QSAN XCubeNAS - NAS for corporate use
Currently, corporate NAS offerings are divided into two polar camps. In the same camp are expensive and functional systems such as Netapp FAS or EMC Unity. In the other, solutions that go beyond the segment of home devices, such as QNAP or Synology, which attract their potential users primarily at moderate cost. And here in this huge uncovered segment between the indicated camps we offer to place the heroes of our review - NAS servers QSAN series XCubeNAS.
Nature does not tolerate emptiness. Therefore, of course, many participants are claiming for the voiced segment of the market, including fully software solutions. However, a complete solution in the form of NAS attracts, above all, the ease of implementation and subsequent operation, as well as the availability of technical support. The functionality of the device, of course, plays a significant role, and must necessarily give the opportunity to implement many NAS usage scenarios. QSAN XCubeNAS is just perfect, in our opinion, fits these requirements.
QSAN, as a manufacturer of SAN systems, has been on the market for more than 10 years. But NAS systems began to be released by modern standards recently - about 4 years ago. The current line of XCubeNAS has very interesting hardware and software features and can become a convenient and reliable tool in solving the problems of corporate customers, starting from small businesses and up to the low Enterprise segment.
In this review, we will be talking about rack-mount NAS models, since such a form factor is often in demand in a corporate environment. However, in the XCubeNAS line, there are also desktop versions that have absolutely identical software functionality.
An important note is the official ability to use third-party hard drives and SSDs in XCubeNAS. Of course, in order to avoid potential problems, the drives used must be on the QSAN compatibility list.
The XCubeNAS line consists of several series with indexes XN3000, XN5000 and XN8000. The junior series is available only in the desktop version. Their differences are only in the type of processor used, which directly affects the performance indicators in a number of scenarios. For rack-mount models, this is from Celeron Dual-Core to Xeon Quad-core based on Intel Kaby Lake architecture. The amount of pre-installed memory starts at 8GB and can be expanded to 64GB if necessary.
Quite originally solved the issue with the placement of disk drives. In addition to the main slots for 3.5 disks, in which you can install 2.5 disks without any problems, there are separate slots for 2.5 disks. For 1U models, additional SFF slots are located on the front panel, and for 2U models - on the back. Regardless of the location of the slots, all drives are hot-swappable. Dedicated 2.5 slots are intended primarily for installing SSD, although, of course, no one forbids installing SFF HDD in them. The following enclosure options are available:
- 1U 4 LFF + 2 SFF;
- 2U 8 LFF + 6 SFF;
- 2U 12 LFF + 6 SFF.
It is worth noting that 2U models support not only SATA drives, but also NVMe trendy ones: 2 of 6 SFF slots are reserved for them.
The presence of dedicated slots for SSD allows you to more flexibly approach the configuration of the disk system. Now there is no need to decide what is more important: speed or capacity. After all, high-speed SSDs no longer occupy scarce slots for capacious LFF disks.
If there are not enough regular slots in the NAS, you can increase the disk space by connecting expansion shelves. This will require the installation of an optional SAS HBA 12G card, and up to four JBODs must be connected to it. Shelves are used for single-controller versions of the expansion shelves from SAN systems - XCubeDAS, having different form factors: 2U12 LFF, 3U16 LFF, 4U24 LFF and 2U26 SFF. Shelf form factors can be mixed in any combination.
As input / output interfaces in all models there are 4 1GbE ports. If necessary, you can additionally install an optional card with two 10GbE SFP + ports (later a controller with a 40GbE port will also be available). To do this, the NAS has two PCI-E slots: for a 10GbE card and for a SAS HBA. The 1U model has only one slot due to its size. Therefore, you can install one thing.
Theoretically, a Thunderbolt 3 (40Gb / s) adapter can also be installed in the expansion slot. But in practice, due to restrictions on the length of the interface cable, it is unlikely that anyone will use this option: sitting next to rack-mount devices is still a pleasure because of the higher noise they make. Therefore, the Thunderbolt interface is most likely designed for desktop models XCubeNAS, where it will be extremely useful, for example, when working with media content.
Since we mentioned the XCubeNAS desktop models, we note that they also have a number of interesting design features in the form of a separate SSD slot, the ability to install a 10Gbe / Thunderbolt card and access to disks and memory slots without using tools.
Stand alone in the XCubeNAS lineup are multidisk models 3U16 and 4U24. They are built on the chassis from similar models from SAN systems and have a unified element base with them. Because of this, they have support for more memory (up to 128GB), SAS 12G disks and are equipped with default interfaces 2x 10GbE and 2x SAS 12G for expansion shelves with the ability to add another 1GbE and / or 10GbE ports (copper and / or optics, up to 10 ports on the system).
Like all other NAS manufacturers, QSAN uses its own modification of Linux as the operating system. An important difference from these "other" manufacturers is the use of the most advanced version of them - ZFS - as the file system. ZFS ensures maximum security when recording data due to the transaction mechanism of this process and timely detection of logical errors at the file system level due to checksums. This also made it possible to refuse to use cache-2-flash cache protection in XCubeNAS, since Data inconsistency in the event of a sudden power outage can be avoided due to the copy-on-write mechanism built into ZFS when overwriting.
At once we want to note that the XCubeNAS series is focused on the corporate market, and therefore there is not and will not be any functionality for home use such as support for torrents or media streaming. But in full, there are the necessary functions for working with data users.
