Simplicity. If there is one thing lacking from most technology, it’s simplicity. For those of you who have been reading Gaming Trend for the last decade, you know that my day job isn’t writing reviews — I’ve actually been in Network Engineering for the last two decades, the last eight being in management. As such, I’ve had the opportunity to run teams responsible for networking, storage, hosting, and more, and it’s exposed me to the highest level of enterprise-level equipment for those tasks. But you shouldn’t have to have my level of education in these realms to store and retrieve files on your own network, should you?
The team at Netgear are tackling exactly this problem.
In the day and age of GoPro cameras, cheaper handheld video systems, and ever-increasing need to securely save and share pictures and music, consumers have begun to express a need for Network Attached Storage. Network Attached Storage, or NAS for short, provides high-speed storage that doesn’t require a computer to be attached and powered up to share files, nor do they need complex sharing permissions to allow the whole family to enjoy media from any location. Recently, I’ve dipped my toe into the water and checked out the Netgear ReadyNAS 200 — the first in the Netgear family of consumer-ready NAS solutions.
What’s in the box?
Back to that question of simplicity, the ReadyNAS 200 couldn’t be a simpler device, and what’s contained in the box confirms exactly that. Inside the box is the ReadyNAS 200 itself, a CAT6 Ethernet cable, a power brick, and three power adapters. These adapters work for North America (Type B connector), as well as nearly all of Europe with a Type F and Type G plug. What you won’t find here is a client install disc or a special adapter to hook it all up. Normally I’d have to spend time explaining what all the parts in the box do, but in this case let’s dig into the ports on the ReadyNAS 200, and how you might use them.
The ReadyNAS 200 is a two-bay NAS, meaning it can use two 3.5” standard desktop hard drives. As such, it is capable of 12 TB of storage (you can move up to 24 TB if you pick up the 4 bay model, though these numbers will likely rise through firmware updates as higher-capacity drives are released). For normal desktop users, that’s more than enough storage. The system is also capable of using 2.5” SSDs for those who want the extra read and write speed. Before we dig into all of that, let’s talk about the features in the ReadyNAS 200.
Critical “Buttery” Storage:
RAID is likely a term you are familiar with. More and more often, systems come pre-built with their drives in a RAID configuration to maximize speed or redundancy, depending on needs. Netgear has taken this a step further with a file system called BTRFS. BTRFS, often pronounced as “Butter FS”, was built as an open-source and highly scalable file system to overcome the limitations of current storage methods such as EXT. The GPL-licensed file structure was built by Oracle back in 2007, but has evolved greatly due to a very active development community. As such, the ReadyNAS OS 6.2 is capable of utilizing RAID, but also contains code to prevent bitrot (common problem whereby drives accidentally flip a 1 to a 0 or visa versa through normal use, causing data corruption), a real-time virus/malware prevention engine built in, point-in-time recovery and rollback, as well as hardware-level file replication to a secondary ReadyNAS or directly to the cloud. As you can see, it’s a hell of a lot more than the usual “I have a second drive to keep me safe” sort of thing.
This isn’t actually my first rodeo with the ReadyNAS products. I’ve used previous versions of the ReadyNAS with a cumbersome OS called Radiator. This system was linked to the past, leveraging standard RAID technology and requiring a more-than-a-little complicated setup process to even function. It’s one of the reasons I don’t own one myself — I wanted something simple and easy to manage. This move to BTRFS and the vastly expanded feature set, coupled with the easy cloud-based setup, took Netgear out of the Enterprise space and into homes and living rooms everywhere.
Ports and Expandability
The ReadyNAS 200 has a truckload of expandability beyond putting in larger hard drives. On the 8.6” x 4” x 5.6” (DxWxH) chassis there are a number of ports to provide a great deal of flexibility to the system. There is an external SATA port in the back, allowing you to connect an external drive. This allows a user to attach tertiary and temporary storage, much like the also-included pair of USB 3.0 ports in the rear and single USB 3.0 port in the front. Just keep in mind that those secondary devices aren’t redundant in the way the drives are in the ReadyNAS 200 chassis.
Next to the two USB 3.0 ports in the rear is a pair of Gigabit LAN connectors, a physical lock cable, and a hard-reset button. The two Gigabit Ethernet ports provide link aggregation — something I’ve not seen in home storage solutions before. That is to say, you can connect two CAT5e or CAT6 cables from the device to your switch or router and double the throughput of the device. While that won’t overcome physical read/write speeds (those are advertised at 200 MBps read and 160 MBps for write), it does allow for faster device access and transfer rates.
With all of the tech and hot-running hard drives in the ReadyNAS 200, you’d imagine it would sound like a jet engine, but it doesn’t. Since you don’t need a cumbersome and proprietary adapter to plug this in, you can locate it anywhere within 328 feet of your switch or router. Since it’s so quiet, though, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility to locate it right next to your monitor or your SmartTV. It provides access to the aforementioned USB ports, and the slow-moving 92mm fan in the rear won’t keep you up at night.
