Thecus W4000 Review

Thecus W4000Thecus has decided the time is right to diversify and signals its intentions by branching out into Windows-powered storage appliance territory. The W4000 represents the middle ground in a family of three new SMB appliances which make their mark by being the world’s first to showcase Microsoft’s latest Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials (WSSE).

A close competitor is WD’s Sentinel DX4200 but this runs Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Workgroup so there a number of significant differences. The most important is the W4000 functions as a full-blown Active Directory domain controller whereas the DX4200 can only join a domain.

Both OSes support up to 50 users/devices but the W4000 scores higher as it has Microsoft’s global deduplication feature enabled. Neither support the Hyper-V role but the modest 2GB of memory in the W4000 makes this unrealistic anyway.

What’s the difference between Windows Server and Windows Storage Server? You can buy the former and install it wherever you want whereas the latter is licensed only to OEMs to put on their own storage appliances.

What’s in the box?

W4000 RearThe W4000 teams up its meagre 2GB of memory with a 2.13GHz Atom D2701 and uses the same compact 4-bay chassis as Thecus’ N4800 Eco. Port options extend to dual Gigabit and USB2 plus an eSATA port at the back and two USB3 at the front.

A smart move is putting the OS on an internal 60GB Kingston SSD – you can’t add a second for mirrored redundancy but it does speed up boot times significantly. The W4000 is available diskless so for general storage, you can add whatever SATA drives you want or buy it prepopulated.

Installation starts with a local monitor, keyboard and mouse. You run through a wizard that asks for details such as the product key, domain name plus details of an administrative account and then sets up all services and Windows updates for you.

Most of the action takes place in the Essentials Dashboard which provides more wizards covering basic tasks such as configuring Anywhere Access, creating users and sharing folders. Client backups are configured from here and Microsoft has an Add-In package that links up with Azure cloud storage accounts.

Storage choices

W4000 Essentials Dashboard

The Essentials Dashboard provides a heap of wizards for configuring users, storage, backup and remote access

We loaded up a quartet of 4TB WD Red SATA drives and used the Dashboard wizard to create a Storage Space. These make the W4000 very versatile as they allow hard disks of different sizes and makes to be combined in a single pool which can be expanded into extra hard disks on the fly.

The wizard created a single storage pool from all our drives and added one thinly provisioned virtual disk in it with mirrored resiliency. Those familiar with the standard Server Manager interface can side-step this process and manually create their own Storage Pools with multiple virtual volumes and different levels of resiliency if they wish.

Shared folders are created using a wizard and we could decide which of our users had read or read/write access. Once they’ve been created we could also set quota levels on each one so we’d get a warning when folder sizes exceeded the value we entered.

The W4000 supports IP SANs but you can’t use the Essentials Dashboard to create these. We used the standard Server Manager console to install the iSCSI Target Server Role and then created our iSCSI targets.

Backup and recovery

Thecus W4000 Launchpad App

Clients get the Launchpad app for quick access to key features while Anywhere Access provides them with a handy web browser portal

On each client system we downloaded the Connector and Launchpad software by pointing a web browser at the appliance and following the instructions. WSSE scores well for its PC backup and recovery tools and after receiving the Connector, each one popped up in the Dashboard ready for configuration.

You can create backups for selected files and folders or complete systems and decide how long to keep daily, weekly and monthly backups. WSSE uses a daily backup window for all clients and employs VSS snapshots and block level deduplication.

However, before starting any backups we needed to change the backup folder destination. The ‘Client Computer Backups’ folder resides by default on the appliance’s SSD which is far too small. It’s easy enough to move the folder which we selected from the Dashboard and shifted over to our main Storage Pool.

Bare metal recovery is easy to use as you pop a USB stick in the appliance which converts it to a bootable WSSE Full System Restore disk. After booting your sick system, it’ll load the Windows Full System Restore wizard to reinstate it from the latest backup on the server.

Performance

Thecus W4000 Dashboard Devices

Client backup is configured from the Dashboard Devices pane and can be set to run automatically

If you stick with the default mirrored virtual drive then network performance will be fine. We ran copies of a 50GB file from and to a share mapped on the W4000 and watched them deliver sustained read and write speeds of 112MB/sec and 98MB/sec.

If you decide to go off-piste and create your own virtual drives be aware that parity resilient volumes will hit write speeds hard. We manually created one and watched write speeds for our copy tumble to less than 40MB/sec.

Using the Dashboard’s backup service, we secured 94GB on a Windows 8.1 PC in around two hours and watched deduplication reduce server storage to 51GB. For file and folder restoration, we selected a client from the Dashboard, chose a backup job, picked what we wanted restored and decided where to send it.

PROS:
  • OS loaded on SSD
  • Active Directory domain controller
  • Good client backup features
  • Bare metal client restore

CONS:
  • 2GB memory is not enough
  • Steer clear of parity volumes

Conclusion

Thecus W4000The W4000 packs a lot into its compact dimensions and at $450 for diskless unit, is reasonably good value. Our main complaint is the 2GB of memory is woefully inadequate for running the Windows OS with memory usage rarely less than 1.6GB. That said, the W4000 does offer small businesses a lot of useful features including Windows AD domain controller services, and it provides good automated client backup and bare metal restore capabilities.

8 Total Score
Chock Full of Features

The W4000 packs a lot into its compact dimensions and at $450 for diskless unit, is reasonably good value. Our main complaint is the 2GB of memory is woefully inadequate for running the Windows OS with memory usage rarely less than 1.6GB. That said, the W4000 does offer small businesses a lot of useful features including Windows AD domain controller services, and it provides good automated client backup and bare metal restore capabilities.

Performance
7
Features
7
Build Quality
7
Usability
6
Value
8
User Rating: 4.7 (1 votes)