Review: Netgear ReadyNAS 312 - A New Family of Storage with Enhanced Cloud Support
Netgear, one of the earliest and most prolific suppliers of desktop NAS (Network Attached Storage) appliances for small and medium sized businesses, has a new line of storage boxes with an upgrade that includes the operating system, the user interface, and the file system. We tested the ReadyNAS 312, a 2-disk unit that comes diskless or filled with two 3.5 or 2.5 inch disks (SSD or SATA). In this case, the unit arrived with two Toshiba 1TB 3.5 inch drives mirrored together (RAID 1) for a maximum capacity of 1TB. After operating system and other file overhead, we started with 889GB of free space. Other units have four (models 104, 314) or six drive slots (316, 516).
The new file system, BTRFS (a B-tree file system often pronounced Butter F S), has been in heavy development over the past couple of years. Netgear claims to be the first Linux-based storage product with the file system, which gives them more speed, easier snapshot capabilities, and supports the new user interface.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. No matter the innards, the box looks like a small black toaster that can hold only two slices. All desktop NAS appliances tend to look like toasters, but this is a pretty small one. Hard to make one of the look much different than the others, but this one has Netgear stamped into each side to help it stand out a little. The shiny front doesn’t hurt, either.
Inside are two disk trays. In this photo you can better see the front USB 2.0 port, and blue lighted power button, and a Backup button. The Backup button can be configured to run a specific backup process when pressed.
In the back is the large fan that’s quiet except for startup and shutdown. There are two Gigabit Ethernet ports which can be configured as active standby or multiple variations of load balancing. To the left of the Ethernet ports are two USB 3.0 ports and an eSATA port. Expansion Disk Array boxes now available to plug into the eSATA port can boost capacity of to 28TB. Hard to imagine any business with 25 or fewer concurrent users would need that much space, but surely there are some, and Netgear is ready.
Netgear has long used their small RAIDar utility to find their products on the local area network. Since the unit default is to grab an open IP address from the local DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) server, you must learn the IP address of the just-installed unit somehow to start configuration. In the screenshot, you can see the Netgear model is listed, along with the MAC and IP addresses.
Once you put the IP address in your browser, you login with username “admin” and password “password.” Yes, really, but part of the initial configuration process is to set a new admin password. Configuration is handled with fewer steps than in the past, and starts with the Welcome screen.
First step is to set the time details. The default is to use an NTP (Network Time Protocol) server somewhere, and the system provides two at Netgear, so the user needn’t set anything except the time zone.
Next is to set the lucky person who will get all the alerts from the unit. New here are the multiple email services (Gmail, Yahoo, and AOL) you can use as the forwarding service rather than your own server. Small businesses may not remember their SMTP server name and port, but NETGEAR fills in those details for the listed email services automatically. Easiest email alert setup we’ve ever seen. By default, the alerts are a bit chatty, but you can choose what type of alerts you want to receive, from informational to emergency only.
The next screen allows you to change the name of the unit on the network. We changed ours from DS-E0-06 to NETGEAR312. Changing the admin’s password is next, and Netgear now has a way to ask a security question to recover a forgotten password, another nice touch at this price point.
Firmware updates tend to be a pain for small business appliances, but not this time. When informed an update was available, the traditional shuffle of downloading a large file to a PC, then uploading that same file to special directory on the unit and rebooting was avoided. Instead, we just hit the Upgrade button, and Netgear handled all the details, including the reboot.
Small NAS appliances like the ReadyNAS 312 tend to go into small companies or departments that don’t have Microsoft’s Active Directory running, so adding users and their rights must be done manually. Everything in the process is normal until the email part. Why email? Because remote access directly to the unit or through Netgear’s ReadyCLOUD is an important part of this appliance (more soon).
Users and groups are created and managed like they have been for years and years. However, the new interface is clean and to the point, which is nice.
Once through the user setup, it’s time to go to the admin system overview. Here you can see the box (the “V” is for the anti-virus app loaded). Under System (top left), the Overview button shows the model, name, status, anti-virus, serial number, firmware version, and device time. The gear icon to the right of the device time setting allows you to change the time, date, timezone, or NTP servers.
