|Thecus N5550 NAS Network Storage Server|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Network|
|Written by Bruce Normann|
|Tuesday, 25 September 2012|
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Thecus N5550 NAS Server Setup & Usage
The first thing you need to do with most NAS devices is discover them on your network and set them up. Most NAS vendors bundle a small, lightweight "finder" application with their products that has some system utilities included. The Thecus Setup Wizard provides Device Discovery, System Login, Network Configuration, and Password maintenance, all before you log in to the full monitoring & control applications via the web browser. There are a number of sub-menus that you go through during initial setup; once you do that, the setup wizard is still available in case you get forget your password or need to reconfigure the NAS. Otherwise, just use your browser and login to the IP address that the NAS is configured to; the default is 192.168.1.100.
Once the initial setup is complete, you need to log in to the main admin application, which Thecus calls the Web Administration Interface. The areas you can control are divided up into the following groups:
Each of these menu items is broken down further, as you can see below. If you read through the entire Software Features section, then the number of sub-menus should not be a surprise for you.
One of the critical aspects of setting up a NAS is the networking configuration. It's so easy to get it wrong and accidentally shut down access, that Thecus includes tools in their setup wizard application, which you can still access after you inadvertently locked yourself out. If you get it completely out of whack, it's still possible to recover by using the system reset function, which can be accessed with the front panel buttons in tandem with the LCD display. Don't ask me how I know this to be true... Once you're inside, this screen lets you change global settings and individual settings for each of the Ethernet ports available on the system. Manual and DHCP setting of port addresses is allowed, and I ended up setting static IP addresses for this NAS, so that I didn't have to run the data through a network switch. IPv4 and IPv6 are both accommodated and a default port can be selected. The two integral ports on the N5550are labeled "WAN/LAN1" and "LAN2"; no other ports will be listed since there is no expansion slot available for additional NICs.
A separate Link Aggregation tab allows two or more ports to be linked together and configured for a variety of protocols: Load balance, Failover, Balance-XOR, Broadcast, 802.3ad, Balance-TLB, or Balance-ALB. The two ports on the N5550 are easily linked and unlinked, by using these tools. All testing in this review was done with single port connections, to keep the playing field level. I have had very mixed results so far using LACP on a variety of NAS products; it's not a simple plug-and-play way to double your throughput, that's for sure.
The Disk Information screen provides detailed information on the disks installed, including their SMART information. It's an easy way to see if one drive is getting hotter than the rest, for some reason. Whatever the reason, it's usually the first step in detecting bearing or motor failure. If you dig down one more layer you can get information on the disk's Reallocated Sector Count and Current Pending Sector Count. These metrics tell you the real story on how bad blocks are affecting your disk operations. As more bad blocks get hidden away in reallocated sectors, more sectors are removed from service and read/write performance is slowly degraded. This screen also shows the type of hard disk interface in use and the link speed. Normally, this information should be obvious, but in some cases a jumper on the HDD may be installed wrong and the drive could be operating at a lower link speed. This also a convenient place to see what firmware is installed on each of the HDDs.
The detailed system log is where you go to see what's REALLY going on with the system. It's also a good place to look every now and then to make sure your automated backup jobs are running correctly. The log tells all...! There's a download button, if you want to keep copies in another location, or just want to share your logs with others on Facebook. You can also clear the log, which is labeled Truncate All Log Files on the menu.
Let's look at the RAID expansion and Migration process a little. I started with a single drive and the way the N5550 treated that was to call it a JBOD configuration. That seems counterintuitive to me, since there was only one disk, but it's just another way of saying that all disks physically installed in the NAS will be treated as individual disk volumes. Next, I needed to install three additional disks and configure them as RAID 5. There is no way to migrate from a JBOD setup to a RAID volume, the data stored on the JBOD disks has to be deleted. Not a problem for me, and most users won't need to follow this path, but it's something to be aware of. So I deleted the existing volume and started the RAID Volume Creation process. One of the options Thecus offers is Quick RAID, which shortens the RAID creation time if you are using drives that have not been partitioned. I was re-using drives that had previously been installed in another NAS, so I couldn't use this option. I opted to create the RAID 5 volume in one shot, and it was very straightforward. Because I had four drives installed I had several options, including RAID 6 or the use of a hot spare with RAID 5.
Ok, if you've been following along this far, there's not much more I can show you except how fast it is. So let's get down to some benchmarking, and compare it to a variety of other NAS products that we've looked at in the recent past.