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iSCSI

There has been increasing interest in iSCSI lately. So, given the target market for the N7700, I thought it would be good to do some performance testing. The last time I tested iSCSI, I primarily used iozone. But, upon reflection, I don't think iozone is a good tool to use with iSCSI, since it mainly shows cached performance.

Instead, I used the Vista SP1 file copy test that has become part of the new NAS benchmarks. I also decided to run HDTune Pro, which I have started to use for attached-drive testing.

I set up a four-drive RAID 5 array on the N7700 and allocated 13.9 GB of it as an iSCSI target. I then configured the Windows iSCSI initiator on the NAS Testbed machine to connect to the N7700 and ran my standard Vista SP1 filecopy test (described previously for the backup test). Both machines connected via Gigabit Ethernet with no jumbo frames used. I measured 93.8 MB/s for write and 86.7 MB/s for read.

HD Tune Pro read benchmark plot in Figure 17 represents read speed in MBytes per second, plotted across all sectors of the array. The average read speed of 58.3 MB/s is significantly slower than the Vista SP1 filecopy test result.

HD Tune Pro Benchmark Read Test

Figure 17: HD Tune Pro Benchmark Read Test

The File Benchmark test in Figure 18 writes and reads a test file of selectable size (I used the maximum 512 MB) using block sizes ranging from 0.5 KB to 8192 KB (x-axis). If we concentrate on the typically-used 64 KB block size, we can eyeball around 80 MB/s for write and 60 MB/s for read.

HD Tune Pro File Benchmark Read Write Test

Figure 18: HD Tune Pro File Benchmark Read Write Test

Like any benchmarks, these shouldn't be taken as gospel in an absolute sense. But now that I have the procedure under my belt, I'll be running iSCSI measurements more often so that we can do relative comparisons, which are the most useful.

Closing Thoughts

Thecus has always had its primary focus on performance, with not as much attention paid to ease of use, documentation, user interface and support. While that approach may have served it well in the past (the N5200 sat at the top of the RAID 5 NAS charts for almost two years), I don't think it is going to yield the same results going forward.

Simply put, the competition has woken up to the opportunies for high-performance NASes and has responded with a vengence. And with a more recognizable name like NETGEAR in the game with a very competitive offering, Thecus is going to have to really step up its game.

These days, it seems like each new-generation NAS that I test ends up changing the rankings at the top of the NAS Charts. But just as significantly, the rankings change from chart to chart, with it becoming increasingly rare that a product sits at the top of every benchmark chart.

So while there will always be the performance fanboys who worry over every MB/s, and choose products solely on performance, there are more buyers who are looking at the larger picture. This is especially true for the business buyer that Thecus is going after with the N7700.

One thing Thecus definitely has going in its favor in the battle against high-performance competition is its price. Although I'm not sure the seventh drive bay provides that much of an edge, the N7700's $900 price vs. $1100 for the QNAP TS-639 Pro and $1200 for the BYOD ReadyNAS Pro Pioneer may appeal to businesses who are trying to stretch their dollars as much as possible in these tough times.

In the end, the N7700 continues the Thecus legacy: performance and features that will bring a smile to your face, with a user interface that only a techie can love. A winning combination in the past, perhaps. But is it a formula for future success?

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