Enough about the box – let’s dig into the guts!
As I mentioned, nobody wants complexity in their consumer-grade electronics. That said, once it is configured, we want every feature under the sun. I imagine this makes things very difficult for hardware developers. That said, to be successful, the setup has to be simple enough for anyone to be able to use in a matter of minutes. While I have a strong technical skillset, my wife is a creative type with a more “normal” level of experience, so I had her set up the ReadyNAS 200.
With the system powered up, and an Ethernet cable connected to the switch, I had her navigate to http://readycloud.netgear.com
The page opened instantly and asked if I’d like to set up the ReadyNAS or attached storage to the Nighthawk Router (You can read my review on that device right here). Since I connected the device directly to my switch, I had her select the ReadyNAS to move forward. A second tab opened and asked her to simply click the oversized “Discover” button once the system was fully powered up. In less than a second the system was found and announced that it was ready to be configured. Clicking the oversized “Setup” button dropped me directly into registration. With registration complete, it finished securing the device by pressing the big “backup” button on the front of the device. At that point, the system declared that I could reach my files from mobile devices, a web portal, or the PC app, and that the setup was now complete. It doesn’t get any more simple than that.
Much of the guts of the ReadyNAS come from the backplane, processor, and memory. The system sports a dual core Cortex A15 1.4 Ghz processor and 2GB of onboard RAM to keep things moving quickly. The real test when of the hardware would be how it handles the software applications and various file transfers.
Software for your hardware
Having lived in the IT world for more than two decades, I knew the first thing I needed to check was system integrity, software version, and firmware levels. I immediately noted that the drives were already building the volume, but the firmware management area was announcing that an update was available. Before I got started doing anything else, I brought the system up to the current firmware levels. Within the browser window, the device updated with a simple button press and rebooted without an issue.
If you’ve ever changed a drive in a RAID array, you are likely aware that it’s really as simple as pulling the drive out of the bay, slapping the new one in, and going out for lunch. The drives in the ReadyNAS are hot-swappable, just like a rack-mounted Enterprise solution, and the rebuild process takes about as long. Also, the more you try to use the system while the array is in a ‘degraded’ state, the longer that rebuild process will take. It’s not debilitating, but it is impactful on the overall speed of the system. Be patient and let it run for a few hours and you’ll find that the whole system gets a hell of a lot faster.
The ReadyNAS 200 comes pre-installed with with antivirus, but you need to enable it. Like everything else, it’s as simple as a single click and some patience. The system will head out to the Internet and grab the latest virus definitions and install them, keeping itself up to date automatically from that point on. In the application section, there is an Antivirus Plus system that’ll allow for more granularity, exclusions, scheduled and live scans, and logging. It’s free, and I highly recommend it.
Also in the app area are items like the Plex Media Server, Sickbeard, MediaWiki, Drupal, WordPress, Radius Server, and much more, as well as the option to upload your own if there is something specific you need. Beyond those custom apps, though, are a few that’ll likely appeal to you even if you aren’t what I’ll call a “power user” or “media enthusiast”.
If you are an Apple owner (I’m not), you can enable a service called Time Machine. I’m sure that’s Apple-speak for “backup”. There is also a single-click enable for Dropbox and Netgear’s own ReadyNAS Vault. Dropbox ponies up 2GB for free, pushing up to 1TB for $9.99 a month. The ReadyNAS Vault gives 50GB for 4.95 a month, but also adds version control — something crucial if you are working on documents with a team. Obviously, with a RAID solution you have data redundancy, and these two options merely add offsite backup to the mix.
Backups and shares:
Obviously if you have this much storage, you can’t just use it for holding movies, TV shows, and game saves. You’ll likely want to back up important things as well. The ReadyNAS 200 makes this process a breeze. Using a simple dropdown-based system you can create a scheduled backup that allows you to backup important files on a regular basis. The source or destination can be local or remote, meaning you can pull backups from the offsite backup options mentioned above (or anywhere else where you have login credentials, FTP, NAS, NFS, or rsync capabilities) and pipe them locally, or visa versa. It’s pretty handy, but there is one option missing.
When you are backing up large files (for instance, an entire site backup) you can end up with gigs of data flying across the net to land in your NAS solution. If there is one feature that is crucial it’s incremental backups. This means if you have 500 files that are being backed up every day of the week, after the first day it only downloads the new files, not the first 500 all over again. Thankfuly, the ReadyNAS supports this, though a bit of clarification in presentation might be in order. When you schedule a backup the interface says “first time” and then every time after that is incremental. It’s not as clear as I might have liked it to be, but that doesn’t stop it from working exactly how I’d hoped. Keeping routine backups is crucial, and the ReadyNAS makes it extraordinarily easy.
