Why You Shouldn’t Buy a NAS like Drobo, Synology, Buffalo, Netgear, QNap

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If you are planning to use your NAS device for Hyper-V or for backups, please read this article first before diving into further details.

At BackupChain we have put together this article to describe some of the shortcomings of specific Network Attached Storage devices, such as:

Drobo, Buffalo, Synology, Netgear, QNap, IOmega, IOSafe, Diskstation, ReadyNAS, let’s collectively call them L-NAS,

in an attempt to help our customers make the right choice when buying a NAS device for backup purposes.

We have thousands of customers using the above NAS devices with our server backup software, and there are times when users purchase an underpowered NAS device without being aware of it.

 

While L-NAS devices are great for many implementations, the interplay between Windows and L-NAS and specifically their different file systems impose limitations that are important to know when planning to use a NAS device for backup purposes.

Unfortunately NAS devices don’t provide “plug-and-play” storage functionality because different operating systems are being used and they are only partially compatible with Windows.

In addition, L-NAS devices suffer from various reliability issues (listed below) that make them unsuitable for large file and folder structures and large file backups. If you plan to back up a heavy-weight Windows file server or Hyper-V virtual machines to a NAS backup device, it’s best to opt for a device that offers 100% NTFS compatibility.

 

L-NAS devices appear to have several things in common:

  • They usually don’t use NTFS internally. When you move data from NTFS to a another file system there is a potential for issues to arise.
  • Because they are based on another OS instead of Windows, there are different OS limitations on each side one needs to deal with.
  • They are proprietary devices. The limitations and issues found in one manufacturer’s device may not necessarily be a OS issue but rather an implementation specific issue within the device.
  • There are many different OS variants and hence there is a lack of standardization to be expected. Ie., each device may suffer from a subset of the issues presented below.
  • L-NAS are at times buggy and pose a security risk; however, a Windows NAS, especially one that isn’t properly updated via Windows Update, may also be buggy and pose a security risk.
  • Their FTP servers are partially incompatible with standard FTP protocols
  • Several L-NAS types appear to fail under high load. This has been confirmed by our customers contacting their NAS technical support. We don’t want to mention the brand name here but from our customers’ experience we know most L-NAS use similar embedded OS code, so many NAS boxes suffer from the same or similar issues.
  • Network links break randomly under high load during transmission
  • DNS issues: It happens under high load and long simultaneous transfers that NAS boxes become inaccessible via their DNS or network name
  • Some NAS boxes power off and go into a standby but don’t power back on properly and thereby break idle network connections

 

When and Why are L-NAS Devices a Problem?

L-NAS isn’t an issue per se, but when you primarily use Windows PCs to create and use your files, you will, sooner or later, run into issues with L-NAS devices when copying those files over.

Here are some issues with L-NAS devices:

  • Serious network connectivity / stability issues (for example, search for “The specified network name is no longer available” diskstation)
  • File size limitations are different from NTFS, commonly used in Windows
  • File name lengths are limited differently. NTFS allows names to reach over 32,000 characters, while many other file systems do not.
  • Total file name lengths are limited in some L-NAS
  • File security settings don’t translate as-is to L-NAS
  • NTFS is much more stable and sophisticated when compared to L-NAS file systems commonly used in low-cost L-NAS devices
  • File and network operations (such as protocols to connect to Windows) are buggy in some NAS devices
  • Almost all FTP servers integrated in NAS devices are not entirely FTP standards compliant
  • Issues and bugs with Unicode
  • File names may allow different sets of characters on each system; thus, creating an incompatibility
  • File and folder names starting with a dot (.), containing special characters, or exceeding certain lengths, aren’t handled correctly on some devices; sometimes this issue only surfaces in connections made via FTP.

The above shortcomings cause errors to occur when you access or copy files into the NAS device. If you only have a couple of folders with MP3 this isn’t an issue.

Using a L-NAS device may be problematic if you primarily use Windows PCs and plan to use a NAS for business or as an office file server, or for remote backups.

