First Looks - Thecus N8900 eAegis Review

 
First Looks Thecus N8900 8 Bay NAS

THECUS N8900 8-bay Combo SATA/SAS Ultimo NAS server

The 8-bay market has become one of the most fiercely competitive areas, that has culminated in leading manufacturers jostling for pole position by offering top notch features ahead of the curve. Thecus, not to be outdone, has upped the ante with its latest Thecus N8900 new 8-bay version which combines a SATA 6Gb/s and SAS 6Gb/s disk platform designed for users that demand speed and utmost reliability that is synonymous with Serial Attached SCSI (SAS).

The uniqueness of the SAS platform is mainly as a result of the PCI-e LSI Combo SAS/SATA controller Thecus has deployed within the overall design. The multi-platform SAS/SATA controller unshackles the user from the proprietary RAID controllers normally deployed by manufacturers and eases the pain for restoring data on an independent third party system, if this is ever needed, when push comes to shove. This is a single area that has been a bone of contention for many IT support staff, who ultimately end up with this dilemma and responsibility. However, with the downward trend for NAS server pricing, it is also prudent to possibly consider having a pair of NAS servers for disaster recovery purposes, as opposed to being concerned with mounting and un-mounting volumes.

The Thecus N8900 is a well designed and sleek 8-bay rack mount NAS, that will appeal to users from all areas of business. The Mainboard is designed from the ground up and hosts the Intel Core i3-2120 processor integrates 2 cores at 3.3GHz and the performance is optimized with a generous 8GB of DDR3 memory allowing for excellent response times for virtualized environments and storage operations.

Out of the Box

The outer box is large, the same size as the N12000 model, mostly as a result of the drive trays being housed in a separate packaged layer, to avoid damage. Considerable thought and effort has gone into the packaging to minimize any occurrence of transit damage. All the main accessories are packed in a its own box to avoid confusion. The N8900 is pretty much ready to install hard disk drives with the correct count of screws provided, along with a quick guide and a CD that contains everything needed to get you up and running. The User Guide is located on the CD provided along with the Acronis Backup software. The complete package is above average and more than adequate.

NOTE: eAegis also provides customers with a comprehensive QA checklist detailing all the product serial numbers for asset and warranty management. This is only for systems supplied with pre-installed drives. All our systems are provided RAID prepped out of the box.

Usability and Esthetics

The N8900 esthetically seems to adopt the same design aspects of the N12000 and N16000. Thecus seems to have conformed to the new look and feel, we have to admit its pretty sturdy and very good build quality. The easy to view and comforting to the eye OLED display on the front of the drive bay cover displays all the vital information one needs. There is nothing about the unit that remotely resembles flimsiness, and is included with the mounting rails, which many other manufacturers have elected to exclude from their offering as standard at this level it’s a strategy that defies logic. The outer case is solid and build like forth knox, mind you its heavy, nothing wrong with that. All the drive bays are housed with removable disk trays and the system also supports hot-swapping. Many moons ago hot swapping was an important feature as it would take a long time to down a server change a drive and bring it up again for rebuilding, on average rebuilding used to take two to three days, So, intrinsically hot-swapping drives whilst the system was operational became a mandatory requirement. Nowadays, its not that necessary as the systems are so advanced you can turn off and turn back on before you can blink. . A cautious point to note; when and if you to remove a drive under hot-swap conditions, the head of the drive will not be parked they are not auto parked as many will lead you to believe, and so when you remove do NOT tug at the drive or move it until at least for around 3-4 minutes as the drive head spins down to a sensible safe level.

Horizontally mounted, the drive bays provide a clear and sensible air flow, thus allowing the drives to cool in a more than adequate manner. Having deployed 1, 2 and 3TB drives we have not had any issues relating to overheating.

The OLED feature has now become a de-facto standard on all the newer generation of NAS systems. The display is crystal clear and provides all the relevant HDD, RAID monitoring and connectivity information you would need, as is with all the Thecus N12000 and N16000 models as well as the newer N4200. Great looking displays and features.

Connectivity Suite

Connectivity is impressive with 3 x RJ45 (Ethernet) ports using the Intel 82574L supporting 10/100/1000 modes with WOL supported. This is then coupled with 6 x USB 2.0 host ports with 2 at the front and 4 at the back, and not to be outdone USB 3.0 and eSATA are both supported with 2 ports each at the back and front respectively. What is also very impressive is Thecus is the only manufacturer that has encouraged user upgrades by using an open case policy and this has been further accentuated with inclusion of several free PCI-e extension slots (one 4-lane and two 8-lane slots), which can be used for virtually anything, including adding more USB 3.0 or eSATA slots. Companies with higher-end needs can install 10GbE Ethernet adapters, allowing you to use either traditional fiber or high-performance/low-cost base-T cable solutions.

