In order to compete in the cut-throat network storage market, Iomega, now a brand from EMC, has been reinventing its StorCenter NAS 200 series by adding some nifty Enterprise capabilities and offering them to small business customers. In the case of the small business NAS, the Iomega StorCenter ix4-200d NAS Server, the company added iSCSI support and certified it for VMWare and XenServer virtualization servers. Is the SMB ready for virtual servers? Probably not, but Iomega is thinking ahead by introducing enterprise and other advanced features missing from products we tested in our last NAS roundup. The ix4-200d I tested is 4 TB and priced at $899.99 (Street). The NAS is more expensive than the NAS units in our roundup, but it arrives with some SMB ready features that might justify its markup.
Design and Setup
The Iomega ix4 is the latest in the StorCenter lineup. This unit has a professional feel to it, even though it is a small, almost a perfect cube, measuring 7.7 (W) by 7.9 (L) by 6.6 (H) inches. It is almost the same size as the Western Digital WD ShareSpace. Iomega placed a small LCD on the front that displays the IP address, date and time, and the space used on the drive. There’s no front panel guarding the power button, so it is fully accessible. This is not unique to the ix4. For a device that is meant to be on all the time, placing it close to the edge of a table might entice little hands to shut it down accidentally. I like to leave my NAS on my work desk at the back, where it can stay on safely.
The LCD panel also displays any activity on the USB ports. With one USB port in front and two in the back, you can easily insert a USB key into a port and the LCD will immediately display an option to copy the data over. The ix4 managed the folders and files that are copied automatically with USB. You can view them through the Web UI or by connecting to the shared folders in the NAS. The new shared folder created during the USB copy is accessible through Ethernet on your network. Two network ports on the back of the unit are Gig-E. To maximize your network’s performance, I recommend using a Gig-E switch.
Iomega did a great job with the UI layout. The features on the homepage are arched around a help page so when you hover over Access Shared Storage, Backup and restore, Add Users, and others, the help page describes these features with text. The layouts of other tabs are more inline with the traditional look and feel of other NAS servers. As you navigate deeper into the other tabs, however, you will be confronted with a plethora of advanced networking features and services that might seem confusing. Small businesses should hire local VARs or IT consultants if they don’t know how to make some features in the Settings tab work. The good news is that Iomega reduced the steps of many settings to just one click.
Iomega also bundles Retrospect backup software and a client-based StorCenter Manager with the ix4. I installed both, but found that the Manager is pretty useless if you are only managing one ix4 server. If you are connecting to multiple StorCenter ix4 NAS servers, the Manager can become a launch point to connect to the NAS servers. Even so, I’m not crazy about using it. I would rather connect to the ix4 from its Web interface.
Fine tuning the installation requires knowledge of Active Directory (AD), RAID, iSCSI and file sharing. I took the simplest route and left the default RAID configuration and file services. If you are running AD in your shop, I recommend using it so that authentication stays centralized. Since the ix4 has its own authentication features, you could override network access in ix4 and make the mistake of giving users unwanted folder privileges. The ix4 can act as a standalone device by managing access to its folders without AD, so administrators need to be cautious.
As you fine tune the ix4 NAS server, I recommend checking the help pages. Though the ix4’s help is not context sensitive and the explanations are rather generic. Fortunately, you don’t need to check the online manual to figure everything out. For example, Iomega chose to explain RAID in simple terms that small business users can comprehend, going as far as labeling it Data Protection Settings. Users have three options that extend from complete redundant protection of data to no protection at all. There’s even a write caching feature that speeds up data transfers. The StorCenter ix4 can also manage how much storage is being used with Quotas. You can set quotas for each folder or create a default amount. If the size of the internal storage in the ix4 is not enough, you can attach external USB drives to the back or front of the unit. Once you connect the USB drive, you can monitor hard drive consumption through the External Storage screen displayed on the LCD changes.
The StorCenter ix4 has many more networking features than the consumer Iomega Home Media Network Hard Drive or the new Iomega ix2-200. For the SMB, it is far more capable. In a mixed environment, for instance, you can enable Apple’s AFP file protocol, Windows CIFS and the Linux NFS file service. These protocols allow your Apple, Windows and Linux computers to access the files on the NAS. The ix4 can also hook up to video surveillance cameras, Bluetooth devices and printers, and make them accessible to users.
Iomega is partnering with TZO to provide Web access with dynamic DNS. This means you can access the StorCenter ix4 through the Web using a registered domain name with TZO. The TZO plan is free for the first 12 months. TZO charges $9.95 per year beginning the second year of service. With TZO, you get Web access to your files and the management pages. You can also extend some of the internal networking services to the Web by opening ports on the router that enable a built-in FTP server, video playback of media files, and email notification. While UPnP on the router resolves a lot of the external connection issues, I find that it doesn’t always work perfectly with some routers. For some of my reviews, I had to change routers to make UPnP enabled appliances work. It’s always a good idea to test your external services by accessing them through the WAN IP or domain name.
After testing the Iomega Home Media Network Hard Drive, I went on and tested the StorCenter ix4. After switching between the two, I encountered a networking problem that prevented me from using UNC paths for shared folders on the Vista laptop I used for testing. I was stuck for a while because I could not access the shared folders on the ix4. I was left with two options: reinstall Vista or use another computer. I consulted with Iomega’s tech support, but we could not resolve the problem. Iomega said that it is unlikely that customers who bought Home Media Network Hard Drive will upgrade to the StorCenter ix4, since it is targeted at a different market. I recommend not using both products at once, and if you are upgrading from the Home Media Drive, test the shared folders without security on the ix4 right away. If you can’t access them, your best option is to reinstall the client OS on your computer. Though this sounds radical, it’s the easiest way to gain network access to the ix4.
Like Western Digital ShareSpace and the LG N4B1 I used a 1.05TB file to measure the performance of the StorCenter ix4 over Ethernet using only one port. The ix4 performed as well as the Home Media Drive, downloading at an average speed of 9.8 Megabytes per second (MBps). However, ShareSpace beats it with a score of 11.2 MBps.
The ix4 is small, very quiet, and has more features than the group of NAS devices I tested in the last NAS roundup. The Acer Aspire easyStore H340, for example, has a single network port, so you cannot separate traffic between backup jobs and regular access to network folders. The only setback I encountered when first testing the StorCenter ix4-220d NAS Server was due to Home Media Network Drive. In all, I found the ix4 a far superior NAS device but not quiet as simple to use as our Editor’s Choice the Western Digital ShareSpace. ShareSpace is more of an all purpose Swiss army NAS and fits comfortably in your home or small business. Nonetheless, I recommend the ix4 to small businesses that need an entry NAS server.