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Qnap TS-963X Review

As a member of Qnap’s new ‘X’ designated NAS appliances, the TS-963X brings NBase-T technology to SMBs. Its 10GBase-T port supports multi-Gigabit speeds of 5GbE, 2.5GbE, 1GbE and 100Mbits/sec allowing businesses to step up from Gigabit speeds and save hard cash by utilizing their existing Cat5e/Cat6 wiring infrastructure.

NBase-T support comes courtesy of the appliance’s embedded Aquantia AQtion AQC107 Ethernet controller chip. This is the same as used by Qnap’s latest QXG-10G1T PCI-Express adapter cards so combining these allows you to extend 5GBase-T speeds to your servers and workstations over standard Cat5e cabling.

The TS-963X presents an interesting storage proposal as it offers five LFF and four SFF hot-swap drive bays at the front. The SFF bays allow the appliance to provide a high performance SSD caching facility and also support Qnap’s QTier feature which manages two storage tiers, monitors storage pool activity and migrates data blocks across them based on usage.

Hardware and deployment

The appliance is driven by a 2GHz quad-core AMD G-Series GX-420MC SoC (system on chip). Models with 2GB and 8GB of DDR3L memory are available and both can be easily upgraded to a maximum of 16GB using a pair of 8GB SO-DIMM modules.

The TS-963X isn’t aimed at multimedia services as the AMD SoC doesn’t have any embedded graphics. Audio is provided by a small internal speaker which the appliance uses to announce various activities such as system reboots, drives being added and firmware upgrades.

The 10GBase-T port is partnered by a standard Gigabit port and you also get dual USB 3 and USB 2 ports. The USB 3 ports can be used to expand capacity with one of Qnap’s UX-500P or UX-800P desktop enclosures.

Deployment is swift as Qnap’s QFinder Pro Windows app located the appliance on our network and provided a wizard-based installation routine which downloaded and applied the latest QTS 4.3.4 software. We loaded up four 10TB Seagate IronWolf drives and allowed the wizard to create a big 27.3TB RAID5 array from them.

Average 10GbE performance

For performance testing, we used a Lenovo dual Xeon E5-2600 v4 server equipped with an Emulex 10GBase-T card and running Windows Server 2016. With a share mapped directly to the server over the appliance’s 10GbE port, we watched Iometer report modest sequential read and write speeds of 6.1Gbits/sec and 4.1Gbits/sec.

Real world performance was also lower with copies of a 25GB test file delivering average read and write rates of 4.2Gbits/sec and 2.6Gbits/sec. Likewise for our backup test, with a 22.4GB folder and 10,500 small files copied to the appliance at only 1.45Gbits/sec.

Encryption performance wasn’t great either. Copying our 25GB test file to a share on an encrypted volume averaged only 1.1Gbits/sec although CPU utilisation didn’t go above 28 per cent.

IP SANS are simple to create and we found they delivered similar performance to NAS shares. With the server connected to a 500GB iSCSI target, we saw Iometer return average read and write rates of 5.7Gbits/sec and 4.1Gbits/sec.

Performance boosts

The SSD cache acceleration feature can have a big impact on write performance

Previously, Qnap’s QTier feature could only be configured during storage pool creation but we found it can now be added to existing storage pools on-demand. To test this, we installed a pair of 1TB MLC SSDs and used the QTier wizard to upgrade our current storage pool.

The process is very simple as the wizard automatically created a mirror from our SSDs and upgraded the storage pool in under 10 minutes. You have two options for data migration where you can apply a schedule or run it on demand and in both cases you can view a statistics page to see where your data is being moved.

A simpler option is to create a standard SSD cache and assign it to selected volumes and iSCSI targets. We tested this by creating a read/write cache using two 1TB SSDs and assigned it to our main NAS data volume.

The QTier wizard can add an SSD tier to an existing storage pool on demand

We then reran Iometer on our NAS share and saw a noticeable performance improvement. Read speeds increased slightly to 6.3Gbits/sec whereas write rates ramped up by over 20 per cent to 5Gbits/sec.

Backup apps and more

The QTier wizard can add an SSD tier to an existing storage pool on demand

The QTS software offers superb range of data protection tools with the Hybrid Backup Sync app providing a central console for managing all your local, remote, Rsync and iSCSI LUN backups. Loading the Cloud Backup Sync app adds cloud support to this app allowing us to schedule and manage backups to Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Storage.

Snapshot support doesn’t get any better either as QTS supports EXT4 volumes so there’s no need to use BTRFS. Managed from the Storage and Snapshots app, you can run snapshots on demand or schedule them to run as often as every 5 minutes and even use the File Station 5 app to browse NAS snapshots and recover individual files.

Private backup clouds are easy to create using the Qsync Central app. With the Qsync Windows app loaded on our Windows 10 PCs, we could run real-time file syncing jobs between selected pairs of folders.

Virtualization options are great too, with the Linux Station allowing the TS-963X to run Ubuntu alongside QTS. The Container Station runs a wealth of LXC and Docker apps in lightweight containers while the slick Virtualization Station 3 allows the appliance to host VMs running virtually any OS you want.

Conclusion

There’s no denying the TS-963X offers a great range of standout features including support for multi-Gigabit speeds and a versatile mix of LFF and SSF drive bays. If you want the best 10GbE performance, we suggest looking at Qnap’s higher-end desktop appliances but the TS-963X has sufficient power to provide good speeds over NBase-T links up to 5GbE while the latest QTS software offers a superb range of features.

8.5 Total Score

There’s no denying the TS-963X offers a great range of standout features including support for multi-Gigabit speeds and a versatile mix of LFF and SSF drive bays. If you want the best 10GbE performance, we suggest looking at Qnap’s higher-end desktop appliances but the TS-963X has sufficient power to provide good speeds over NBase-T links up to 5GbE while the latest QTS software offers a superb range of features.

Performance
6.5
Features
8
Build quality
8.5
Usability
8
Value
8.5
PROS
  • Multi-Gigabit network port
  • Good price
  • Excellent data protection features
  • EXT4 snapshot support
  • Mix of LFF and SFF bays
CONS
  • Underwhelming 10GbE performance
User Rating: 5 (2 votes)

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