Tackling a NAS replacement

Article By : Brian Dipert

When replacing a two-bay NAS, you've got no shortage of options.

In my previous post, I discussed the unexpected failure of my longstanding ReadyNAS NV+ NAS, as well as the path to recovery so that I could get the stored data off it. What I alluded to then, but didn’t yet cover in detail, was what I conclusively replaced both it and its ReadyNAS Duo “little brother” with. Therein lies the purpose of this particular piece, along with another one to follow it.

About 4.5 years ago, when researching potential replacements for my Windows Media Center-based networked television content playback setup, I picked up a diskless QNAP TS-231 on sale at Newegg for $139. SiliconDust’s HDHomeRun PVR software was, as long-time readers may recall, one of the Windows Media Center successors I had been considering; its claimed features included the ability to run natively on the same NAS whose hard drive(s) was/were being used as recording media, versus dedicating a full-blown PC to the task. And some QNAP products were among those supposedly supported by HDHomeRun PVR (as were some from WD, a 2 TByte My Cloud NAS is also collecting dust in my storage cabinet as I write this), so since the price was right, I took the plunge.

photo of the front QNAP TS-231 NAS

photo of the QNAP TS-231 NAS drives

photo of the back of the QNAP TS-231 NAS

The TS-231 has dimensions of 6.65”(H) × 4.02”(W) × 8.62”(D) (169 × 102 × 219 mm) and a weight of 2.82 lb (1.28 kg), not including the HDDs. So that must be what I replaced the ReadyNAS Duo with, right? Not quite.

While I dawdled (and to this day continue to dawdle) over retiring my now-EOL’d Windows 7-based setup in favor of something else, an even better deal came along: a QNAP TS-328 for $169.99 at Woot! in January 2019. Dimensions are 5.59” (H) × 5.91” (W) × 10.24” (D), and its net weight is 3.62 lbs.

photo of the front of the QNAP TS-328 NAS

photo of the QNAP TS-328 NAS hot-swappable drives

photo of the back of the QNAP TS-328 NAS

Why’d I buy another compact NAS, when I already had one queued up? Well, this one’s based on a quad-core 1.4 GHz Arm Cortex-A53 SoC, versus the dual-core 1.2 GHz Arm Cortex-A9 in the TS-231. It’s also got four times the RAM (2 GBytes vs 512 Mbytes). But most compelling to me is that (as you may have already discerned from the product naming) it holds up to three HDDs, versus two with the TS-231. Two- and four-drive (and even larger “x2” combination) NAS are most common, but as QNAP’s own promotional text notes:

30% of QNAP users choose to build RAID 5 array for their NAS for higher data protection, better system performance and more available storage space. The TS-328 is QNAP’s first 3-bay NAS, allowing you to build a RAID 5 array on your NAS with the fewest disks.

RAID 5 has always been my preference (with RAID 1 as my second choice for mirrored redundancy if I cared most about long-term data integrity, or RAID 0 if striped speed was more important to me), because it combines mirroring and striping in one setup. And as QNAP accurately notes, you can actually do RAID 5 using only three drives. With a 3 TByte HDD as the granular storage unit, for example, I’m able to construct a three-drive 5.34 TByte RAID 5 volume that’s not only redundant but also both faster and bigger than the two-drive <3 TByte (accounting for partition and format overhead) RAID 1 alternative in the TS-231.

But, as it turns out, the only thing I’m using the TS-328 for (at least right now) is the partitioned combo of a networked Time Machine backup destination for my Macs (using up to 3 TBytes) and Windows system backups (both daily File History and weekly Backup and Restore) using the remainder of the available space. Why? It’s because, as post-purchase research revealed, the TS-328’s long-term reliability seems sketchy. If the NAS dies and only my backups disappear, it’s no huge loss (assuming I can get backups going again on some other storage device before the system being backed up dies too!). But if I were to lose my music, photos, and other priceless files again, as almost happened with the ReadyNAS NV+? Nah, don’t want to go there again.

The TS-328 dates from April 2018 and is still sold, so I’m hopeful that the failures are just reflective of an atypical (early?) production batch (of which my unit was hopefully not part). And if the TS-328 were to die, I could just revert back to the TS-231, right? Seems reasonable.

But I happened to notice the other day, in conjunction with reassuring myself that the TS-328 was still fully supported by QNAP, that the TS-231 wasn’t. Although, according to the product support status page, QNAP still offers technical support and security updates on the device (at least until February 2022), the most recent version of the Linux-based QTS operating system available for it is v4.3.5, which dates from September 2018 (and per the support page notes, I’m assuming was last tweaked in February 2019). Here’s the problem; perhaps unsurprisingly to readers, QNAP’s (and others’) NAS are common targets of hackers. In my particular case, this backup-only NAS doesn’t require full exposure to the internet, but the myQNAPcloud service would still be a potential Achilles’ heel. And as the most recent (as I write this) QNAP vulnerability exemplifies, an attack vector could even come from elsewhere on the LAN, not just over the WAN. Are fixes for such vulnerabilities covered by QNAP’s security updates on an otherwise-EOL product? And do such fixes cover only the core operating system, or do they also encompass QNAP’s (and partners’) suite of apps? Put me down as dubious; the TS-231 is likely headed to Goodwill unused, perhaps with an EDN teardown beforehand.

Instead, taking advantage of another sale (this time at Newegg), I’ve picked up a TS-231 successor, the TS-231K, for $154 ($45 off the list price). With the obvious exception of its two-vs-three-bay design, it’s otherwise reminiscent of (albeit a step behind) the TS-328; a quad-core processor (this time based on the Arm Cortex-A15), 1 GByte of onboard RAM, etc. And, since it just launched in April of this year, it presumably has plenty of (fully-supported) life left in it.

photo of the front of the QNAP TS-231K NAS

photo of the QNAP TS-231K NAS drives

photo of the back of the QNAP TS-231K NAS

Next time, I’ll wrap up this series with a post covering two main topics:

  • what I replaced the ReadyNAS NV+ “big brother” with, and
  • what HDDs I filled both NAS with.

Until then, I welcome your thoughts in the comments!

This article was originally published on EDN.

Brian Dipert is Editor-in-Chief of the Edge AI and Vision Alliance, and a Senior Analyst at BDTI and Editor-in-Chief of InsideDSP, the company’s online newsletter.

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