Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Life after DROBO...QNAP

Readers of this blog may recall my less than satisfactory experience with my Drobo Pro.

It was quite a saga which was scary and time hungry to say the very least.

I was struck by the sheer number of responses and the myriad suggestions of alternatives.

I then recalled Anders C Madsen a photographer who has good knowledge about storage too, who came on one of my workshops last year.

I contacted him and asked him the best route to take and he suggested I investigate QNAP.


What is that?

QNAP Inc is the Quality Network Appliance Provider

I had never heard of them....and they still seem to be rather unknown in the Photographic world.

Based in Taiwan, they manufacture all different shapes and sizes of Network attached storage.

What appealed to me about them is the OS is Linux based not proprietary which means if something does go badly wrong a whole host of companies could help you recover data.

Anders recommended that I set the QNAP TS859 up in the RAID 10 configuration

Here is his reasoning...

"One of the really nice features is the ability to use RAID10, which is the absolutely fastest way to configure your disks - but unfortunately also the most expensive.

The thing is, you're basically using 4 pair of disks that mirrors content so if one disk fails, the other has the exact same content and chugs along until the defective disk has been replaced.

Lumping 4 mirrors together in one big "virtual disk" means that you are writing and reading to and from 4 disks in parallel, which again means a real life write speed of four times the write speed of one disk. If disk performance has ever been a problem for you, here is the best cure.

Read speed is also four times that of one disk but because of different cache systems in the disks and controllers, read speed is always a lot higher than raw write speed and thus less likely to be a problem anyway. Search operations that runs through large amounts of data is likely to benefit very much from RAID10 versus RAID5.

Problem is, using sets of mirrors means that your available disk space will be half of that mounted in the drive bays - that is, 8 x 2 TB disks will give you 4 x 2 TB available disk space (the other 4 x 2 TB being used for mirroring).

Using RAID5 instead will give you 7 x 2 TB available disk space (2 TB is used for something called "parity data" which essentially means that one disk can fail without causing data loss) but you will be writing and reading to and from one single disk at a time so it will be a lot slower than RAID10.

I followed his advice (but I filled it with 3TB Hitachi drives) and I'm really pleased I did.

One of the drives failed last week.

Always a sticky moment but I need not have worried, the hot swappable nature of the QNAP TS859 meant I just hot swapped out the dead drive and fitted a new one, it took a while to rebuild but all was well. 

So safety and I have to say speed in Raid 10 has been a real bonus, out performing the Drobo Pro comfortably.

I have owned the QNAP TS859 since march and I'm very impressed.

I have filled my TS859 and have just bought another.

It just ticks away without drama, day in, day out>

Never needing my attention, very robust and reliable.

Isn't that what we all want?

But the benefits do not end there.

It has built-in remote replication and it can back up to Amazon S3 cloud storage, if you schedule it to do so and of course if you have an account.

Guess what mine is doing right now?

Backing my picture library up to Amazon S3.

It also has a web file manager which means you can access the NAS remotely and do whatever you want with the files.

The QNAP does have a wealth of features and I'm not talking about all of them but the ones which I use.

For me it has been a very good experience and I cannot recommend it highly enough, I have recommended them to other photographers and those who had bought them are happy.

The only downside I found was it was initially a little more difficult to set up than the Drobo Pro, but I did manage it and I'm no technical whizz when it comes to IP numbers, in fact I have a total aversion to them. 

QNAP is relatively unknown amongst photographers 

It really does not deserve to be overlooked.


Unknown said...

hi there,
it's fun because I have several QNAP NAS installed and perfectly working for several years in my IT company...

and in the other hand I have never heard about DROBO NAS :-)

since 1 or 2 weeks ago... ;)

Unknown said...

Hi Alex

Thanks for the comment.

Well you know my experiences with Drobo

Just keep the QNAP's ticking away....

Sooooo reliable

the sooner the photographic world wakes up to them the better in my opinion.



Fran├žois Sechet said...

Looks like I went the same way, moving/running away from Drobo but to go to Synology. Also not very well know, but very comparable in features and capabilities with the QNAP ones.

I've got the DS411+, very fast and reliable. Not as silent as I would wish though, and not as sexy as your little QNAP!

That and my Gigabit internet connection, and I've got one heck of a server... even hosting my and some friends websites on it, helping to pay the bill!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Hey F,

How are you?

Thank you for your comment

Good for you!

You had a tough time with your Drobo too I think?

I hope other photographers wake up to the Drobo alternatives.

My QNAP rocks!



Rob said...

There are certainly not unknown to us IT type photographers :-) Great software (can run web servers and your website locally e.t.c., media server for the office/house and a stack of other cool tricks).

I am about to buy another one as the oldie is full to the brim.... Never touched a drobo cause of it's prop nature it was never appealing to me.

Unknown said...

Hi Rob

Thanks for your message.

The IT world are fully aware....

Photographers check QNAP out!

Save yourselves time AND trouble



Anonymous said...

Hi Drew,
I’m happy to hear that you are fine now with your data storage and able to sleep peacefully again ;-)
Luckily I read your post about your Drobo odyssey which kept me away to buy one.
I start my own research about a suitable NAS system and guess what… …I end up with a QNAP ;-)
I live in Taiwan and there a lot of companies developing NAS systems but mostly they don’t have much success with an own brand name and selling their products more likely to big companies which sell it then with their own brand names.
In case of QNAP e.g. Cisco.
My QNAP is now running since a few month without any problem.
But I still, highly, recommend to use any kind of NAS together with an UPS!!! Even the small ones!!!
Cheers, Matthias

Unknown said...

Hey Matthias

Thanks for your comment.

