REVIEW: Cisco NSS 324 Smart Storage

Cisco’s NAS for small business is a tidy unit, but seems to lack any paticular value add from Cisco.

Cisco has made lots of waves in the storage industry lately, as its UCS products have set the likes of EMC and NetApp a-flutter with virtualised offerings for enterprise users.

But the networking giant has also, quietly, released a range of storage with its own badge. Aimed at smaller users, the Smart Storage range is billed as “Network Storage for Small Business.” In an Australian and New Zealand context that can sometimes be problematic: our small businesses are often far smaller than the 100-to-500-employee affairs that get that label in the USA or Europe.

Yet Cisco has even the smallest business covered thanks to the presence of the two-bay NSS 322 in its range. Organisations requiring 12TB of storage are also catered to, with the six-bay NSS 326.

We asked for a test unit of the four-bay NSS 324, configured with four 2TB drives. As is common in this segment of the market, it’s an Atom-based device that happily performs as an iSCSI SAN or NAS, offers an FTP server, encryption, multimedia serving tools and a choice of RAID 0,1, 5 and 6. The device is also happy serving as VMware shared storage.

The original equipment manufacturer for the device is QNAP, and we understand the NSS 324 is based on QNAP’s TS459. As such, there is not much between the devices other than the Cisco badge and commendably simple installation software.

In the past we have tested a Tandberg Data NAS based on a QNAP device, and Cisco has done a better job of making its brand felt.

Ultimately, however, this is a QNAP device and its interface bears little of Cisco’s style.

We configured the device as a RAID 5 NAS and used the “Office Productivity” tests from Intel’s g free NAS Performance Analysis Toolkit. The test was conducted from a single PC running Windows XP SP2, over a 100MbPs LAN operating on a four-port switch built into a Belkin ADSL modem/router/switch that was also connected to another PC, a network printer and several WiFi devices.

Results were not very impressive. We recently tested a NetGear ReadyNAS NVX and found it achieved throughput of 11.849MB/s. The Cisco box clocked 11.514MB/s.

Average service times were:

•         4.5 milliseconds for reads

•         168.4 milliseconds for writes

•         10973.1 milliseconds for opens

These figures were all slower than on the NetGear device.

That may well be due to the extra two disks used in this test and the fact the previous review was on a RAID 1 array, but did not dispel the feeling that the device is not infused with a Cisco experience. Rivals in this space offer a little more. Tandberg Data, for example, offers data deduplication software. Others offer bundled backup 

Overall, this is a slick but unexciting device. But when you thrown in the three-year Cisco support, may well seem a better buy than the same device with another label.

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