|QNAP TS-879U-RP NAS Network Storage Rack Server|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Network|
|Written by Bruce Normann|
|Tuesday, 07 February 2012|
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Closer Look: QNAP TS-879U-RP Turbo NAS Server
The QNAP TS-879U-RP has more capacity than most NAS units in the market; that's just the nature of its target market and design specs. You only have to look at the recently released expansion modules for the TS-x79 series, the 12-bay 2U format JB-1200U-RP, to see what kind of customer invests in this level of technology. You can daisy-chain these expansion chassis together to get a maximum addressable capacity of over 200 TB. It's a smart way to expand storage as business needs grow, simply by adding modules of additional capacity. Just looking at the base unit, the eight bays can theoretically hold 24TB of data, in JBOD or RAID 0 modes, with 3TB drives installed in each bay. The bottom line with any high performance storage solution is that the number of drive spindles in play is more important than almost any other factor, assuming that everything else is based on reasonably modern technology. When you combine the higher level of performance with the greater flexibility for online RAID capacity expansion & online RAID level migration, the additional cost of the extra drive bays looks like a bargain instead of conspicuous consumption. What initially looks like overkill in a NAS system might just be the very thing that saves the day some years down the road.
The QNAP TS-879U-RP shares the same basic technology platform as all the new TS-x79 models, and it's actually on the low end of this series, believe it or not. There are 8, 10, and 12 bay units available, in both tower and rack mount formats. The size and weight are substantial: 88mm(H) x 439mm(W) x 520mm(D), and 27.6 pounds without drives installed. Each HDD you install will add about 1-1/2 pounds, depending on your choice of drive. Most users will probably be looking at 2TB and 3TB drives for a unit like this, and they're heavier than most.
Very few people with anywhere near that much data are going to want to live without it for any length of time, so a RAID configuration that includes some redundancy is undoubtedly called for. Multiple SATA 6Gb/s drives can be installed as: a single disk, RAID 0 (Disk Striping), RAID 1 (Disk Mirroring), RAID 5 (Block-level striping with distributed parity), RAID 6 (Block-level striping with double distributed parity), RAID 10 (AKA RAID 1+0, a stripe of mirrors), and JBOD (Linear Disk Volume). The main choices are going to be RAID 5, 6, or 10, depending on what type of data is primarily stored on the device. Despite its popularity, RAID 5 suffers from severe write performance limitations in large multi-user databases. Most people running that type of application used to be limited to direct-attached storage; it really was a necessity for that type of work. RAID 10 eliminates this problem, at the expense of capacity, but for some uses it's a much better solution. RAID 6 offers some additional redundancy, allowing for continued operation even with two simultaneous drive failures, with no additional performance hit and only one additional drive. This option is very popular because if one individual drive fails in a RAID 5 implementation, the array instantly starts operating as a RAID 0 configuration, which has NO redundancy. It stays in that vulnerable state until the array is rebuilt, which is a slow process that generally taxes the system to the max, and can take hours to complete.
Each drive can be formatted with FAT, NTFS, EXT3, or EXT4 file systems. All Intel-based QNAP NAS units offer the additional option of AES 256-bit encryption and some of the units in the TS-x79 series support the recent AES-NI additions to the Intel64 instruction set. The Core i3 CPU in the TS-879U-RP does not, so we will have to see if sheer horsepower is enough to handle the extra encryption duties. The current models in this series either have Westmere or Sandy Bridge architectures for the CPU, so you should expect a much better experience using on-the-fly data encryption, compared to the performance of the Atom-based systems. Our tests on all QNAP systems have utilized EXT4-formatted disks without encryption.
QNAP uses a new design for the steel-framed tray that holds each drive on the TS-879U-RP, which is a common part across the new TS-x79 part of the product line. In the rack mount models, each tray slides in with the HDD in the horizontal position and locks firmly into place with the spring-loaded lever on the front. Key locks are not included to secure the trays in place, which may or may not be an issue for you (think of mechanically inclined, inquisitive children before you answer...). The drive trays easily accommodate 2.5" drives without any additional hardware; just use the correct mounting holes located on the bottom surface. 3.5" HDDs are retained by mounting holes on the sides of the tray. QNAP does not recommend mixing 3.5" and 2.5" drives in the same enclosure, and they do offer some small form factor units that are specifically designed for 2.5" drives. Those models are also less expensive than the full size units, so it's worth investigating them if handling 2.5" SATA drives is a requirement for you. There are some definite advantages to using that form factor in specific cases, as I outlined in my review of the Patriot Convoy 425XL SAS/SATA RAID Enclosure. The new trays are not labeled with the chassis slot number, like the older parts are. They are all physically identical and you can mix and match them all you want, until you build a drive array and then you had better remember which one goes where. I recommend making your own labels as soon as you start installing drives into the unit; if you mix them up the NAS won't recognize the array, and worst case you could end up destroying data as you try to figure out which drive is which.
