One of the most competitive areas in the storage market at the moment is the desktop NAS. We test out a double Thunderbolt 2 equipped high performance QNAP TVS-682T - desktop shared storage at Thunderbolt speeds.
Smaller, faster, cheaper. That’s the way technology is going and as predicted, the desktop shared storage market is growing. You don’t need to have a big rack mounted box in an air conditioned room to service multiple clients. You can now do all this from small desktop units.
Up until now, I’ve been using shared storage by fibred XSAN installations, GigE and 10GigE ISIS, custom NAS solutions or just a plain Synology box connected via GigE to 4 clients. (Whilst I'm writing this I have over 100TB of media on two DS1425+s connected.)
So when QNAP invited me to take the TVS-682T for a review, I was very keen to see how the Thunderbolt 2 connected device worked with the data hungry Final Cut Pro X.
What I liked
- SSD caching for speed
- Two users can connect via Thunderbolt 2
- Other good connectivity, GigE , 10GigE, USB3
- Very flexible with many different apps
- QNAP very keen to develop product
What I Didn’t like
- Possibly challenging to set up correctly - some IT experience needed to get the best from the unit.
- Pricey when compared to other units
The machine I got to test was a QNAP TVS-682T Intel i3 with 8 GB of memory. Firmware version 4.2.4 (It upgraded whilst on loan)
The machine supplied arrived unpopulated. It's a six bay unit, having four 3.5 inch slots and two 2.5 inch slots. It's completely up to you what capacity drives you put in, but for this test I used four Seagate IronWolf 2TB hard drives for the main storage and two Seagate Nytro XF 1230 240GB SSDs for the cache.
You can install M2 SSD cards, but for this test they were not present.
When buying hard drives, remember that they will probably be configured in RAID 5, which means you'll lose one for fault tolerance. So buying 4 6TB drives will build a RAID of 18TB.
Installing the 3.5 drives is pretty easy, place them into the slightly flimsy plastic sledges, click the holding strips back on the sides and insert back into the unit. The blue latches lock the drives in to avoid them being ejected by accident.
One of the springs for the sledge release lever popped out, but this was pretty easy to get back in. QNAP have told me that they have redesigned the HDD tray and this shouldn't happen with the new part.
The SSDs are even easy to load as they just sit in a 2.5 inch tray.
One thought here, instead of buying 4 drives, buy five then you'll have a spare on hand should one fail. No need to go hunting through Amazon for the same size and brand at a later date.
This box is well connected compared to its rivals. Not only are there two Thunderbolt 2 ports on the back, (Independent ports for two clients, not a loop through) it also has two 10GigE, four GigE, four USB 3 ports (One USB 3 on the front too) plus 3 HDMI and two audio jacks.
The 10GigE ports can be accessed through the unit through the Thunderbolt connections. So one setup could be the QNAP as shared 'local storage', but connected to a 10GigE switch to access larger shared storage or share the QNAP though that. It also means you don't have to buy expensive Thunderbolt to 10GigE adaptors, although you might argue that's exactly what this is!
That's a LOT of connectivity!
One annoying thing about the 10GigE connectors, they are so close to the metal lid, you need a screwdriver to press down on the cable release to get them out.
On the back is an IEC mains socket and 'master' power switch. No 'in line' power brick to drape down the back of the desk.
To power the unit on, there's a button on the front. From cold, this QNAP takes three and a half minutes to boot up and when it does, a ladies voice proudly announces. 'System boot completed." Power down takes 1 minute 50 seconds after the lady says 'Shudding down" although a Time Machine backup will stop this happening - More about that later.
The box is relatively quiet. With the fans pointed away from you, this can quite happily sit on a desk. A few clunks from the hard drives, but certainly nowhere near the ear-splitting screams of an ISIS. I'd say its about the same as my old Drobo.
Getting the box up and running is a multiple stage task. The instructions supplied are on a single sheet with diagrams on how to connect. Great for multiple language users, but a bit lacking in info.
The QNAP needs to be connected to the internet to download Qfinder Pro. This app on the Mac administrates the QNAP by setting basic configuration details such as name, timezone, admin password & DHCP or static ethernet address This is done with a GigE connection to the box.
