During the last decade network solutions based on NAS (Network Attached Storage) gained a lot of popularity in small office / home office (SOHO) environment because of a very attractive capability / price ratio. Essentially for 10-30% of a server's price-tag (SMB-level) a team of a few people can get a local network storage accompanied with a wide array of server-level functions such as cloud synchronization, multimedia player, web-application, VPN-server, etc. Here we'd review what we consider to be the best NAS for small business: QNAP TS-251 (or its QuadCore advanced variation QNAP TS-251+).

TS-251 comes with only 2 HD-bays however many 4-bay devices would envy its performance all due to QNAP's advanced hardware first implemented in this small business NAS.

QNAP TS-251 HARDWARE

Let's take a brief look at its base specifications first:

HDD   2 × 3,5”/2 × 2,5” HDD/SSD SATA I/II/III
Supported file systems
  Internal Drives: EXT3, EXT4 
External storage: EXT3, EXT4, FAT32, NTFS, HFS+
Disk type / RAID
  Single Volume, JBOD, RAID 0/1
CPU   Intel Celeron Dual Core 2,41GHz
RAM   1GB DDR3L (expandable to 8GB )
Network Interfaces
  2 × Gigabit Ethernet RJ-45
Additional Connectors
  2 × USB Host 2.0 
2 × USB Host 3.0 
1 × HDMI
Supported Protocols
  FTP, FTPS, SFTP, TFTP, CIFS/SMB, AFP, NFS, HTTP/HTTPS, Telnet, SSH, iSCSI, SNMP, SMTP, SMSC
Cooling system
  70mm fan
Power consumption
  Active: 20Watt (2 x 1TB drives)
Sleep: 11Watt
Warranty   3 years

and the naked board of this NAS system - Bay Trail:
QNAP TS 251
BayTrail platform comes with two channels on a 128-bit DDR3 RAM controller at 1333GHz. NAS itself has two slots SO-DIMM supporting 8GB total capacity. Ethernet interfaces are based on Intel I210 and USB3 is running on ASM1074 made by ASMedia Technology. Graphics is embedded with Bay Trail and it's based on the classic HD Graphics at 688GHz. Most importantly it features a built-in decoder supporting all popular formats: H.264, MPEG2, VC1 and so on. On top of it boasts a hardware H.264 encoder. QNAP stresses out the capability of decoding Full HD-Video on the fly and in the background. Playback can be arrange not only via LAN but also via 1080p with a 7.1 sound via HDMI output (1.4a standard).

One feature that can be declared as missing is an eSATA port. However it's hardly a significant drawback because USB-ports can expand the storage to up 144TB. (16 onboard and 64 in 2 8-disk expansion modules QNAP UX-800P or 5-disk QNAP UX-500P).

WHAT'S IN THE BOX?

Contrary to many small business NAS systems TS-251 comes with hot-swappable disk trays thus there is no need to open its case to install / replace drives.QNAP TS 251 front QNAP TS 251 back

Unlike physical access to hard drives the journey to RAM modules is much more convoluted, you'd need to disassemble not just the plastic cover but the metal framework. While at it we noticed how spacious the interior is from the perspective of proper air-flow. Indeed, not only the device is very quiet but it also doesn't heat too much even under stress.

SOFTWARE and GUI

QNAP interface 2The interface is certainly a strong asset of QNAP's compared to competition. It's well thought through, aesthetically pleasing and it feels "natural". Some developers have a tendency to dumb things up to make it appear more user-friendly, and some simply wrap the underlying management core structure with a graphical layer which can puzzle even an experience system administrator. QNAP managed to find a well balanced management scheme.

TS-251's software is best characterized by its stability and extensions available via QNAP AppCenter.

We'd name a few that stand out the most:
  • Backup station
  • Cloud file synchronization (Dropbox alternative)
  • Virtualization
  • Media station
  • Video player
  • Web server (Joomla, Wordpress)
  • VPN server, MySQL server, TFTP server, etc
  • Browser, YouTube, etc.

Performance

TS251 benchmarkTS251 RAID1
As you can see from the benchmarks above it delivers solid performance reaching 100MB+/sec write speed with RAID1 configuration. Its internal performance clearly exceeds the throughput of a single Gigabit interface thus using two RJ-45 via Port Trunking is recommended for maximum throughput. There is no doubt TS-251 performed noticeably better than similar small business NAS devices by NetGear and Buffalo had to offer.

Conclusion

 As of late 2016 we consider QNAP TS-251+ the best NAS for small business. It's also worth mentioning that it's a great piece of equipment to have in SOHO environment for there is plenty of power and versatility for home applications. When considering it as a NAS for SMB you might end up saturating its initial capacity of a 2-disk array down the road and that's when expansion modules would come most handy. At last, given the performance class of TS-251+ it's arguably the best cheap NAS which is 100% adequate for business applications.
© 2017 - Allora Consulting