The 2U chassis height of the TS-879U-RP is tall enough to house three rows of 3.5" drives, which is exactly how the TS-1279U-RP is configured. With (only!) eight drive bays in this model, there is enough room at the top of the front panel for the standard three line LCD display that QNAP uses on many of their NAS products. The two buttons next to the display are for navigating the system setup and status menus. Almost all the basic setup variables can be configured from the front panel, although it's obviously more difficult than logging in with the browser interface. Hidden behind a metal lever on the right side of the rack mount handles are the ON/OFF power button and LED-illuminated icons for presence of a 10 GbE interface, System Status, LAN activity, and presence of an eSATA device. Each of the hard drive trays also has two LED indicators on it as well, showing HDD activity and error status. Green means the drive is present and OK, flashing green means the drive is being accessed. There are no USB ports located on the front of the Turbo NAS.
There are no ventilation holes on the sides, top, or bottom of the QNAP TS-879U-RP Turbo NAS chassis. The primary entry point for cool air is through the front of the drive trays; it passes over the HDDs and is then exhausted out the rear of the unit. The fan assembly is a modular unit, with three separate fans inside a grey plastic enclosure, and is controlled by the motherboard. In order to keep things cool when needed and quiet the rest of the time, the fan speed is heavily modulated. I haven't paid much attention to fan noise in the smaller NAS models, as it was never really noticeable during my daily use. The TS-879U-RP is a corporate beast though, and the fan noise was definitely annoying, even when running at idle speed. Just one more clue that this is not a unit designed for home use. The overall size of the unit is significant, as you can see below. The thin profile (2U height) is a bonus, and when mounted in a 19" rack is the only dimension that really matters.
The QNAP TS-879U-RP Turbo NAS server is equipped with an Intel Core i3-2120 processor, which is based on the current 32nm Sandy Bridge platform, and is clocked to 3.3 GHz. There is 2GB of DDR3-1333 system memory installed at the factory, and it's expandable to 4GB by adding another 2GB into an empty DIMM slot. This is arguably the top-of-the-line spec for CPU and memory in QNAP NAS servers, and it should provide excellent performance in an eight-bay unit. QNAP employs a dual-redundant 512MB Disk-on-Module (DOM) flash drive to store firmware and applications on the TS-879U-RP motherboard. This acts like the system drive, yet it takes up very little space and uses almost no power. Plus, there's a built-in, redundant backup drive in case of data corruption on the primary module. Just the sort of thing you need for a high-availability system. Notice, I didn't say high reliability; I'll tackle the differences in my Final Thoughts.
Looking at the back panel of the TS-879U-RP, you can see most of the hardwired I/O points. Starting on the left is a VGA port that is reserved for system maintenance. Just to the right of that are two half-height (Low Profile, if you prefer) expansion slot covers. They line up with two x8 PCI Express expansion slots on the main board. Next up are twin USB 3.0 connectors, in their customary blue plastic livery. To the right are two stacks of USB 2.0 and 1000BASE-T Ethernet jacks - four USBs and two RJ-45 for the GbE. The last of the signal connectors are two eSATA ports, just to the right of the small hole on the back panel that guards the reset button from accidental actuation. Two levels of reset capability are provided, Basic System Reset (hold for 3 sec), and Advanced System Reset (hold for 10 sec). On the far right are the IEC inputs for AC power, and the small cooling fans of the two redundant power supplies. That's not a feature you see very often on Benchmark Reviews! No Kensington lock hole, sorry.
The two, redundant power supplies are held in place by thumb screws, for a tool-less hot swap, if needed. U-shaped handles are on pivots, to help you pull them out and slide them back in. The electrical connections are made with a high-current card-edge connector on the back of the module, which engaged and disengaged easily when I tested it. The power supplies are each rated for 300 watts, which is enough to power the unit continuously, so there's no specific time limit on how long you can run the NAS on one PSU. There is still a need for UPS power, which most data centers will have already. The small green LEDs on the back of the PSUs light up when the system is active.
Now that we've had a thorough tour of the exterior, let's do a tear-down and see what the insides look like. The next section covers Insider Details.