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NAS Reviews

N2
At a glance
ProductioSafe N2 (N22TB1YR)   [Website]
SummarySynology DS213 in fire and waterproof case with bundled backup recovery service
Pros• Fireproof and waterproof case
• Date recovery costs can be included in initial price
• Great Synology DSM
Cons• Expensive
• USB 3.0 backup performance same as USB 2.0

Typical Price: $651  Buy From Amazon

{mospagebreak toctitle=Introduction, Inside, Features}

Introduction

Updated 4/12/13: Corrected errors regarding data recovery and venting

We have a good backup strategy in our home and it has saved pictures, music and documents many times when drives have crashed without warning. One scenario that I often worry about, however, is fire. The discussion with my wife usually goes along the lines of "make sure the kids and pets are safely out of the house and if it's still safe to return, grab the white Synology box that sits in our network closet".

Needless to say, this isn't the greatest strategy. I've also explored sending all of our backups to the cloud. But the sheer size of pictures, videos, music and documents makes that not so appealing. The expense is also prohibitive and the cap on our bandwidth is another deciding factor. Even if those weren't issues, the security of items in the cloud is always a consideration that makes you feel a little uneasy with all of your personal information out there.

Enter what ioSafe calls the "Private Cloud". Essentially the Private Cloud is a NAS on your network, accessible anywhere via cloud apps. You might be thinking, sure, but that doesn't mitigate the fire risk. In this case it does. ioSafe has been creating products that protect against fire and flood since 2005 and they've put that knowledge in to the ioSafe N2 NAS.

Specifically, ioSafe's new N2 NAS protects data for up to 30 minutes in 1550° F fire and for 72 hours in salt or fresh water up to 10 feet deep. If you purchase a diskful model, you can select one, three or five years of warranty and basic data recovery service. You can also purchase "Pro" level data recovery, which I'll come back to later.

Inside

ioSafe sent two NASes for this review. One went to Tim, who ran the SNB NAS Performance test suite on it and the other came to me for the torture test. I did a post-mortem autopsy of the NAS that was burned and soaked, so I'll speak a little bit to the actual build of the NAS.

To get to the components of the NAS for pictures I would have had to disassemble part of the fireproof enclosure to get to some screws. Since we didn't want to bust up two NASes, I'll simply mention that the NAS core is OEM'd from Synology and is the DS213's board.

The DS213 is based on a 2 GHz Marvell Kirkwood mv6282 ARM processor with 512 GB of DDR3 RAM. We put in a request to Synology for the rest of the component information and were denied on the premise that it could change at any time. So all of the info I have came from Synology's Wiki page.

When we first looked at the NAS, our thought was that the entire NAS was built to survive fire and flood. This is not the case; the motherboard and wiring are not designed to survive. Only the drives are intended to survive the specified fire and water exposure periods.

So how do they do this? From an engineering perspective, I found the approach very impressive. The motherboard and ancillary components are simply mounted to the bottom of the case. I knew these were not fireproof when I saw the honeycomb venting in the bottom of the NAS, which made it rather obvious. What looks to be a galvanized steel plate then separates the motherboard from the fireproof brick, which is where all the magic starts.

The drives themselves sit inside a sealed aluminum enclosure, which has a substantially-thick solid aluminum door. The extruded aluminum enclosure then sits inside the fireproof brick material, separated by a plastic liner that helps with waterproofing. Reading more about it, I saw that the fireproof brick material releases water vapor during fires (at temps above 160° F) to help keep temperature down.

If all this is hard to picture, don't worry, I have full teardown pictures in the Torture Test section later in the article. I don't want to give too much of the torture test info away yet, but you can see the sealed aluminum drive enclosure in the image below.

ioSafe N2 sealed aluminum drive enclosure

ioSafe N2 sealed aluminum drive enclosure

The entire enclosure has one expendable fan in the rear of the case. Before taking it apart, I had a few questions on cooling efficiency with such a setup. I pictured drives sitting inside a fireproof brick getting very hot. To see how hot I could get the drives I ran them full throttle for an entire day. I never saw them get over 30° above ambient. Once I tore down the unit, it became more obvious how the cooling works.

Update 4/12/13

The front and rear of the fireproof brick have vent passages for cooling. These "FloSafe" vents use a labyrinth design to block radiant external heat while still allowing gases to escape during a fire event. The plastic liner appears to be designed to melt and seal the vent passages in case of extreme heat. The drives stay cool during normal operation by using the sealed aluminum drive enclosure as one large heatsink, which works amazingly well. The diagram below explains the multiple methods ioSafe uses to protect the drives and data.

ioSafe N2 data protection features

ioSafe N2 data protection features

Of course, this is only my analysis from tearing it down. The actual technology implemented by ioSafe may be different than my findings. You can see the picture of the drive door and some of the venting in the image below.

ioSafe N2 venting with doors removed

ioSafe N2 venting with doors removed

Power consumption measured just 20 W with the two included Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 1 TB drives (ST31000524AS) spun up and a measly 7 W with them spun down. Fan and drive noise could be classified as very low, since the NAS could not even be heard in my home office due to its robust fire and water proofing.

ioSafe sent its 2 TB model (2 x 1 TB) for review. The N2 is also available in 4, 6, 8 and 0 (diskless) TB versions.

