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QNAP TVS-863+ vNAS Server Review

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Closer Look: QNAP TVS-863+ Turbo vNAS Server

The QNAP TS-863+ looks similar to a lot of large NAS units in the market; eight bays in a small tower format, with the drive bays spanning from left to right. It doesn’t look like a typical QNAP product though, because it’s finished in a gold and champagne color motif, instead of their signature black plastic and titanium livery. Eight bays of capacity is the sweet spot for small and medium business office usage, because it allows you to use RAID 5 or RAID 6 and greatly decreases the risk of losing continuous access to your data. The eight bays can theoretically hold 48TB of data, in JBOD or RAID 0 modes, with today’s state-of-the-art, helium-filled 6TB drives installed in each bay. That’s also a very risky option, which requires some sort of compensating storage strategy. Most users will choose the compromise method of RAID 5, which is still quite fast, given the right supporting infrastructure. The greater flexibility for online RAID capacity expansion & online RAID level migration makes the additional cost of the extra drive bays looks like a bargain, instead of conspicuous consumption.

A subset of users will also take advantage of the SSD Cache feature that is relatively new, and add one or two SSDs to the mix, in order to improve write access performance. Two of the eight drive bays can be used for the SSD cache feature, and QNAP recommends using bay #1 and/or bay #2 for the SSDs, because the AMD GX-424CC SOC has its two internal SATA interfaces connected directly to those drive bays. The other six bays have Marvell 88SE9215, SATA 6Gb/s Host Controllers driving the HDDs with signals from three x1 links of PCIe Gen 2 on the SOC. The two integrated SATA v3.x ports on the SOC are a little bit faster because each x1 PCIe port on the SOC only has 5 Gbps of bandwidth to share between two 6 Gbps SATA connections that are served up by each Marvell 88SE9125 controller.

The TVS-x63 series is meant to provide high performance on the sharp end of the SMB market. There are also 4, 5, 6, and 8 bay units available, in the same tower format. The size and weight of the TVS-863 are typical for an 8-bay NAS server: 185mm(H) x 298mm(W) x 235mm(D), and 7.8 pounds without drives installed. Each HDD you install will add about 1-1/2 pounds, depending on your choice of drive. Most users will probably be looking at 3, 4, or 6TB drives for a NAS unit like this, and they’re heavier than most.

Most businesses want continuous access to the data that enables their operations (AKA cash flow…), so a RAID configuration that includes some redundancy is undoubtedly called for. Multiple SATA 6Gb/s drives can be installed as: a single disk, RAID 0 (Disk Striping), RAID 1 (Disk Mirroring), RAID 5 (Block-level striping with distributed parity), RAID 6 (Block-level striping with double distributed parity), RAID 10 (AKA RAID 1+0, a stripe of mirrors), and JBOD (Linear Disk Volume). RAID 5, 6, & 10 have the option of a hot spare, which decreases MTTR but also decreases overall device capacity. RAID 6 offers some additional redundancy, allowing for continued operation even with two simultaneous drive failures, with no additional performance hit and only one additional drive. This option is very popular because if one individual drive fails in a RAID 5 implementation, the array instantly starts operating like a RAID 0 configuration, which has NO redundancy. It stays in that vulnerable state until the array is rebuilt, which is a slow process that generally taxes the system to the max, and can take several hours to complete. More than once, I’ve seen that situation go South; we lost the whole array and had to restore from tape backup, which meant lost work and a lot more downtime.

Each internal drive can only be formatted with EXT4, although external drives can use FAT, NTFS, EXT3, EXT4, or HFS+ file systems. HFS+ is a newish capability for QNAP, and those who recognize it will know that it serves as the primary file system for Apple’s OS X operating system. All these new AMD-based QNAP NAS units offer the additional option of AES 256-bit encryption with native CPU support for the recent AES-NI additions to the Intel64 instruction set. This has been a standard feature of AMD CPUs for a long time, and it’s good to see that they have endowed their embedded line of SOC chips with it, as well. Our tests to date on all QNAP NAS systems have utilized EXT4-formatted disks without encryption as the default option. The performance hit on all but the most expensive Intel-based NAS units was just too much to bear. The TVS-863+ provides unmatched encryption performance in its price class, up to 691MB/s with AES-256 bit full NAS volume encryption. This means you can finally have the benefits of speed AND security, ensuring the safety of your sensitive business data while enjoying high transfer rates. I’ve been waiting for this a long time.

