Thecus N8800PRO 8-Bay NAS – Long Term Labs

Thecus has taken a lot of flak lately on various bulletin boards about its support and reliability of the Thecus NAS appliances.

We decided to put its various 8-bay rack-mounted NAS servers through our long term labs commencing with the N8800PRO ver. 2, and then follow up with the N8900 and N8810G. Reporting on the N8800PRO may seem superfluous to some as it’s now End of Life. However, there are many N8800PRO users still out there who may find this article useful in some way or the other.

The N8800PRO has been with us for over a period of six months, installed predominantly for storing and controlling data from Oracle ERP with data in excess of just over 24TB.

0-3 months

Installation and connectivity to our network for the Thecus was not difficult at all. AD connectivity was somewhat unconventional and could pose an issue or two for an end user lacking expertise in this area, as it did for one of our trainee personnel here. He swiftly overcame this and we were on our way.

n8800pro-ramForty days in we decided we wanted to install more memory. We called Thecus and requested compatibility and they recommended us not to upgrade from the current 4GB, but we opted not to heed their advice and carry out the actions of a typical end user. Well, it was not difficult, as trolling through the various bulletin boards we found compatible memory that the masses were using to upgrade their N8800pro. Our experience was not pleasant as we called a few resellers who confirmed we could upgrade and also gave us a Kingston part number that was deemed OK. Just to recap we had 4GB DDR2 SDRAM already installed and we decided to add another 4GB DDR2 SDRAM making it a total of 8GB. One of the main reasons for the memory upgrade was to try and increase performance as we were transferring >100TB of data per month, and our performance had dropped to around 45MB/s on average, just under half of the recommended performance. The 8GB installed fine and even yielded a performance increase to around 79MB/s sustained, still short of the expected published performance. Apart from the performance, we began getting data integrity problems in the form of lost files, as well as intermittent reboots for no reason at all. We had a pretty good hunch what was causing this, but resorted to get help from Thecus as part of our long term testing. Support is an area of user concern so we contact manufacturers to establish quality of service. We logged our issue with support and received back an email confirmation with a ticket number as a reference. 24hrs later we had a response requesting log files and we obliged. They came back and asked if we had upgraded memory, and we had to admit we had. This was done by design to see if they were able to diagnose added memory, and they were. We were told to remove the additional memory as it was not officially supported. We did ask why there were slots provided if extra memory was not supported. The response was lackluster and one designed to evade a response. Upon removing the memory we had our Thecus up and running, working as before with no issues… The important message to take away from this incident is not to follow folks who do upgrades to NAS servers that are not supported by the manufacturer, a blind leading the blind scenario. We only dealt with memory upgrades but there are those out there that are upgrading their Intel CPU’s in Thecus 4-8 bay NAS servers, as Thecus has designed motherboards close to PC’s to ensure compatibility and conformity. Clearly these upgrades are not supported by the manufacturers and you run the risk of voiding warranty and data integrity.

Albeit this is a NAS and not a PC with Windows, huge difference. Windows is an operating system whilst Thecus firmware is specific and not one that will cover all the angles that Windows can or needs to. Bottom Line – Do not upgrade if the manufacturer does not support it.

3-6 months

n8800pro-diagramAll is good, but still struggling with the performance when in reality we would consider retiring this NAS server to secondary usage and maybe buy a higher performance server like the N8900 or even move up to a N12000PRO, which is Xeon based. Another possible option would be to move up to the 10GbE platform then we can always insert the 10GbE card that is supported. However, the secondary option seems better to move up to another Thecus with 10GbE then providing us with a solid strategy going forward.

In this period we had a precarious HDD problem that needed attention. Bad Sectors – a perilous problem in RAID based systems especially if you are running RAID 5 or anything RAID that only allows one drive failure. Fortunately for us we are well connected and were able to get a new drive the next day from one of our vendors.

Performing warranty for the Western Digital WD4000FYYZ Enterprise drive is an easy task all carried out online. Having checked the validity of the drive (4 years and 5 months) we were able to get a returns number for dispatching the drive. It was somewhat disheartening to learn an enterprise drive failed after only 4 months of use, but then after all these drives have platters that spin and faults are inevitable sooner or later. Replacing a faulty drive in the N8800PRO is best done as a hot swap. Do not turn off the systems as you will confuse it. This will enable error correcting which will take time to complete as the system tries to recover the faulty drive, to no avail. Once you hot-swap with the new drive navigate to the drives section, to accept the drive and migrate, then let it complete its operation, you can of course continue working but this will hamper performance whilst the drive is being rebuilt.

n8800pro-hddThe new drive rebuild took approximately eight hours for a 4TB capacity and was undertaken after 6pm allowing us to waste no time as it was ready when we returned in the morning. Fourteen days later we received the replacement and it was a refurbished model. An enterprise drive, less than a year old replaced by a refurb, WD distinctly shows lack of customer value for those buying enterprise drives. We decided to call WD and air our concern; unfortunately our comments seemed to have fallen on deaf ears as we were dealt with a mediocre response when we called to share our disappointment. Very much “thank you very much, next…”

Rest of our remaining period passed without any undue issues as the Thecus N8800PRO continued to work flawlessly, and no more drive issues either.

6-Months completed.

Observations:

Load Balancing Data – If you are planning to transfer >300TB per annum, than you may want to look at the next level 8-bay NAS like the N8900 that has a better performance ratio. 10GbE is a great option, only if supported by a 10GbE infrastructure.

Dependency – The Thecus N8800PRO showed an above average reliability pattern – needless to say we were able to collect data over and above our Long term labs. As noted on public forums the Power Supply units in the N8800PRO suffered reliability issues. When Thecus applied a change on the bill of materials the issues were resolved within a 2 month window. This was an isolated incidence.

Closing Comments – Thecus N8800PRO seems an ideal fit as a primary SMB NAS server and will co-exist as a departmental storage server in an enterprise environment, with the caveat of load balancing being equal. The User Interface is somewhat raw and not exactly designed for the novice user. Whilst the features are all there and aptly sufficient, it’s really aimed at the serious business market and for technical folks to tinker with as it allows alternating methods in performing various tasks. These choices may not be suitable for inexperienced network professionals. Support is good but not stellar, but then when you compare the price you pay for the N8800PRO it is hardly surprising that support is not on the same level as, maybe, a unit costing in excess of $20k. The price point is excellent for an 8-bay system below $1,300.00 is well worth its weight in gold.