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Low-Cost Network Area Storage Devices

We compared these devices on the basis of performance, price, management/configuration, features, warranty and service. Two other NAS devices, from Coastline Micro and Dell, met with testing problems and had to be excluded from our evaluation (see "Testing Problems KO Two Devices," at the end of this story).

When choosing a NAS for your small business or departmental needs, the overriding factor is the trade-off between ease of use and price. NAS devices are designed to make setup and maintenance as simple as possible, but because that simplicity usually benefits an in-house administrator who's on your payroll, you won't want a unit that busts your budget. The next factor is capacity--the amount of data you need to store and keep accessible. The units we tested have a wide range of capacities, from the FIA POPnetserver 1000, which comes in configurations as small as 120 GB, to the Snap Appliance Snap Server 4500, which can handle up to 3 TB using two of Snap's external disk arrays.

When considering capacity, remember to take reliability into account. All the devices tested for this review support RAID functionality, usually at multiple levels. But RAID comes at a price. Just because the raw capacity of a given unit is 1 TB, that doesn't mean the usable space is the same. A RAID 5 configuration (striping and parity), for instance, can use up to 25 percent of the raw capacity for data protection. While a 25 percent data penalty may sound like a huge detriment, the extra data protection is worth the price.

Every unit except the FIA POPnetserver 1000 came preconfigured with RAID 5 functionality. The FIA POPnetserver was configured using RAID 0, simple striping. This is a fast configuration, but not a safe one. To add some reliability, you can configure the POPnetserver 1000 for RAID 1, simple mirroring, but that configuration will eat up half the unit's disk space. Because the POPnetserver holds only two hard disks, a RAID 5 setup, which requires three disks, is not possible.

NAS Device Features

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InoStor's ValuNAS 6000 also has an unusual RAID implementation. InoStor has a patented RAID technology that provides the same level of data protection as conventional RAID 5 systems, without the 25 percent penalty.

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