We have looked at many Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices over the years and the last two years this category has shown consistent improvements in software and increase in performance.
The latest QNAP TS-451 is no different. Sporting a dual-core Intel Celeron 2.41 GHz processor and four drive bays, this model brings lots of new features that would make it a perfect match for small business and home entertainers alike.
Although we could go on pages and pages talking about its easy to install and number of applications available I will touch on a few of features that make this a NAS in its own class.
About that easy of install: it's just simple. You plug the device to your LAN and let it connect. You then visit a website and enter the special key associated to your device. It will then allow you to configure the device and start the system installation, all of this remotely.
Once installed you can go through the control panel to configure the NAS the way you need - and the new QTS 4 OS is much easier on your eyes than before.
The TS-451 supports anything from one to four drives, including a mix of HDD and SSD. In my tests I had two 3TB HDD and a single 256GB SSD. The SSD can be used as a cache, improving I/O performance, as we will see a bit later.
For small/medium businesses the QNAP TS-451 offers a variety of applications that can be downloaded and installed on the NAS, including platforms for CRM, invoicing, blogs, team collaboration, databases and more. With built-in user management and integration with domains this device can easily support a small team, providing services such as local backups, synchronisation and remote access to files via mobile apps or VPN.
For home users and content enthusiasts the TS-451 supports applications for photo, video and music viewing, including browser- and mobile-based applications to access this content. The new processor gives the TS-451 enough power to transcode content (especially video) to the correct format, with performance that will leave previous solutions behind. This means you can play up to 1080p videos with 7.1 sound while transcoding this on-the-fly to fit your playback device.
You can also install XBMC 12 (the media centre application now known as Kodi), plus the NAS to your HDTV via HDMI and enjoy your digital content directly in the lounge.
But for me the most interesting new feature is its support for virtual machines. Although simple to use it's quite powerful in its own allowing you to create and run virtual machines to provide services that would otherwise require a dedicated computer in your network.
You can create virtual machines from templates (memory and disk size) or configure one yourself. If you have install disks you can initialise and install the OS or if you prefer you can visit sources such as Bitnami or VMWare to download ready-to-run virtual appliances.
I tried a few of Bitnami virtual appliances - including a Wordpress virtual machine - and they worked without any modification after importing their configuration files via the web interface.
The virtual machine support does not extend to virtualised network yet. On the back of the TS-451 you will find two ethernet ports which can be bonded as a single connection, or split into the NAS connection and the virtual machine connection.
Currently the virtualisation system supports only one VM running at a time, also dependent on how much memory you have available. The test unit I have here came with 2GB RAM and that had no problems running a small instance of Linux supporting Wordpress, or even Windows 7 Professional. You can have the TS-451 shipped with up to 8GB RAM.
You access the VMs via your browser or remote desktop.
The SSD cache can be used with the virtualisation system and in my tests it can quickly reach up to 90% or more hit rates, speeding up the VM operations.
A fully patched Windows 7 Professional VM will boot in approximately 43 seconds (time to desktop). This time can be reduced by almost 25% to 32 seconds if the SSD cache is enabled.
It's obviously not the fastest PC in the world but it is very competent at that (for comparison booting a Windows 7 Professional VM under Windows 2012 Hyper-V on a HP Microserver out of a similar SSD will take only 13 seconds).
The SSD cache will help in those VM operations as well as with any other apps accessing data that can be cached, such as database and CRM applications, financial, etc.
The TS-451 supports USB printers, USB UPS communications as well as high speed external HDDs for one touch backups via its four USB ports (2x USB 2.0, 2x USB 3.0). It's a very quiet unit, with lower consumption (up to 31W when four HDDs are installed, only 15W with HDDs in standby).
A very capable small unit, the TS-451 could fit perfectly in as part of a home entertainment unit or supporting a small business operation.