(Right click for larger images)
There are multiple ways to mount the drive, as FCPX is our weapon of choice, I decided to share via NFS, but ended up using SMB. Using Bonjour will force an SMB share that will appear in the sidebar. As there is more than one way to connect, be careful here that you are seeing the Thunderbolt share and not going via GigE.
The rest of the setup is then done via a web browser, which can be launched from Qfinder Pro.
The drives are easy to add to a storage pool
But you do have to manually assign the SSDs for the cache and toggle it on.
There are many, many more configuration possibilities with the QNAP, far too many to show here and this is one of my main criticisms. The QNAP is not a plug and play box, you do need some IT skills to get the best out of it.
Wouldn't be the same without getting the Blackmagic Speed Test running would it?
First Test was with the SSD cache off. A very steady 400 MB/s seemed reasonable for a 4 disk RAID unit
With the SSD on though, although speeds increased, there was a pretty large variation in results. Although the grab below shows higher read/write speeds, sometimes these would drop down to 150/200 MB/s with just one user connected.
Maybe the Blackmagic speed test isn't a good benchmark when the SSDs are in use. The data on the SSDs is always written to the hard disks, so if one of the SSDs fails, there will always be a copy backed up. This could become important when storing Libraries.
The TVS 682T quite happily played back six angles of 1080p in FCPX on one Thunderbolt machine and three angles of multicam from the same copied Library on a GigE machine.
It seems to match the performance of single user Thunderbolt drives that I have used. Thankfully the waveform drawing was quick even though I had stored the cache on the QNAP. This is a good sign.
One note here, although the QNAP has Thunderbolt, you still need to login over Thunderbolt to access the media. This is not direct attached storage and that caught me out a few times as I was waiting for the folder structure to load and not spotting the 'Connect As" button in the top right of Finder.
In part two of the review, I'm going to spend more time digging into the settings for FCPX. The unit supports NFS, but I seemed to get slower speeds when using this protocol rather than the plain SMB. AFP is to be avoided.
Opening a Library stored on the QNAP is possible over NFS, but the speed hit I got didn't make that avenue worth exploring. You can use FCPX Libraries stored on the QNAP via Thunderbolt.
Who Is This Model Aimed At?
I think it is worth stressing again the different ways you can connect to the QNAP. Not only can you have two Thunderbolt 2 clients, but also 2 10GigE and 4 GigE clients, although from four spinning drives you won't get good performance over each.
This is designed for the 1 or 2 seat editing shop that wants to share media. You might also get a third connected by GigE such as a graphics station that requires less bandwidth, but still with full access to the media.
Priced at around £1600 for the chasis alone, it is not cheap compared to non-Thunderbolt rivals. However, it is no where near the price of other Thunderbolt shared storage systems. Put 4 10TB drives in the QNAP and you will have a fast 30TB shared storage device.
I really like the QNAP, but it needs time spending in the interface configuring it for Final Cut Pro X. If you know your way around a web based manager for a RAID, you won't have too many problems getting up and running, although maybe not at optimum speed to start off with.
Hopefully the unit is capable of fast speeds across all its connections and I hope to configure the QNAP to do exactly that, you just have to spend some time with it.
And that's exactly what I'll be doing over the next few weeks as I have a job where two edit stations are going to be very busy using the TVS 682T. I'll be reporting on a real FCPX job, with real deadlines.
The QNAP has an application manager, similar to the app store on your phone. There are many different apps you can download and these open up whole different areas where the RAID can work.
For example, these applications can virtualise a PC, connect and sync to offsite backups or even control and record IP based CCTV cameras.
One application I liked was the ability to run a Plex server. Should you want to (ahem) backup your DVD collection to stream through a building or house, then this is perfect. It could even run your showreel in loop mode in reception.
Another feature/app is Cloudlink. This enables you to access your files remotely. The best news is you don't have to go through the painful process of port forwarding on your router as the Cloudlink App will negotiate around that and a dynamic IP address. This could give a remote editor access to updated Libraries- thus creating the possibilities of some very interesting workflows.
Finally before I dig back in to the configuration of the QNAP for part two, it is really easy to set up the QNAP for Time Machine backups. A couple of clicks and you are done.
Part two soon!
Peter Wiggins is a broadcast freelance editor based in the UK although his work takes him around the world. An early adopter of FCP setting up pioneering broadcasts workflows, his weapon of choice is now Final Cut Pro X.