The organization of storage space uses the currently popular virtualization technology in the form of pools. Inside pools, disks are combined into RAID groups for which all current levels are available. Thin provisioning for volumes and folders is supported, as well as fast rebuild, when in the event of a disk failure only the actually used blocks are copied, and not the entire disk, which can significantly speed up the recovery process.
When using SSDs, you can enable Auto Tiering mode to automatically move data between mechanical disks and SSD. Moreover, NVMe drives are allocated to a separate, the most senior level. It is also possible to use SSD as a cache for both reading and writing to speed up work with NAS. So, dedicated SSD slots may not be superfluous at all.
NAS is often used to store user files and backups, so disk space is never enough. And the presence of built-in mechanisms to reduce the amount of stored data only increases the attractiveness in the eyes of users. In XCubeNAS there are similar mechanisms - this is compression and deduplication. Deduplication is blocky and is performed in real time. Both of these algorithms can be turned on and off on the fly, which additionally gives flexibility when working with the repository.
Like all modern NAS, XCubeNAS series supports organization of access through all popular network protocols of current versions: CIFS v3, NFS v4, AFP, FTP, WebDAV. It can integrate with LDAP and Active Directory (with Windows ACL support), Time Machine for Mac OS devices is supported. For block access, there is iSCSI protocol, traditional for such devices. There is also integration with popular "cloud" services (Google Drive, One Drive, Dropbox), which allows you to synchronize files between a local device and remote folders.
XCubeNAS pays great attention to the issue of data security and ensuring secure access to it. In terms of security, there is a built-in antivirus on the Clamav engine, a wide list of connection rules, as well as a VPN server with PPTP, L2TP / IPsec and OpenVPN support. Of course, all these technologies will not replace serious third-party solutions, but they can make life easier for small companies that are limited in budget.
With regard to data protection in the arsenal of XCubeNAS there are snapshots and clones for both folders and iSCSI volumes. Their creation is possible manually and according to the schedule. On the basis of snapshots the replication mechanism is implemented. For files, it occurs through the rsync protocol. So on the other side there is no need to have another XCubeNAS, but any other manufacturer's NAS or a regular server will do.
In addition to Rsync, a proprietary XMirror protocol is supported, which allows grouping several XCubeNAS devices into a group, with various configurations and form factors for synchronizing stored files in real time. One- and two-way synchronization is supported, as well as file version control (up to 64 versions).
For owners of Amazon S3 accounts, you can copy data directly to the “cloud”, as well as take it back.
We also want to highlight the data protection mechanism WORM (Write Once Read Many - One-time write and unlimited reading). Restriction on data changes is imposed by the system account, and not by the user account. Therefore, even a user with absolute rights (as well as a virus with his rights) will not be able to modify files in the shared folder. For files, you can flexibly set the period during which they cannot be modified. The term can be both common to the entire folder, and different for each new file. With WORM, you can insure against accidentally or intentionally changing / deleting important documents. As well as protect documents and backup copies from encryption viruses.
Another function of accidental or deliberate deletion of files is the “basket”, which can be enabled (or not included) for each of the shared folders. This seemingly simple function can help protect important information.
Concluding the review of the software, we can not fail to note that all the functionality of XCubeNAS is immediately available out of the box. No licenses required. Moreover, the license for auxiliary software Xreplicator for 100 workstations goes into the load with each NAS. In fact, this is a branded Acronis product for desktop versions of Windows, with which you can easily organize regular backups of your employees' work computers.
Impressions of work
Management XCubeNAS is made through the usual web interface, which is made in the design of operating systems, typical for tablets and smartphones. Here everything is extremely simple and clear. Not only professionals can understand the management interface, but also unprepared users (in the case of small companies without a dedicated IT person, this is important). There is support for the Russian language. You can view online information about the device (the state of "iron", a summary of the occupied capacity, current performance, etc.) and the services running on it. It is possible to configure various types of alerts via email, Syslog and SNMP.
Of the features it is worth noting that the work of deduplication is possible only if the SSD cache is enabled for reading, since it stores copies of the deduplicated blocks allocation tables. It was also quite expected that the performance difference between SATA SSD and NVMe SSD when using them as a cache is zero. However, in the case of using SSD as storage space, the difference in performance between SATA SSD and NVMe SSD is, in favor of the latter, of course.
There is a performance drop with the deduplication option enabled, but not to say that it is very large (~ 10% for the older XN8000 series). The deduplication factor itself is highly dependent on the data placed on the NAS. However, it should be noted that deduplication, though block, but not global within the entire NAS. It is produced within individual folders or volumes. Therefore, the final result is certainly worse than, for example, one of the leaders in this field - EMC DataDomain.
Connecting XCubeNAS to various virtualization systems occurs seamlessly through both block (iSCSI) and file (NFS) protocols. Which is not at all surprising, since XCubeNAS is VMware Ready, Citrix Ready and Microsoft Hyper-V certified.
QSAN XCubeNAS has a very interesting hardware design with a set of useful and popular features in the corporate environment. A competent approach to the implementation of the protection of stored data and ensuring secure access to them will allow using this product as a reliable device for storing user files and backups, as well as backup (and in some cases as primary) storage in virtualization systems.
Note another important point. This is technical support. The same rules and terms apply to XCubeNAS as to the “adult” SAN systems - 3 years NBD with advanced replacement of spare parts (for desktop models, the warranty period is 2 years).
So QSAN XCubeNAS will definitely occupy its niche among the many products of competitors in the market of corporate users.