Remote Storage with the Newisys NA-1400 NAS Appliance

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PERFORMANCE

The most obvious test of performance is simply to test the amount of time it takes to copy a set amount of data. This tests the data throughput of the device, and should give some idea of how it compares to a conventional hard drive. Two tests of this sort were done, one with a single large file (997 MB) and one with multiple smaller files (42 files totaling 30.3 MB). A performance baseline was established by copying the same files locally without involving the NAS box. The local drives were Samsung Spinpoint P80 models. All tests were repeated three times for accuracy, and none of the results varied by more than a second or two.

Newisys NA-1400: Large File Performance Test
Test
Time
Local disk to the same local disk
51s
Local disk to different local disk
29s
Local disk to NA-1400
2m 46s
NA-1400 to NA-1400
4m 41s
NA-1400 to Local disk
2m 24s

Newisys NA-1400: Small File Performance Test
Test
Time
Local disk to the same local disk
4s
Local disk to different local disk
3s
Local disk to NA-1400
6s
NA-1400 to NA-1400
10s
NA-1400 to Local disk
5s

The raw performance numbers do a good job of showing the difference between the network storage and the local disk, but they do not do justice to our subjective impressions of the NA-1400. In terms of raw throughput, the network box was less than half the speed of a local disk. This pattern was the same for both of the tests, although the performance gap was bigger for the large file test. The bottleneck was most likely the 100 Mbit network; file transfers would most likely have been faster on a gigabit network, although Barry Hutt, VP of Newisys, stated that the performance bottleneck on a gigabit network is actually the XScale processor, not the network. Performance was worst when files were being copied internally, perhaps because data needed to be both sent and received over the network.

Our subjective impressions were actually much better, perhaps because our usage pattern rarely tested the full throughput. In general, our usage consisted of reading and writing small amounts of data at a time: Reading and writing individual files that were rarely more than a couple of megabytes in size. A small amount of lag was still noticeable, and a couple of files took a second or two to process. The large discrepancy in raw performance did not translate into a large discrepancy in our user experience. The experience was more like using a computer that was slightly out of date than having an experience that was "half as good" as using a local disk.

To make this more concrete, we tried playing numerous video files from the NAS box, including a number of ripped DVDs and several XviD-encoded and WMV-encoded files. None of these experiments showed the NA-1400 to be any worse than a local drive. At worst, the files took a second or two longer to open, but there was absolutely no difference in playback quality.

To illustrate this, we did one last performance test, this time using GordianKnot to encode a DVD copy of Secret Things into an MKV video file, using XviD as the codec. As before, several different source / destination combinations were tested, and each test was repeated three times. Results were rounded appropriately to account for variances in test result, but they rarely varied by more than 10 seconds. Each test consisted of two encoding passes and one multiplexing pass. GordianKnot's log function was used to measure the amount of time that each stage took, and also to calculate the total encoding time.

Newisys NA-1400: Video Encoding Test
Test
Encoding Stage
Time
Local disk to the same local disk
First Pass
50m 10s
Second Pass
1h 14m 30s
Multiplex
1m 50s
Total
2h 6m 30s
Local disk to different local disk
First Pass
51m 20s
Second Pass
1h 14m 30s
Multiplex
1m 40s
Total
2h 7m 40s
Local disk to NA-1400
First Pass
50m 30s
Second Pass
1h 17m 10s
Multiplex
8m 0s
Total
2h 15m 30s
NA-1400 to NA-1400
First Pass
50m 30s
Second Pass
1h 17m 10s
Multiplex
8m 0s
Total
2h 15m 40s
NA-1400 to local disk
First Pass
51m 20s
Second Pass
1h 16m 30s
Multiplex
2m 0s
Total
2h 10m 0s

The results of the encoding test explain why we noticed so little subjective difference: With the exception of the Multiplexing stage, all of the steps were CPU-limited, so the storage system had very little effect on encoding time. The multiplexing stage itself took about four times as long when the NA-1400 was the destination, but in the grand scheme of things, the speed of the storage system mattered very little. In fact, the difference in encoding time between the fastest and slowest times was just 7.5% — hardly noticeable. Few people are likely to wait around to notice the extra 9 minutes, so there is little practical difference.

CONCLUSIONS

Although we were disappointed to find that we could not run Windows from the NA-1400, moving mass storage away from the main system is a viable way to reduce noise. For many purposes, the loss in performance that comes with using network storage is insignificant, and our subjective impressions of the performance did not match the worst-case results from our early tests.

Unfortunately, the noise level of the NA-1400 itself was far too loud to be placed in a living space, so it should be kept in a basement, garage, well-insulated closet, or server room where its noise will not bother anyone. Apartment dwellers may want to think twice.

As a stand-alone unit, the NA-1400 has several advantages over a custom-built storage server. Most prominently, it is more or less plug-and-play and requires very little configuration. Home users can easily plug it into a home network and immediately use it without needing to know anything about networks or user permissions. At the same time, complex RAID systems and user accounts can be set up if the circumstances require. It also consumes significantly less power than a full system.

In the right circumstances, the NA-1400 could be a very worthy investment. It provides a way to access a huge amount of storage without needing to deal with the noise that four large drives would add to an otherwise quiet system. It is an ideal fit for a media server, where it can be plugged in, turned on, and left in the basement indefinitely.

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Much thanks to Newisys for the opportunity to examine this product.

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SPCR Articles of Related Interest:
NoVibes III HDD Decoupling Rack
Rubber Boxes & Carved Foam: More HDD Silencing
IS the Silent PC Future 2.5-inches wide?
Forum Thread: HDD vibration & noise reducing methods - ranked

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