Cisco Smart Storage Keeps Your Data Intact

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The easiest way to add lots of storage to any network is to install NAS, or Network Attached Storage. Cisco’s NSS Series of NAS enclosures is available with different numbers of drive bays, with or without the drives themselves. The arrays make it easy to provide a network with up to 12 terabytes of storage.

A NAS device is basically server whose sole function is to serve up storage for network users. Instead of installing a server with an attached RAID array, you can install a NAS device with less hassle and expense. Cisco’s NSS Series of NAS enclosures are available with two, four and six drive bays. Let’s start with the two-bay NSS 322.

 

The NSS 322 is available as a bare enclosure with no hard drives installed so that you can install whatever drives you already have or plan to obtain. The array runs an integrated Linux-based operating system. It’s powered by a 1.66GHz Intel Atom D510 dual-core processor with 1GB of memory and it features a dual gigabit Ethernet interface. Five USB 2.0 and two eSATA expansion ports allow you to connect an external hard drives to increase storage capacity. Network data features include DLNA media streaming, iTunes server support and iSCSI Target support. Built-in applications include a user-configurable Web server with an integrated WordPress publishing platform and syslog and RADIUS servers that help simplify user authentication and network management.

 

Setting up the NSS 322 is quick and easy, as everything is done from a browser-based interface. You can utilize the user account information from a Windows Active Directory server to provide user access with existing login names and passwords. File sharing across Windows, Macintosh and Linux platforms is supported. Unauthorized access is prevented using Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 256-bit on-disk data encryption.

 

The NSS 322 features two 3.5" SATA hard drive bays. It can be configured as a RAID 0, 1 or JBOD. RAID 0 spreads data evenly across two or more disks with no redundancy, so you will lose all the data if any drive fails. JBOD means "Just a Bunch Of Disks," and in this configuration each hard disk gets its own drive letter and can be addressed independently. But, you lose data when a drive fails.

 

RAID 1, on the other hand, offers data redundancy. RAID 1 splits the number of drives in two, and duplicates the data set on each half of the array. If either half of the array fails the data remains intact on the other half. The catch with RAID 1 is that you basically trade half the capacity of the array for peace of mind. With a RAID 1 array configured, the NSS 322’s hot-swap design lets you to replace a failed drive without shutting down the array.

 

The NSS 322 with no drives installed costs $649.95. If you prefer, though, it’s also available with two 1TB drives installed for $1,009.95. With that configuration you could set up a 2TB RAID 0 array, a 1TB RAID 1 array, or have two separate 1TB drives in a JBOD arrangement. If you even need more space, the NSS 322 can also be had with two 2TB drives installed for $1,234.95. That configuration lets you set up a 4TB RAID 0 array, a 2TB RAID 1 array, or have two separate 2TB drives in a JBOD arrangement.

 

As far as redundancy goes, a two-bay storage array can be set up only in a RAID 1 configuration, which is not a very efficient use of all the potential storage space; you basically lose half of it. For that reason, and also to provide more storage space, Cisco offers the NSS 324, which is a four-bay NAS enclosure.

 

The NSS 324 offers the same feature set as the NSS 322, except that with four drive bays the NSS 324 allows the configuration of higher RAID levels including RAID 0, 1, 5, 5+Hot Spare, 6 or JBOD.

 

RAID 5 spreads data and parity information across all disks in the array. Parity is used to keep track of data when it’s copied from one place to another to make sure nothing is lost or overwritten. RAID 5 also allows for more efficient redundancy than RAID 1. RAID 1 must use half of the disks in the array for redundancy. RAID 5 uses only one disk for redundancy, regardless of the number of disks in the array. For example, four 1TB drives are needed to create a 2TB redundant array using RAID 1, but the same four 1TB drives can be used to create a 3TB redundant array with RAID 5; any one of the four drives can fail without losing any data.

 

RAID 5+Hot Spare includes an idle drive in the array that becomes active only when one of the other drives fail. That eliminates downtime when replacing the dead drive and also prevents data loss in the event that two drives fail at the same time. RAID 6 provides additional fault tolerance with two parity blocks spread across all disks, but performance is not quite as good as RAID 5.

 

The bare bones four-bay NSS 324 costs $924.95. It’s also available with four 1TB drives installed for $1,434.95. That configuration permits a 4TB RAID 0 array, a 2TB RAID 1 array, a 3TB RAID 5 or RAID 6 array, or a 2TB RAID 5+Hot Spare array. If you need even more space, the NSS 324 is available with four 2TB drives installed for $2,183.50. That configuration permits an 8TB RAID 0 array, a 4TB RAID 1 array, a 7TB RAID 5 or RAID 6 array, or a 6TB RAID 5+Hot Spare array.

 

If four drive bays still aren’t enough to meet your needs, Cisco’s 6-bay NSS 326 is the answer. It has the same feature set as the NSS 324 except that it can also be configured for RAID 6+Hot Spare. The bare-bones NSS 326 costs $1,236.95. Of course you can also get the NSS 326 with six 1TB drives installed for $2,869.95. That configuration permits a 6TB RAID 0 array, a 3TB RAID 1 array, a 5TB RAID 5 or RAID 6 array or a 4TB RAID 5+Hot Spare or RAID 6+Hot Spare array. If you need even more space, the NSS 326 can be had with six 2TB drives installed for $3,811.95. That configuration permits a 12TB RAID 0 array, a 6TB RAID 1 array, an 11TB RAID 5 or RAID 6 array, or a 10TB RAID 5+Hot Spare or RAID 6+Hot Spare array. That about covers it.

 

No matter what your storage capacity needs are, or the level of redundancy you require, Cisco’s NSS Series of NAS enclosures have you covered.

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Thanks for the article and the review. This sounds just perfect for our purposes. We have an ever increasing number of movie data files compressed in different formats that need backup.

Adrian B Clarke

CEO, ViewCave

Cisco is excellent but no manufacturer has been providing so much reliability and flexibility to me as Drobo.

 Very useful, thank you.

Are there any benchmarks on transfer rates (peer-to-peer GigE, nothing too scientific), RAID5 and 6 rebuild times, noise levels?

Also, if I am reading right, the article might be due for a small correction: it displays equal usable capacities for RAID 5 and 6 (given the same raw capacity), which shouldn't be the case: RAID 5 has a usable capacity of N-1 (deduct the capacity of one drive for a total usable capacity), while RAID 6 has it at N-2, since it uses the equivalent of two drives for parity data.  All other things being equal, usable RAID6 capacity is the same as RAID5+spare.

Overall, a great read... :)

RAID6 (+ hot spare) capacities seem to be off.

Can someone with tens of thousands of photos and hundreds of hours of video (microsoft movie maker) use this system easily.  My computers are out of memory.  Does this device have a steep learning curve and can I really trust this system?  Is it better to get redundancy by buying two separate units instead?  Thanks, Ed.

unregistered wrote:

Can someone with tens of thousands of photos and hundreds of hours of video (microsoft movie maker) use this system easily.  My computers are out of memory.  Does this device have a steep learning curve and can I really trust this system?  Is it better to get redundancy by buying two separate units instead?  Thanks, Ed.

You can trust this system, and if you're pretty good with computers you should be able to use it. But it's much less expensive and perhaps more intuitive to simply purchase two external hard drives, say 2TB apiece, and just duplicate the contents on both drives.