Next icon under System is Volumes, where a pie chart of open to used space displays alongside a picture of the two SATA 1TB disks with green lights. You can change form the X-RAID mode to Flex-RAID, but the popup window discourages that change.
The next icon, performance, provides real-time readings and graphs on temperature (CPU and System), and Volume Throughput. Below Volume Throughput are Network Throughput, volume utilization, and system temperature. Overkill? Maybe, but not as much as all the log entries that display when you click the Logs icon.
On the top menu, the next button is Shares, which displays all the volume shares on the unit. For a business-oriented NAS, default shares for Music and Pictures seem odd, but makes for consistency with their consumer models.
The last button is Backup, which only discusses NAS data backups, not clients. Unlike some NAS boxes, this unit does not come with any client backup software (but it supports Windows backup software and is a Time Machine destination for Macs).
You can configure backup jobs easily. Give your job a name, set the source and destination (including remote Rsync over Remote SSH, external storage attached via USB or eSATA, or remote FTP or NFS targets. Dropbox gets some love, too.
Backup is one thing, snapshots at quick intervals that display on a timeline are another new thing entirely. Users can go back through snapshots to grab individual files, but the admin can rollback the state of the device to a previous time if desired. Admin can clone a snapshot to look around and test without risking production data. Ever seen this snapshot depth on a low-end NAS for a few hundred bucks? Neither have we.
Having two Ethernet ports isn’t a big deal anymore, but the level of load balancing technology is a surprise. Active standby from port one to port two? How about Round-Robin, Active Backup, Transmit and Adaptive Load Balancing, and XOR? And there’s a couple more.
ReadyCLOUD leverages Netgear’s own cloud service to connect users to their ReadyNAS boxes over the Internet. Click Cloud in the top menu, then ReadyCLOUD at the top of the list of options that open to take you to the wizard. The admin must connect the device, and each user sets up their own username and password to the cloud service that links them to their particular NAS. Once connected, users can use download and upload files quickly and esily.
Prefer synchronization? Check out ReadyDROP. Have a VPN? Enable ReadyNAS Remote for users. ReadyNAS Replicate copies data from one ReadyNAS to another for disaster recovery protection).
In a bid to be a full application server, Netgear includes 46 apps, with more in a new marketplace. These include SugarCRM, vTiger CRM, WordPress, and multiple development tools for PHP as well as content management systems like drupal and Joomla.
Unfortunately, the MySQL included (one we didn’t recognize) never would install properly, so we couldn’t test anything. There are even some programs for sale in Netgear’s genie+marketplace online, available through the browser admin screens.
Overreaching? Maybe, but a good overreach. Don’t know how many apps an Intel ATOM processer with 2GB of RAM can support. But a smart reseller could customize one of the included apps, like a CRM, and sell a dedicated hardware-software solution. Added value? They can backup all their client data using ReadyNAS replicate.
The ReadyNAS 312 is an upgrade in all areas over their previous models. Easier to setup, easier to administrate, and more flexibility to protect the data stored therein. Cloud and remote access easier than ever.
Pricing: Retail $449 diskless, street price around $400, price for others in the family vary based on number of disk slots (2-4-6) and installed hard disks (up to 24TB with the 6-slot 316 and 516 for example).
Specifications (from Netgear)
CPU Intel® Atom 2.1GHz dual core
Drive Types Supported SATA/SSD 2.5” or 3.5”
Drive Bays 2
Protocols HTTPS, HTTP, CIFS (SMB), NFS, iSCSI, AFP, FTP, DLNA, iTunes, SSH, Rsync, UPnP
Tool-less 3.5” Disk Installation Yes
eSATA Expansion Ports 1
Total Solution Capacity 8TB / 28TB
Internal / with optional
Gigabit LAN Ports 2
USB Ports One (1) USB 2.0, Two (2) USB 3.0
Power Supply 12V, 5A External 60W
BTU at Full Power Supply 51W
Power Consumption: Operation 35W
Power Consumption 627mW
(Wake on LAN)
Power Consumption: Power Off 266mW
Chassis Warranty* 5 years
Fan (mm) 92
Dimensions DxWxH (mm) 220 x 101 x 142
Weight (kg) 2.22