It has been my experience too with the trouble free nature of the QNAP.

Good point about the UPS.

Do you have any recommendations?



Justin Sutcliffe said...

Great post. Saving for my QNAP even now.

What drives do you recommend?


Unknown said...

Hey Justin

How was Dublin? I hope the shoot went well.

I use the Hitachi 3TB 7200rpm HDD's

They seem to be good, but I have had a failure.

But HDD's are by there very nature risky beasts no matter what brand one goes for.

It did not stop me ordering a Hitachi as a replacement.



Anonymous said...

Hi Drew,
for my day job I work for an leading IT company in the server development. We also qualify UPS systems for our server. The best experience I made so far is with APC
Especially the 'APC Smart-UPS' with 1000VA or 1500VA are good for small office use.
For home use (e.g. one NAS and one PC) the Back-UPS Pro with around 1000VA is sufficient. That's what I also use at my home.
Cheers, Matthias

Unknown said...

Hi Matthias,

Thank you very much for that.

I will check them out and let you know how I get on.



Sean said...

I have 7 QNAP's and they work great. I get them to automatically replicate data from one to another for extra backup.

Also if you use RAID 6, it uses TWO drives for parity (RAID 5 uses 1) so you can have two drive failures without loosing data, It is more efficient in space than RAID 10 and just as reliable.

Anonymous said...

Hi Drew,
I'm glad I could help you.
BTW, there is a UPS Compatibility List at the website of QNAP:


Unknown said...

Hi Guys

Thanks for your comments

Good suggestion regarding Raid 6

What would the speed deficit be compared to Raid 10?

I will check the list of recommended UPS on the QNAP site.



Anders C. Madsen said...

A quick note regarding RAID6:

As Sean states, it increases data integrity by adding an additional parity disk, but apart from that it is on par or slightly slower than RAID5 (due to calculating and writing two sets of parity data).

It is particular useful for storing massive amounts of data on RAID systems with a lot of disks since (statistically) you can end up with a second disk failing before a replacement for the first disk can be acquired and the RAID-volme rebuild.

Personally I would not use RAID6 for data that requires maximum write performance, but I would consider it ideal for a backup system with 8 disks or more.

Anonymous said...

For Backup Raid 6 is currently the best choice in terms of speed and data safety.
But you also have to disable the 'writhe cache'. This will slow down the write performance. Otherwise the raid volume will be damage after any kind of hardware failure or AC fail on your NAS system.
High-end RAID systems often comes with a battery unit to dedicate for the cache of the RAID controller.
NAS systems, also the QNAP, are software RAID based systems...
Cheers, Matthias

pixelmixture said...

i'm not sure raid10 is faster than raid 6 because the bottleneck should be the network speed ... no?
if you loose 2 disks in the same array with raid 10 you loose the entire volume... pretty scary

Anders C. Madsen said...

No, with a gigabit network you will definitely max out the disks before the network if using RAID5 or RAID6, especially when writing large amounts of data (read operations is a very different thing).

The fastest SATA disks that I know of is the 10K RPM Western Digital VelociRaptor which pushes around 100 MB/s sustained write speed, and that is still below the 120-125 MB/s you can push through a good gigabit network. Add in some time to calculate and write parity data to your RAID5 (or RAID6) and you are well below the network capacity.

As for data integrity: Most people don't realize this, but you can lose half the disks in a RAID 10 as long as you are not losing both disks in a pair and still have all your data intact.

Think about it:
RAID 0+1: A pair of striped disks. If you lose one disk in a stripe, the entire stripe is history (all four disks act as one big disk). Losing another disk in the SAME stripe does not make any difference - the other stripe is still OK. Lose a disk in the other stripe and you are screwed.

RAID 1+0: A stripe of mirrored disks. Again, as long as you don't lose both of the disks holding the same content, you don't have to worry, all your content is there.

So, when using 8 disks in RAID10 you can lose half the disks in the RAID, provided that chance and your good luck makes it the right four disks. On the other hand, having a bad day means that the second disk that fails is the one that holds the mirror of the first disk that failed and you are thoroughly screwed.

Unknown said...

I have to say I'm very pleased with the RAID 10 arrangement

I'm pleased I went that way



Mark said...

Anders, what I would say on the RAID 10 debate is this:

with RAID 6 you can definitely lose 2 disks and be ok. With RAID 10 you may be ok, you may not. I'd say Murphy's Law would be more prevalent than statistics.

As for the statement about the speed i.e. a 10k raptor cannot saturate a gigabit connection - but an 8-way NAS definitely can. QNAP rate the 879's throughput at 1,345MB/s depending on what's inside so the disks will not max out before the connection.

Unknown said...

Hi Mark,

To reiterate what I said before I'm very happy with RAID 10 on the QNAP.

In my it is way faster than the Drobo and has never been a single cause of angst.

Bullet proof with great customer care.

Very versatile too.



Mark said...

Drew, just to let you know I posted a link to your writings on QNAP and the DROBO on the Scott Kelby site. It appears that he's been having more than his fair share of fun and is looking for suggestions on alternatives.

I'd be interested to know how you backup the large amounts of data a photographer would create. I can imagine some photographers having two such arrays that sync with each other - onsite and offsite, but that doesn't deal with data corruption. That normally gets dealt with by full and incremental backups etc. Do you have a process for this?

Vancouver photographer said...

Just got my qn 451. Seems really great so far except importing raw photos over to it seems to take forever since it's just connected to my router. How do you go about importing photos? I was playing with plugging in a card reader direct to the usb 3 port in the front but doesn't always seem to detect it. Would love to know what someone with more experience is doing!