Redundancy Options

The available RAID levels are plenty and should suffice in all instances. Single disk, RAID 0 (Disk Striping), RAID 1 (Disk Mirroring), RAID 5, RAID 5+ Hot spare, RAID 6, RAID 10, RAID 50, RAID 60 and JBOD (Linear Disk Volume). The Thecus N8900 supports AES 256bit Encryption. The RAID is courtesy of a PCI-e LSI 2008 HBA card that supports 6G SAS/SATA (x8) protocols, this is impressive from a strategy perspective as it allows Thecus to replace quickly if problems occur and not create a bottleneck in warranty swap outs, thus eliminating many the ifs and buts of warranty scenarios, a great welcome to the otherwise inferior onboard controllers. File system support is also sufficient using EXT3; XFS, EXT 4, and ZFS the Thecus N8900 will not disappoint and will conform to almost any platform.

Data Backup with Remote and FTP functions

Aside from redundancy, storing and sharing files centrally, the ability to share those precious family photos and video’s with family and friends via a secure remote connection established using an FTP server feature or even using the Multimedia Station feature by setting up a fixed IP address and utilizing your routers DDNS service or obtaining your own domain name from any DDNS provider such as http://www.dyndns.com/ is fully supported.

Backup is taken care of by the bundled 5 user license using Acronis True Image OEM, this will be sufficient for many users. We hold all Acronis products in great esteem here and this one is no exception. As far as replication is concerned this is provided by the inbuilt NSYNC and allows for Volume, incremental and synchronized. Setting up the remote replication is a little time consuming but once set up it is flawlessly and continues to operate at a level that is only limited by the network bandwidth.

Performance

In recent times the best performers for the 8-bay crown has been between two contenders, Thecus with their N8800PRO and QNAP with their TS-809U-RP, normally the differential in performance is very little, Thecus does have the edge in performance with the N8800PRO. In all areas the Thecus N8800PRO has stood out be it just NFS, SMB or iSCSI, Thecus has always been on top. Now with the advent of a new platform, more memory, revamped SATA/SAS controller design and more firmware the N8900 from Thecus looks the part to take on any challenge. We expect great things from the Thecus N8900.

Test Environment

Thecus N8900 (4x1000GB – Enterprise Class)
Firmware Revision: Version: v2.00.01
RAID: RAID 5 Configuration

Network

HP ProCurve 1810G-24 Managed Switch

Test Method

There are two tests that we used to measure performance on the Windows platform: Real-World testing utility that consist of workload traces gathered from typical digital home applications, traces of high definition video playback and recording, office productivity applications, video rendering/content creation as well as a broad range of different applications, using 1024 KB sequential block reads and writes on a 2 GB test file, as well as Drag & Drop of a 2 GB file over CIFS, Windows default network protocol.

RWT results for N8900

The Real World Test performances results are an average of twelve full test cycles. The Thecus N8900 becomes the fastest 8-bay we have ever tested topping the top end of the Ethernet 1GbE limit the unit can probably be faster if we were to pair the two 1GbE ports. Read and Write speeds are a credible 127.3 MB/s and 125.7 MB/s respectively.

NOTE: Drag and Drop is a methodology used by a majority of users to move data back and forth on a Windows workstation mapped to the array of the NAS device. We strongly believe this process should become a cornerstone of all our tests as it emulates what occurs in real life.

drag and drop results for N8900

Drag and Drop is a methodology used by a majority of users to move data back and forth on their individual systems. As such, we feel this method should form an integral part of our testing of products and to ensure a return in results depict realistic processes. Drag and Drop results for the Thecus N8900 are very impressive for this system mainly attributed to generous memory, PCI-e based LSI controller and a powerful processor and chipset combination, be hard to beat.

Overall Conclusion

The Thecus N8900 is part of the new breed of NAS servers that are designed to handle the complexity of data that has evolved in recent years; digital media, financial applications that demand sophisticated business intelligence reporting tools that output decisive analysis, database applications that require horsepower for processing crucial and delicate information whilst working on differing platforms that include virtual clients, both locally and remotely.

Data can no longer be brushed off to the back room; it’s at the fore front of all successful businesses. The new breed NAS servers need to work with little or no fuss producing what is required to ensure data is not only protected, but secure and shared on tap. The New breed of NAS servers will need to excel in all areas; performances, reliability, ease of use, adaptability to heterogeneous environment and with little or no service where possible.

The N8900 is impressive with the turn of speed and ease of use once setup, it was surreal to see it perform in a VMware environment and excel so well, a clear sign the 8GB memory was a smart move. The Thecus N8900 is a system that needs to be on the shortlist of all customers who seriously require horsepower, reliability and want to move to the next level of their storage strategy.

This review is courtesy of eAegis.com Product Testing and Evaluation Division. Please email reviews@eaegis.com for any comments you may wish to share with us. We welcome customer feedback. August 24, 2011.