If you are inclined, you can configure the Backup button on the front of the system to perform a pre-configured backup task. This is very useful for the USB port if you have the system on your desk and want to back it up with a single button press every time you plug it in. You’ll create a backup just like you would normally, but you can then set up a trigger system that puts those backups in the order you specify. The flexibility should let you create a custom order of operations that should let you tailor this hardware button to your needs.
Backing up is only half the battle — you’ll likely want to retrieve these files or share them out at some point. Often this sort of thing is performed via complex firewall work and the creation of usernames and passwords for everyone you might want to share. While there are solutions to build traditional username / password solutions, how those files are accessed are a little different here.
After setting up a username and password for whomever you’d like, you can simply right click on whatever folder or file you’d like to allow access and click the “Share” button. Selecting read or read/write, as well as the name or group of people you’d like to have access, you’ll click Finish and shockingly, you are done. No setting up complex VPNs, or building out complex firewall rules.
If you are inclined to set up a more direct share system, that is available as well. Installing ReadyNAS Remote, a separate client for your PC, allows you to further extend the functionality of the NAS. It creates a share on whatever system contains the client that users can access, which can also be backed up to the NAS. The simplicity of this is just a short jump from the easy setup of the NAS itself — anyone should be able to step through this fairly easily.
Beyond the traditional sharing method, you may also want to share a file temporarily. Built into the ReadyNAS OS is the ability to share out individual files or even entire folders with no login information required. You simply designate the objects you wish to share, and then set it to expire either by date or after a specified number of downloads. You can even specify read/write permissions to ensure users cannot disrupt your file objects if you are inclined. It would be nice to see the option to create a permanent share, but you can set the calendar to decades out and forget about it, so it’s a small oversight.
One feature I didn’t expect, but was happy to see, is the ability to backup your phone’s pictures, videos, and other important items to the NAS. With a few clicks in the ReadyNAS app, I was able to set up my phone to automatically push objects to the device. If it concerns you, having your private photos pushed into Google or Apple’s cloud, this makes for a great alternative.
For kicks and giggles, I decided to try a file transfer while the secondary drive was still building its X-RAID array, leaving the system in a degraded state. I copied 15GB of files across and what I found surprised me — it moved that entire file system from my desktop to the NAS inside of 15 minutes. I knew I had to repeat the process when the rebuild was complete for comparison. As I mentioned earlier, the rebuild process can be a lengthy one — it took nearly 5 hours to complete. Once it finished up and the drive moved into an Online state, I repeated the process and was surprised at the results.
The back of the box and all of the literature suggested a speed of 200Mbps writing and 160Mbps for reading. In my second test I copied the same 15GB of files in just shy of 5 minutes. Some basic math says that it should take 12 minutes at 160Mbps, but the system was in fact running at just shy of 400Mbps! When you see transfer rates specified by the manufacturer they are usually exaggerated, but it was a shock to see it this underestimated. The only thing that made logical sense was that the aggregate Gigabit Ethernet links were doubling the speed. I’ll take that as a win as no NAS I’ve ever tested at the non-commercial level ever came close to that speed.
I personally use Plex to manage the media in my household, and I suspect if you are reading up on storage solutions like NAS, you probably do too. Whether you are using DLNA, Plex, or streaming through iTunes, all of those protocols and functionality is baked directly into the ReadyNAS OS 6.2 functionality. Popping into the App section of the Admin functions allowed me to install Plex Media Server with a single click. Dropping in my username and password for Plex imported my settings in and immediately allowed me to see the Media Server running on my Desktop as well. As I was working to retire that solution and move that functionality to the NAS, it was wonderful to see how easy it was to set up. It was time to see how well it performed.
With Plex installed on the device, I immediately saw the ReadyNAS shares pop up on my Kindle Fire Stick. Everything functioned exactly as it did when it was running on my PC, with one exception. When streaming on the PC, jumping forward 30 seconds is instantaneous. On the NAS it takes a brief moment and may buffer for a second before continuing. Compared to a full power PC running as a Plex Media Server, it’s a noticeable gap, but nothing that would be detrimental to the experience. I imagine that Netgear could add a buffering option to the mix in future updates, but it’s a very minor issue in its current state.
The sweet sounds of music
There are those who love to store their music in the cloud via services like Amazon or iTunes, but many of us have large libraries of music beyond those locations. If you are one of those users, imagine how much it would sting if your hard drive containing all that music was lost and you had to recreate that library, complete with cover art, lyrics, and discographic details. The ReadyNAS is a great solution for this, and not just for the redundant storage capability.
Baked directly into the ReadyNAS OS is DLNA support. It can readily backup your iTunes account, but it is capable of then serving that media to any DLNA capable device. Nearly all TVs shipping in the last two years have this support, as do Apple TVs, Roku, FireTV, and many BluRay players. By simply dropping a bunch of mp3s into a folder, I was able to push music all over the house, as well as sharing it out so I could listen to it when I am out and about.