QNAP TS-EC1280U-RP NAS Review

QNAP TS-EC1280U-RP Front View

The TS-EC1280U-RP is the latest to join QNAP’s burgeoning family of enterprise storage appliances and has a sharp focus on performance and expandability. This 12-bay 2U rack system has plenty of power to hand with a speedy 3.4GHz Xeon E3-1245 v3 CPU teamed up with 4GB of DDR3 memory that can be pushed to 32GB.

It’s 10GbE-ready as the dual PCI-Express slots support QNAP’s own cards plus industry standard adapters from Intel and Emulex. They also accept QNAP’s SAS-6G2E-U dual-port 6Gbps SAS card allowing extra disk shelves to be daisy-chained.

Costing around $430, the SAS card supports up to eight 16-bay REXP-1600U-RP or 12-bay REXP-1200U-RP expansion enclosures. Using the former lets you can push capacity to a whopping 700TB using 5TB hard disks and hot-plug support means you can add extra shelves whenever you want.

Hardware changes

A new feature is the motherboard resides on a slide-out tray. No more fiddling with screws to upgrade memory or add adapter cards as the tray is held in with two thumbscrews and easy to remove.

The ‘RP’ in the model name indicates the appliance has dual hot-plug PSUs. However, we found their cooling fans incredibly noisy making the TS-EC1280U-RP a candidate for a soundproofed cabinet or server room.

QNAP TS-EC1280U-RP Rear View

You can ignore the BBU slot at the back as a battery backup unit isn’t currently available. Soon to be renamed C2F (cache-2-flash), the motherboard has connections for the battery but it will only be supported in QTS 4.2 which won’t be released until next year.

Quick installation

qnap-ts-ec1280u-rp-installation

The QTS web interface is very user friendly and provides easy access to a multitude of storage features.

QNAP’s business appliances don’t support its quick start web portal but the standard Finder utility worked for us. Its wizard downloaded the latest QTS 4.1.1 firmware and configured our quartet of 4TB WD Enterprise SATA drives as a RAID5 storage pool.

The array took seven hours to synchronize but all services were available during this phase – albeit with reduced performance. We liked the smart QTS web interface and used its Storage Manager tool to manage all our drives, pools, volumes and IP SANs.

To provision NAS shares we created volumes within a storage pool which can be thinly provisioned to save space. During share creation, we could choose a volume, set access privileges and decide which users had read/write access.

IP SANs are just as easy to create but the QNAP TS-EC1280U-RP only allows you to create block-level iSCSI targets so the LUN backup and snapshot features are not currently available (these are only supported by the legacy image-based targets). We queried this with QNAP which advised us that LUN backup and snapshots for block-level IP SANs will be implemented in the QTS 4.1.2 update due out in December.

Cache clever

SSDs can be used a read caches but you’ll find the LUN Backup and snapshot features are missing from the Storage Manager.

SSDs can be used a read caches but you’ll find the LUN Backup and snapshot features are missing from the Storage Manager.

QNAP’s business appliances let you use SSDs in the main drive bays as read caches. This holds true with the TS-EC1280U-RP but if you’d prefer to keep the bays free for general storage duties, you can use dual internal mSATA modules instead.

The two mSATA ports are easily accessible on the motherboard and installation only took us around five minutes. If you want to use standard SSDs for read caching they are only supported in drive bays 1 thru 4 so bear this in mind before fitting your HDDs.

The cache is configured from the Storage Manager where we assigned mSATA modules to NAS shares and iSCSI targets. The monitoring graph shows how the cache hits are progressing and a bar chart to the right reveals the amount of SSD capacity being consumed.

Virtualization Station

qnap ts-ec1280u-rp virtualization station

QNAP’s Virtualisation Station is a really handy app that allowed us to create a VM for our Windows 10 Preview.

QNAP’s Virtualization Station app allows you to run virtual machines (VMs) loaded with OSes of your choice. We could create VMs using configuration templates or download predefined VMs from VMware and BitNami.

We had no problems booting a new VM from a Windows Server 2012 R2 ISO file stored on the appliance and had the new system up and running in under 30 minutes. We also tested using a Windows 10 Technical Preview and had its ISO loaded in around the same time.

We could remotely access our VMs directly from the app’s interface and control power. Snapshots can be taken on demand and used to roll back VMs making this app ideal for testing.

10GbE performance

For performance testing, we moved straight to 10GbE and fitted an Emulex OCE11102-NT dual-port 10GbaseT card in the appliance. For a host system we used a rack server with dual 14-core E5-2683 v3 Xeons, 64GB of DDR4, mirrored SSDs, dual embedded Intel 10GbE and running Windows Server 2012 R2.

Real world NAS speeds look good although they’re not as fast as Synology’s RS3614xs+. Drag and drop copies of a 50GB test file returned sustained read and write speeds of 360MB/sec and 346MB/sec. Results from our backup test were also slower as our 22.4GB folder and its 10,500 small files averaged 186MB/sec – the RS3614xs+ achieved 241MB/sec.

Cloud and backup apps

Google Drive support isn’t as slick as Synology’s as the app opens a separate browser window. It worked well enough with our account, though, as we created 2-way sync schedules with a folder on the appliance.

Cloud backup supports Amazon S3 and ElephantDrive and Qnap finally has an app in beta for Glacier. We testing this with our Glacier account and created scheduled backups of folders on the appliance to cloud storage.

Cloud apps are in abundance as QNAP also has ones for syncing with Dropbox and Microsoft Azure while Qsync syncs files on PCs and mobiles with the appliance. Mobile apps are on the menu as well and we used Qmanager on our iPad to monitor the appliance.

PROS:
  • Massive expansion potential
  • Removable system board tray
  • Cloud backup features
  • Virtualization Station

CONS:
  • Unacceptably noisy fans
  • BBU slot not supported
  • iSCSI snapshots missing

Summary

QNAP’s TS-EC1280U-RP scores well for its high capacity and extreme expansion potential. You’ll have to wait a while for features such as iSCSI snapshots and the BBU to become available but performance over 10GbE is good, cloud features are extensive and the Virtualization Station has QNAP standing out from the NAS crowd.

8 Total Score
Extreme Expanion and High Capacity

QNAP’s TS-EC1280U-RP scores well for its high capacity and extreme expansion potential. You’ll have to wait a while for features such as iSCSI snapshots and the BBU to become available but performance over 10GbE is good, cloud features are extensive and the Virtualization Station has QNAP standing out from the NAS crowd.

Performance
8
Features
8
Build Quality
7
Usability
9
Value
8
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