13 OCT

PC Pro - PowerNAS Rackmount 2U

Published by Richard Parry on 13th Oct 2016

Check out our New Review in the PC PRO Magazine and online this month

An affordable and well specified Windows-powered storage server with tonnes of room to grow

UK storage specialist PowerNAS is something of a newcomer, having been established just 18 months ago – but with the
Rackmount 2U it’s throwing down the gauntlet to the establishment.
It’s an enterprise-class solution at a small-business price, with a big starting capacity and huge expansion potential that means it can grow easily
with demand.
The package comprises a slick partnership of Supermicro hardware
and the Standard edition of Microsoft’s Windows Storage Server
2012 R2 (WSS).

There’s plenty of power on tap to keep things running smoothly: the appliance sports a formidable 3GHz E3-1220 v5 Xeon CPU, with 16GB of fast DDR4 memory (upgradable to 64GB).
The chassis offers 12 front-facing hot-swap bays for your drives, with the OS loaded on a mirrored pair of 120GB SSDs in hot-swap SFF bays at
the rear.

For storage you can use your own SATA drives, or purchase a unit from PowerNAS pre-populated with a choice of WD Red drives.
The main hard disk backplane is serviced by an LSI PCI Express RAID Card: this doesn't manage the RAID arrays itself, but rather presents the drives to
the OS, so you can use the operating system’s software-based Storage Spaces. An external port supports additional PowerNAS JBOD shelves
for over a petabyte of total capacity.Configuration is a doddle – if you can use Windows Server 2012 R2, you can use the Rackmount 2U.

From the Server Manager console, we easily combined the four 4TB drives provided into a single Storage Space.
This can be expanded on demand by selecting new drives, regardless of size, and adding them to the pool.
The OS also supports IP SAN operations and block-level deduplication; there are no user or capacity limits, and the Hyper-V role
is available too, with base support for two VMs. The appliance can join an existing Active Directory domain, and to use the clustering/failover features
simply add the necessary hardware.Thin provisioning works directly with storage pools, so it applies equally to NAS shares and iSCSI
targets within them.

Virtual drives (VDs) are created within the pool and can be striped, or have mirrored or parity (RAID5) resiliency applied. In
our experience parity VDs can hit write performance, but our tests showed that the Rackmount 2U has the power to keep things speedy. We
were able to copy a 25GB test file from an HPE ProLiant DL380 Gen9 rack server to a share on a parity VD at sustained read and write speeds of
112MB/sec and 105MB/sec. Running the same test on a mirrored VD yielded the same read rate, while write speed increased only slightly to 109MB/sec.
The difference between parity and mirrored VDs became conspicuous in our backup test. Our 22.5GB folder containing
10,500 small files was copied to a share on a parity VD at an average of 57MB/sec; this improved
significantly to 81MB/sec for a mirrored VD. You can gain a speed boost by using striped VDs, but these are effectively a RAID0 arrangement that doesn’t
provide any resilience. Another way to improve I/O performance is to fit some SSDs in the main bays and use WSS data tiering. To set this up,
simply specify the SSD and HDD arrays to be included and WSS will automatically move hot data to the SSD tier.

The Rackmount 2U is a persuasive proposition for storage-hungry businesses.

It’s a powerful and affordable appliance with all the features and power of Windows Storage Server 2012 R2, and decent expansion potential makes it a solid long-term investment.

Score *****

PC Pro - PowerNAS Rackmount 2U

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