How Do The Issues Manifest Themselves

Copy errors occur, especially when very large files are copied:

“access denied” (in the middle of a long file copy, not at the onset)

“device not ready” and,

“The specified network name is no longer available” (during long copies, sometimes only when large files are copied simultaneously from several nodes)

“Error[206]: The filename or extension is too long.”

“Error[3]: The system cannot find the path specified.” (hours into the copy process)

FTP: various “error 550″ and other FTP error messages when long path names or unsupported characters are encountered
such as ” 550 SIZE not allowed in ASCII mode”

QNap RTRR:  “# WARNING: Skip the XXXXXX file/directory which has an unsupported filename! (begins/ends with a ‘.’ character)”

Files sporadically have no creation date and/or last modified date time stamp.

How to Cut off Access to Important Data on a L-NAS:
Another issue that breaks all access from Windows is simple to set up: Simply add a space after a folder name, such as “\\nas\veryimportantdocs “.
Note that Windows won’t allow you to create such folders. What’s worse, it won’t let you access it either. So if someone did this accidently on a root folder where very important company data is stored, it would effectively cut off access for everyone in the company!

 

What Other Options are there?

If your office or home network is based on Windows PCs, buy a NAS that uses Windows internally, such as Windows Storage Server.

Alternatively you could set up your own DIY network attached storage server based on a NTFS capable device

Why use Windows?

  • 100% compatibility between Windows PCs, Windows Servers and your NAS device
  • 100% compatibility when dealing with files, since Windows NAS devices use NTFS, so all settings are the same, security is handled the same way, file names and lengths have identical limits
  • 100% unicode compliant
  • Extensibility: you could run regular Windows applications on your NAS server; and scripts, and whatever else you may need, such as NAS backup software.
  • The smallest risk for serious bugs
  • Windows Update takes care of vulnerabilities, whereas L-NAS may pose a security risk in the long-term if not properly updated and maintained by their vendor.

 

Conclusion

When you buy a low-cost NAS, chances are the vendors try to save money by using their own variant of an embedded OS instead of Windows. For most Windows-based shops, the reality is a Windows NAS is still the better choice when businesses use Windows as their primary operating system.

The main advantage of using a Windows-based NAS is it will save you headaches, especially when you use the NAS storage as a file server or backup server in your office.

Assuming that you primarily work with Windows then an old PC with a couple of hardware upgrades would likely do a better job than the average low-end L-NAS device on the market as long as it is a Windows machine. Note that Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 and later offer Storage Spaces (see https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh831739.aspx)  features that are competing with features found in NAS devices.

If you don’t have the time or skills to set up your own backup file server, consider paying the higher price for a Windows-based NAS or a Windows-based file server: it’s likely worth it and will save you a lot of time in the long-term.

 

Automate and Fine-Tune Your NAS Backups

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As a backup software for Windows, BackupChain handles NAS backup and local backups with ease. You can backup large files using deduplication and save a large percentage of your storage space, whether it is local disk, NAS, or cloud storage.
BackupChain uses a version backup mechanism that also works with deduplication, making it an ideal cloud backup software and Windows Server 2012 backup as well.
Those users who need to protect their virtual servers will be pleased to know that BackupChain can backup a VM without shutting down the virtual machine. Moreover, several virtualization platforms are supported for VM backup: you can backup VMware Workstation, backup VirtualBox or use BackupChain for Hyper V backup.
Furthermore, large file backup and backup over FTP make BackupChain a versatile backup tool, and in connection with BackupChain’s built-in FTP Server and DriveMaker, which allows you to map FTP site as drive, you can set up your own online backup server, too.
If you are looking for a backup software for Exchange or you need to backup SQL Server, BackupChain can protect those as well using the features listed above.
In addition to BackupChain and DriveMaker, you will also find a collection of free software for Windows on our website that are valuable for IT administrators who work on Windows Server environments.