Features

The ioSafe N2 runs Synology's DSM. The version we tested with was 4.2.3202. For a full review of the features, visit the DS1512+ Review or try out the Live Demo online. Additionally, you can reference ioSafe's Synology DSM Highlight page for an idea of the feature set.


Torture Test

Since burning and drowning an expensive NAS is sort of a one-time deal, we wanted to get it right, i.e. within spec, the first time. So before running the torture test, we drew up a test plan (below) and got ioSafe to sign off on it.

ioSafe N2 test procedures

ioSafe N2 test procedures

When we ran the idea of both burning and submerging the N2 past ioSafe, they responded that usually you don't have a fire followed by a fully submersing flood. The more typical scenario is that the product is in a fire and at some point gets hosed down along with the structure. But ioSafe was confident in its design and told us to knock ourselves out.

The other thing we would be doing differently than a normal ioSafe customer was that we would be moving drives to a known good NAS to recover the data ourselves. Since all diskful ioSafes come with a 1, 3 or 5 year warranty and data recovery service subscription, customers are usually encouraged to send drives back to ioSafe for data recovery.

Updated 4/12/13

If you're considering an ioSafe, you should read the Data Recovery Service (DRS) page and understand what you're buying, since ioSafe doesn't guarantee that they can recover your data. If they can't, they'll have DriveSavers take a shot at it but that will probably cost you extra.. Basic DRS covers data recovery costs up to $2500 per Terabyte for diskful models and you can increase coverage to $5,000 / Terabyte by opting for the more expensive DRS Pro service. ioSafe says not a single customer has had to contribute towards recovery costs so far. Any third-party costs have been entirely covered by the DRS. I'll come back to this in the Closing thoughts.

I've included many of the carnage pictures in the gallery at the end of the article. But I have included some of the teardown pictures here as I feel they are relevant to understanding of how the NAS is designed to be fire and water resistant.

With the test procedures ironed out, I started the fire. In case you are wondering, I used a combination of pine and birch woods, as well as some scrap 2x4s. I got the fire good and hot, then placed the ioSafe onto it.

The case fan was one of the first things to disappear. After 10 minutes of burning I heard a loud pop, which I wasn't able to identify. I expected the case to warp and deform over the burn period, but it really didn't. The paint did flake and burn off and the metal deformed slightly, but mostly the N2 just sat there.

ioSafe N2 trial by fire

ioSafe N2 trial by fire

Here's a short video of the N2 burning if you're into that sort of thing.

The sheer mass of the ioSafe nearly smothered the fire at times and I kept piling small tinder on it to keep it hot and concentrated on the NAS.

Once 30 minutes has passed, I lifted the NAS out of the fire and ran it to the garden hose. I then sprayed if off for several minutes until the exterior was cool to the touch. I then placed it in a tub of water deep enough to fully submerge it. For several minutes after being submerged what appeared to be smoke or steam rose out of the NAS. Although it was cool to the touch on the outside, it looks like it was still pretty hot on the inside!

Then I waited, for three days (72 hours) to be exact. To be honest, it was hard to wait. I love tearing stuff apart and I wanted to see if the drives made it. The case, now sans paint, rusted more and more with each passing day, turning the water into what appeared to be a toxic concoction of burned plastic and oxidized metal.

The first thing when the soak time was up was remove the outer door of the NAS. In the image below, you can see that fire and heat moved past the venting and started to char some of the inside up to the aluminum drive enclosure door. The door was very much intact despite the burn marks.

ioSafe N2 outer door removed, showing burn marks

ioSafe N2 outer door removed, showing burn marks

I let this sit for a hour to drain any water that may have gotten inside. I then removed the inner drive cover. The inner drive enclosure should have been waterproof, but when I opened it some water did come out. Upon further examination, it wasn't apparent to me where the water got in. The rubberized seal on the drive door did not show water markings past the seal and the circuit board on the rear of the enclosure appeared to have the seals intact. You can see that the drives look just fine sitting in there in the image below.

ioSafe N2 drive door removed after burn and soak

ioSafe N2 drive door removed after burn and soak

Torture Test-more

Because some water came out of the drive enclosure, I decided to let the drives sit overnight again. I've submerged electronics accidentally before and usually if you let them dry out before turning them on you are fine. The image below shows the drives as they were pulled from the burned NAS.

ioSafe N2 drives after burn and soak

ioSafe N2 drives after burn and soak

While I waited for them to dry, I disassembled the rest of the NAS to get an idea of how it worked. The image below shows what I call the fireproof brick that the aluminum drive enclosure sits in.