QNAP uses a fairly simple steel-framed tray to hold each drive on the TVS-863+, which is a common part across much of the product line. They did not choose the new low-cost, all-plastic versions for the TVS-x63 series, presumably because many business users want the option of using the individual key locks on each of the drive trays. These have a matching champagne-gold finish on the exposed portion that matches the rest of the front panel. In the tower models, each tray slides in with the HDD in the vertical position and locks firmly into place with the lever on the front. The drive trays easily accommodate 2.5″ drives without any additional hardware; just use the correct mounting holes located on the bottom surface. QNAP used to not recommend mixing 3.5″ and 2.5″ drives in the same enclosure, but the advent of SSD caching in their business-class devices put an end to that restriction. The trays are not labeled with the chassis slot number, which sounds like a small thing. They are all physically identical and you can mix and match them all you want, until you build a drive array and then you had better remember which one goes where. If you mix them up the NAS won’t recognize the array, and worst case you could end up destroying data as you try to figure out which drive is which. I always keep a stack of sticky notes around whenever I have to pull drive trays out of a NAS, just to be sure I don’t mix them up.

The chassis of the TVS-863+ is built from three major modules, the drive bay, the power supply sitting on top, and the main controller board located along the left side. There is enough room at the top of the front panel for an LCD display with a two-button input switch, LEDs for System Status, presence of a USB Storage device, and LAN activity. Each of the hard drive bays also has multi-color LED indicators on it as well, showing HDD activity and error status. Green means the drive is present and OK, flashing Green means the drive is being accessed, and Red means there’s an error. On the lower left, are power buttons and a multi-function USB copy button with an integrated USB port. Consistent with all of the recent QNAP units I’ve examined, there is an infrared (IR) receiver on the front panel. With all the new multimedia features that come with the enhanced hardware and software, adding in the capability to use an IR remote control really makes those features more accessible. QNAP sells one as an accessory, called the RM-IR002. It’s a fairly simple unit, with six buttons and a 4-way D-Pad for navigation. It’s unlikely that anyone would choose this particular model for use strictly as a media server, but the virtualization capability and the four CPU cores to run the virtual machines on, opens up a lot of options for multi-use scenarios.

There are no ventilation holes on the bottom of the QNAP TVS-863+ Turbo vNAS chassis. The main entry points for cool air are through the front of the drive trays and a strip of small holes on the left side panel. The air that comes in the front passes over the HDDs, then hits the fins of the CPU heatsink and is finally exhausted out the rear of the unit by the two 120mm fans. The air coming in the side cools off the rest of the components on the main controller board. I usually don’t pay much attention to fan noise in the smaller NAS models, as it is never really noticeable during my daily use. The TVS-863+ also fits that scenario, even though it has to keep a larger CPU cool. Noise was just not an issue, even though I had the unit on my desktop, quite near me. Initial startup sequences typically got my attention, but once the unit settled down into normal operation noise was never an issue. I’m sure the lower speed, better balanced platters in the new Seagate NAS HDDs helped out, too. The 7200 RPM desktop drives I used to run were not ideal for NAS use, especially when there were four or more drives installed in a single chassis.

Looking at the back panel of the TVS-863+, you can see most of the hardwired I/O points, which are arrayed along the right hand side of the unit where the main controller board resides. Starting at the top is the half-height opening for the PCI Express expansion slot. The “+” in the TVS-863+ model number indicates that this model comes with a 10GbE network interface card pre-installed at the factory. All of the TVS-x63 models have this expansion slot, and QNAP has a selection of NICs that can be installed by the user, and there are also some Emulex and Intel NICs that are compatible. A list of suitable devices is maintained on QNAP’s website. Below the expansion slot is a small hole that guards the reset button from accidental actuation. Two levels of reset capability are provided, Basic System Reset (hold for 3 sec), and Advanced System Reset (hold for 10 sec). Next in line are two full-sized HDMI video ports, which is an indicator of the HD Radeon graphics processing power that’s inside. Below that are two GbE ports, which are capable of being teamed into one virtual connection for enhanced speed and/or reliability of your network connection. Physically paired with each of the RJ-45 connectors for the network, are two pairs of USB SuperSpeed (USB 3.0) spec ports, all dressed in bright blue livery. Along the top edge of the TVS-863+ back panel are the Kensington lock hole, then the IEC power input socket and cooling fan for the internal power supply. Dominating the rear of the unit are two 120mm cooling fans, which provide plenty of cooling capacity for the HDDs.

Now that we’ve had a thorough tour of the exterior, let’s do a full tear-down and see what the insides look like. The next section covers Insider Details.


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