Super-tough, compact, and fast.
Caption by: Alan Stevens
Part of the Cisco empire, Linksys sells products designed to be used by smaller businesses. Its Network Storage System (NSS) can be had in a variety of formats, including a bare chassis to take SATA disks of your own choosing, the disks sliding into four hot-swap bays at the front to give a maximum overall capacity of 4TB. For this group test, however, we were sent a preconfigured 1TB model, the NSS4100, fitted with four 250GB 7,200rpm Western Digital drives.
The Linksys chassis is a remarkably well-made 1U rack-mount device equipped with five fans. These make it relatively noisy, although that shouldn't be an issue in a machine-room environment. A single power supply is all you get as standard, but a redundant power supply can be plugged in, if available; it's also possible to integrate the NSS4100 into a larger Linksys One network, with facilities to virtualise storage across multiple NAS servers.
We tested the appliance standalone, managing it via the built-in web interface which, although a little slow, is very simple to follow. The Linux-based firmware is loaded from flash rather than hard disk and, when first delivered, there are no arrays defined. So the first task is to configure an array, for which a comprehensive set of options are available — including RAID 1 and 5 setups, complete with hot spare, if required.
Having created an array, you next define one or more volumes and specify which users are allowed to access. The whole process takes just a few minutes, after which Windows, Apple Mac and Linux/Unix users can all be given access to the shared volumes with a built-in authentication database plus support for both NT and Active Directory domains. Note, however, that the Mac support is via SMB/CIFS rather than AFP, which could be an issue if you're using older Macs, and there's a strict limit of just 15 concurrent users. An FTP server is built in, with both volume and user-level disk quotas another useful feature.
Network attachment is via a pair of Gigabit Ethernet ports located at the back of the unit. These can be configured for standalone use, but most users will opt to bond the interfaces together to provide automatic load balancing and failover facilities. Support for VLAN attachment is also available, plus you get three USB 2.0 ports — two at the back and one at the front. Unfortunately, you can't use these to add external storage, as you can on some competing products. Rather, one of the rear ports is dedicated to monitoring a UPS (APC only), while the others can only be used to take backups of the appliance configuration using a USB memory stick.
The data backup facilities are somewhat limited too. On some Linksys NAS servers snapshots can be taken, but the NSS4100 only provides the ability to run on-demand or scheduled backups to another NAS server or network share. Moreover, if you want to back up data held on client desktops or notebooks, you'll need to source suitable software yourself.
The NSS4100 is no slouch, and the dual Ethernet ports certainly help to boost performance. It's also affordable and well made, but lacks features and doesn't grab the imagination like some of the competition.
Caption by: Alan Stevens