What I call the ioSafe N2 firebrick

What I call the ioSafe N2 firebrick

As I mentioned before, the aluminum drive enclosure then sits inside the brick (with a plastic liner in between). The enclosed aluminum drive enclosure acts as a heatsink for the drives and you can see the many short cooling fins. You can see an image of the aluminum drive enclosure sitting inside the fireproof brick below.

ioSafe N2 drive enclosure after burn and soak

ioSafe N2 drive enclosure after burn and soak

As for the components of the NAS, they aren't designed to survive a fire. In the image below, you can see the wiring started to burn, as well as the charred remains of the motherboard. This sat on the bottom of the NAS enclosure with a thick galvanized steel plate separating it and the firebrick.

ioSafe N2 charred remains of component board

ioSafe N2 charred remains of component board

After a day had passed, I loaded the two recovered drives into the known-good NAS. I hit the power button on the NAS and after the N2 booted, I was able to check the contents of the volume and saw all of my data intact... amazing!

After a few minutes however, one drive started clicking badly and was automatically removed from the array, which you can see in the picture below.

Synology DSM showing degraded volume

Synology DSM showing degraded volume

Having two more good 1 TB drives, I started to disassemble the case to hot swap the clicking drive and repair the array, not knowing why the one drive was failing. When I got to the inner drive door there was already moisture accumulating on the door. In retrospect it appears that the water that got into the drive enclosure had not fully dried and the heat from running was sweating it out of the drive. Seeing water inside the drive enclosure I should have set the drives in rice for a few days to ensure they were fully dry.

The array repaired successfully and I left the inner and outer drive doors off in case the other recovered drive had moisture in it. The second drive continued to work after 2 days of sustained operation however. The lessons to be learned from this are two drives are better than one, make sure the recovered drives are completely dry and save the data somewhere else as quickly as you can just in case. If I were going to keep the NAS, I would have replaced the other original drive so that I removed any chance of latent failure from the torture test.

The gallery below has lots of images of the burning, the submerging, and the teardown.

Image Gallery

Performance

The ioSafe N2 was tested with Synology DSM 4.2-3202 using our standard NAS test process.

The Benchmark Summary below shows Windows File Copy RAID 0 writes about 10 MB/s higher than for RAID 1 (59 MB/s vs. 50 MB/s). Reads track a bit closer at 89 and 82 MB/s for RAID 0 and 1, respectively.

ioSafe N2 Benchmark Summary

ioSafe N2 Benchmark Summary

NASPT File copy writes were much higher than their Windows File Copy counterparts, measuring 92 MB/s vs. 59 MB/s for RAID 0 and 74 MB/s vs. 50 MB/s for RAID 1. NASPT file copy reads trended slightly lower at 81 MB/s vs. 89 MB/s for RAID 0 and significantly lower for RAID 1 at 73 MB/s vs. 82 MB/s.

iSCSI target write performance to target volume came in at 47 MB/s, with read slightly higher at 53 MB/s.

Best attached backup performance of 21 MB/s was obtained surprisingly with USB 2.0 and EXT3. Using USB 3.0 for backup didn't provide any speed boost.

Rsync backup to the NAS Testbed running DeltaCopy acting as an rsync target came in at 22 MB/s.

For a competitive look, I compared RAID 1 File Copy charts filtered for comparable 2-bay NASes and selected three other Marvell Kirkwood-based products for comparison, i.e. the Ready NAS Duo v2, Zyxel NSA325 and Iomega ix2-dl. Note that the three comparison products have CPUs clocked at 1.6 GHz, vs. the N2's 2.0 GHz.

The N2 sits at the top in only the NASPT File copy chart and usually in the pack with the other top competitors, except in NASPT File Copy From NAS where you can see it was almost 20% behind the top competitor.

RAID 1 File Copy Performance comparison

RAID 1 File Copy Performance comparison

In all, performance is fast enough for a product that's primarily intended for backup purposes.

Closing Thoughts

To be realistic, a more economical solution to the ioSafe might be a fireproof box, a couple of USB drives and alternating backups. However, I know when I've had a USB backup solution, backups were often not done on a routine basis. If backing up multiple computers is a requirement, then you're either looking at painfully moving the USB drive to each computer for backups or buying a potentially expensive non-fireproof NAS for central backups that you then back up to USB to move to the firebox.

And let's say for some reason the drive that you've put in the DIY fireproof box does not come up. Data recovery can be very expensive. It can be included in the ioSafe purchase for peace of mind. Expensive if you never use it, economical if you do. The N2 NAS diskless is about $599.99 and does not include data recovery. Add two 1TB standard class drives with Basic Data Recovery ($2500/TB for 1 year) and it jumps to $899.99 or $947.99 if you want Pro Data Recovery ($5000/TB). Bump the Basic Data Recovery to 5 years and the price climbs to $995.03, 5 years of Pro is $1235.03. That's a good chunk of change initially, but could be well worth the investment if something were to go wrong. It covers a a one-time event for any reason, even accidental deletion.

The bottom line is that I burned the N2 for 30 minutes, pulled it out of the fire, hosed it off and then threw it in a tub of water for three days. After drying it out (or so I thought) and transferring the drives to another N2, I did lose one drive, but the other was fine. I was able to rebuild the array to a healthy status for redundant protection once again and all of my files were there.

Had our house burned down and then been flooded, my data would still be intact. In the end, the N2 passed its torture test with flying colors. If your data is worth protecting and you can't or won't use cloud-based backup, an ioSafe N2 could be a very valuable addition to your backup routine.

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