Thecus is clearly committed to its Windows-powered NAS appliances as the latest W4810 brings its SMB family to six models. This 4-bay appliance comes pre-loaded with Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials (WSSE R2) and targets small businesses that want an all-in-one server that’s big on data protection.
It remedies the shortcomings of the older W4000 model which struggled with an underpowered Atom CPU and meagre 2GB of memory. The W4810 has a superior quad-core 1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3160 CPU and a decent 4GB of DDR3 memory.
Unlike the Workgroup and Standard versions, Essentials functions as a full Active Directory (AD) primary domain controller (PDC). Licensed for 50 users/devices, it teams up NAS and IP SAN services with Microsoft’s Storage Spaces, thin provisioning, integral deduplication and automated client backup.
Some businesses may be tempted to wait for Windows Server 2016 with the Essentials version also providing full PDC services. However, whereas WSSE R2 is only available through OEMs, 2016 Essentials costs $501 to purchase separately so may incur a price premium. Windows Storage Server 2016 is available to OEMs but the Workgroup and Standard versions don’t support the PDC role.
Hardware and installation
The Windows OS is loaded on a fast-booting internal 60GB SATA SSD leaving the four front hot-swap bays available for general storage duties. To avoid any issues, we recommend getting the system set up first before adding your own hard disks.
This is a simple process where we chose a language, entered the product key on the label on the side of the appliance and secured administrative access. After a reboot, it fires up a wizard where we provided names for our company, domain and server.
Make sure you get this right first time as you can’t easily change these details later on. The wizard then prepares the server with the final phase only taking around 15 minutes.
Storage and dashboards
For testing, we opted to fit three of Seagate’s latest 10TB IronWolf NAS hard disks. They are a tight fit in the tool-free carriers but were accepted by the appliance without any problems.
From the Essentials Dashboard, we created a single Storage Space which combined the drives into a single pool which we could expand on the fly into spare ones. Further storage configuration requires a trip to the Server Manager console where we created virtual disks (VDs) within our pool.
During VD creation we could select mirrored or parity resiliency where the latter is software managed RAID5. A wizard then took us to volume creation and allowed us to enable and schedule global deduplication.
Connect and protect
Windows clients join the domain by downloading the Connector and Launchpad software from the appliance via a web browser. We had no problems installing the software on our Windows 10 clients and after receiving the software, each one popped up in the Dashboard ready for configuration.
The W4810 has a sharp focus on backup and recovery. You can create jobs for selected files and folders or complete systems and decide how long to keep daily, weekly and monthly backups.
WSSE R2 uses a daily backup window for all jobs and once a full backup is completed, subsequent ones are much faster as it uses VSS snapshots and block level deduplication. You can also create a separate backup job to protect the server itself which, quite sensibly, will only allow you to use external storage media.
Before starting client backups you should move all the predefined server folders off the SSD and on to your main storage. It’s easy enough to do from the Dashboard where a wizard helped us select each folder and move them to the storage space on our high-capacity Seagate drives.
Performance and restores
General NAS performance is superior to the W4000 but you still need to choose your resiliency levels carefully as parity VDs deliver poor write speeds. We mapped a share on a parity volume to a Lenovo System x3550 M5 Windows server and saw copies of a 25GB test file deliver average read and write speeds of 108MB/sec and 62MB/sec.
We also found backup performance will be compromised by parity VDs. Securing our 22.4GB test folder and its 10,500 small files to a parity volume averaged only 53MB/sec.
Mirrored VDs are a better bet and we saw our 25GB file copy return much faster read and write speeds of 112MB/sec and 110MB/sec. General backup performance also gets a boost with our 22.4GB test folder now secured to a share at 68MB/sec.
Along with simple client file and folder restores, WSSE R2 also offers full bare metal recovery services. From the Dashboard you can create a bootable WSSE Full System Restore USB stick but we opted to restore a sick Windows 10 client using the appliance’s WinPE network recovery services.
There’s no need to download the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (WADK) for Windows 10 as the Windows 8.1 version on the appliance worked fine. After connecting to the appliance, we browsed our backups, chose the latest one and had our Windows 10 client back in action in less than 30 minutes.
For an appliance that functions as a full AD domain controller, the W4810 is reasonably priced. It’s easy enough to use as with Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials at the helm, anyone familiar with Microsoft’s standard server OSes will feel right at home.
Performance is a mixed bag and will depend on the type of virtual disks you choose. However, the automated client backup features and slick bare metal recovery services makes the W4810 a great choice if data protection is a top priority.
For an appliance that functions as a full AD domain controller, the W4810 is reasonably priced. It’s easy enough to use as with Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials at the helm, anyone familiar with Microsoft’s standard server OSes will feel right at home. Performance is a mixed bag and will depend on the type of virtual disks you choose. However, the automated client backup features and slick bare metal recovery services makes the W4810 a great choice if data protection is a top priority.
- Good value
- Functiond as a full Windows AD PDC
- Automated client backup tools
- Slick bare metal recovery services
- Performane is a mixed bag
- Dashboard cant be used for many storage tasks