below $1000, and these NAS devices support a variety of file protocols, are easy to install and manage, and now, don't cost an arm and a leg to run. The ix4-200d, which ships with 2, 4 or 8 TBytes, stacks up against storage NAS products like the Seagate BlackArmor NAS 440 or the QNAP TS-439, though the TS-439 has some more advanced features such as front removable drives and more RAID levels. After several months of tes

January 25, 2010

6 Min Read
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Feature-rich SMB and home office multi-terabyte storage products are falling below $1000, and these NAS devices support a variety of file protocols, are easy to install and manage, and now, don't cost an arm and a leg to run. The ix4-200d, which ships with 2, 4 or 8 TBytes, stacks up against storage NAS products like the Seagate BlackArmor NAS 440 or the QNAP TS-439, though the TS-439 has some more advanced features such as front removable drives and more RAID levels. After several months of testing and use, we can say Iomega delivers on its promise of a low-cost SMB NAS. While we did run into issues with the Web UI and downloading large files, for the most part we simply forgot it was there, which is saying something. For the $899 list for the 4TB model I tested (2.7 TB using RAID 5), the StorCenter ix4-200d is a decent NAS for SMB use and has enough features to satisfy the more technically demanding environment.

EMC talks up the ix4-200d as a desktop NAS, but really, you wouldn't want it on your desk. The device's sporadic chatter can be distracting. While I was building a 100GB iSCSI LUN (which took hours), the ix4-200d sounded like it contained a horde of ravenous chimpmunks eating acorns, though deleting an iSCSI LUN was quick and quiet. The ix4-200d does has power management features, such as dimming the bright blue LED panel and powering down the disks while idle.

The device uses a simple Web-based user interface, and the purchase price includes one year of TZO's Dynamic DNS so that you can access the web interface and files remotely. The StorCenter walks you through the TZO Dynamic DNS registration, where you choose a name for your StorCenter, and it registers under the Iomegalink.com domain. When you are on the road,  all you have to do is open HTTPS on your firewall/router to get access to the NAS.

The ix4-200d has simple file security features to manage access to folders. These are okay for most situations, but an advanced set of options would have more robust access controls. We could assign directories as read only, read/write, and no permissions to users, but we couldn't enable certain protocols for specific directories. For example, FTP users are able to access all directories. There isn't  a way to set up anonymous FTP, either. Arguably, SMBs may not be running anonymous FTP servers to the Internet, but FTP is still used for file transfer. It would have been nice to have more control over what protocols were assigned to shares.

MegabytesPerSecond.jpgPerformance wise, we found the is4-200d fairly fast for both CIFS and ftp file transfers. We used Iometer  2008.06.18 for performance testing. We connected the ix4-200d using a single 1Gb Ethernet to a Cisco Catalyst 3750G. Our client device was a Dell Optiplex 745 running Windows XP. We monitored the network traffic using a Fluke Networks OptiView Series III Network Integrated Analyzer. For the iSCSI testing, we created a 100GB LUN on the ix4-200d. For CIFS and FTP, we used an existing share. We used the 32Kb Read test from Iometer, which specified 32KB sequential reads and  well as the 32KB 0% Read (all sequential writes). We also set the outstanding IO on Iometer to ten to maximize performance. Beyond ten, we didn't see much performance gain.AverageResponseTime.jpgWe also created an Iometer test by measuring typical file IO requests using Microsoft's Sysinternals Disk Monitor and then selecting the top seven I/O sizes and request types, read or write, and adding them to a profile (the Iometer configuration file is here:
laptop.icf).  

The tests results were substantially lower than with the packaged tests, which is not shocking by any stretch considering most typical disk activity is composed of reading and writing relatively small files that are not stored sequentially on the drives. The i4x-200d does support TCP window scaling, which means TCP file transfers like FTP can be blazingly fast on the LAN and faster on the WAN than what you are used to with FTP.

iops.jpgThe 32 KB sequential read and write performance tests show high performance that we'd expect with sequential reads. This highlights the best performance scenario for the NAS since the heads don't have to move far to continue to read data. The Laptop simulation, with 50 percent of reads and writes being random, forced the drives to move their heads to continue to read and write data, which resulted in lower throughput, fewer IOPS and higher average response times. The simulation results may be more indicative of what you might actually see in real use per client. Frankly, during months of use as our primary NAS, the ix4-200d performed well and we hardly noticed any delay in moving files to and from the NAS or when opening files remotely.  

The ix4-200d is a VMware vSphere certified NAS using iSCSI and NFS, but we really wouldn't recommend the device for production image hosting, mainly because the ix4-200d doesn't have redundant power supplies. It would be a good fit for vSphere development environment where uptime and usability were important but down time could be tolerated.

We did like the built in BitTorrent support, though that is more a nerd feature than an SMB offering. The ix4-200d can set-up BitTorrent downloads via a URL or a tracker on the ix4-200d and it will download the files. I downloaded Fedora 11 and Fedora 12 DVDs without taking up space on my office computer. The ix4-200d does also has power management features such as dimming the bright blue LED panel and powering down the disks while idle.The product ships with unlimited licenses for EMC's Retrospect backup software so that desktops can be backed-up to the ix4-200d as in as needed or scheduled basis. The ix4-200d also supports scheduled and on-demand back-up and synchronization using rsync, including one touch copying to a USB disk. The ix4-200d can also support up to five Axis security cameras and can act as a print server using USB connected printers, though we didn't test either feature.

The only downside is that you can't download files larger than 2GB using the Web interface. That's because Internet Explorer 6 limits HTTP downloads to 2GB, and EMC wrote the Web interface with that ancient browser in mind. We don't want to make a big deal out of this (how often do you download 2GB+ files through a browser, anyway?), but tailoring a web interface for a browser is pretty simple these days.

We would have really liked to have seen integration with EMC's Mozy Home either as a backup target for hosts or a built in Mozy home back-up client to Mozy home. Easy and cost effective off site back-up is becoming more critical for home users and SMBs alike. The ix4-200d is a solid SMB NAS for file and print serving. It is easy enough to use that once it is installed and set-up, you should rarely have to touch it. The advanced features like Active Directory integration and peripheral support—cameras and printers—make it a multi-function appliance.

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