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Linux-based NAS hosts private clouds and VMs

Jun 5, 2014 — by Eric Brown 4,312 views

Qnap unveiled a Linux-based, SOHO-focused “TS-X51 Turbo NAS” device with 2-8 HDD bays, plus private cloud sharing, video transcoding, and virtualization.

Before the current era of open source SBCs, embedded hackers often sought out Linux-based network attached storage (NAS) devices to build customized server devices. Despite the fact that the vast majority of NAS devices run on embedded Linux, we don’t typically cover them, as they have increasingly become commodity devices. However, Qnap’s latest TS-x51 Turbo NAS system previewed this week at Computex caught our attention. Aimed at the SOHO and home market, the NAS device is claimed to be first to offer private cloud sharing and advanced virtualization functions, and it also features video transcoding features.

Ever since Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA snooping, private cloud devices have become an increasingly hot commodity. There was keen interest in our recent coverage of the Sherlybox Kickstarter project (pictured on the right), as well as the earlier Lima device. Both devices offer a Dropbox-like cloud storage experience using local storage controlled entirely by the user. We also just heard about a Linux-oriented Indiegogo project for private file sharing called OPI.


TS-x51 Turbo NAS

With the Qnap TS-x51, Qnap Systems has debuted a somewhat similar capability on one of the major consumer NAS platforms. As with other Linux-based NAS systems such as Buffalo LinkStation, Synology DiskStation, and Netgear ReadyNAS systems, the Qnap Turbo NAS systems have increasingly piled up advanced features like surveillance, media-sharing, and a variety of specialized servers.

TS-451 (left) and TS-251
(click image to enlarge)

Like earlier Qnap SOHO devices such as the circa-2011 TS-x12, the TS-x51 runs on the company’s mature embedded Linux-based platform, now called QTS. Now available in version 4.1, QTS offers a fairly open app platform that enables a wide variety of applications and functions from various network and web server applications to synchronization, media sharing, surveillance/NVR, and signage functionality.

The TS-x51 joins many dozens of other Qnap models ranging from enterprise to consumer, with almost two dozen variants available in the home/SOHO category alone. No pricing or availability information has yet been announced for the system, which is available with both Linux and Windows compatible desktop QTS software.

TS-x51 hardware

The customizable TS-x51 systems include the dual-HDD bay TS-251, the 4-bay TS-451, the 6-bay TS-651, and the 8-bay TS-851. If you use 6TB hard disk drives, you’ll get between 12TB and 48TB of storage, expandable to much more if you buy Qnap’s 5-bay UX-500P or 8-bay UX-800P RAID expansion enclosures. With the latter, the dual-bay TS-251 can be extended up to 60TB, and the TS-851 can handle up to 96TB.

Both 2.5- and 3.5-inch 3Gb/s or 6Gb/s SATA HDDs are supported. The system supports hot-swap capability, and RAID support ranges from RAID 0/1/JBOD for the TS-251 to full RAID and JBOD support up to RAID 10 with the six- and eight-bay models. The boxy systems range from 225 x 169 x 102mm for the TS-251 to 298 x 235 x 185mm for the TS-851.

All the systems run Linux on a dual-core Intel Celeron J1800 system-on-chip that can be clocked to 2.41GHz, with burst frequency of up to 2.58GHz. This is a faster new dual-core variant of the Bay Trail Celerons that are related to the Atom E3800 generation. Its Bay Trail siblings include the quad-core, 2GHz Celeron J1900 and the quad-core, 1.86GHz Celeron N2920. Like the J1900, the J1800 sports a 10W TDP.

The Celeron J1800 helps the two-bay TS-251 achieve 19W power consumption, or about 10W with HDD standby, claims Qnap. This ranges up to about 57W and 27W, respectively, for the TS-851. The TS-x51 systems provide up to 220MB/s read and write speeds, and transfer speeds of up to 67MB/s, complete with AES 256-bit encryption, says the company.

The TS-x51 is available with between 1GB and 8GB DDR3L-1600 RAM, and offers 512MB of flash. The NAS device features dual gigabit Ethernet ports, dual USB 3.0 ports, dual USB 2.0 ports, and an HDMI port. The USB ports are said to support the latest 802.11ac WiFi dongles.

Rear view of TS-251 with highlighted gigabit ports (right) and networking control panel (left)
(click image to enlarge)

While Qnap claims its system is faster and more power efficient than other Atom-based NAS competitors, the real story here lies in the firmware and software. For example, the HDMI port offers 7.1 audio passthrough, and is supported with hardware-accelerated, on-the-fly and offline transcoding at HD resolutions. The transcoding capability lets you automatically scale down to lower resolutions for networks and devices with limited bandwidth. The feature includes automatic and manual media conversion and VOD streaming, says Qnap.

An XBMC media player is built in, letting you connect to a TV to watch videos and “surf the web,” as we used to say in the olden days. The system offers a Plex media server, as well as support for both DLNA and AirPlay.

The personal cloud capability is provided with a myQNAPcloud SmartLink Service. This lets you manage multiple Turbo NAS units from a single interface, as well as publish content to invited users from Turbo NAS services such as Photo Station, Music Station, and File Station. The VPN-like application also adds SSL certificates up to 2,048 bits, says Qnap.

Unlike the Sherlybox, the private cloud service uses a myQNAPcloud service as an intermediary for pointing users to other authorized content rather than performing all remote access management locally. On the other hand, Qnap claims the files are completely under the NAS owner’s control. Another caveat is that it only currently supports Windows desktop users.

A Nexstep app lets you control the private cloud via a mobile device, complete with various synchronization features. A BitTorrent Sync P2P app is also integrated with private cloud features.

Virtualization Station architecture
(click image to enlarge)

The other key new feature is a built-in hypervisor supported with a Virtualization Station app that lets you create and manage multiple virtual machines. The virtualization application is said to be a first on a consumer-level NAS device that supports Intel-VTx and VM applications. The feature is integrated with the private cloud platform, letting you host different VMs accessible to remote users.

Virtualization Station supports Linux, UNIX, and Windows, and offers access to Bitnami App store and VMWare Marketplace apps. The feature requires 2GB of RAM, although Qnap recommends 4GB.

In addition to the private cloud and virtualization applications, Qnap’s QTS 4.1 OS provides an overwhelming number of servers, features, and apps, much like Synology’s DiskStation. The full list, as well as a detailed spec table, are available in the link below.

Further information

No pricing or availability information was supplied for the Qnap TS-x51 Turbo NAS devices. Much more detailed information can be found in this TS-x51 datasheet [PDF]. A product page will no doubt eventually appear on Qnap’s home/SOHO NAS page. The systems are being demonstrated at Computex this week through June 7 at Taipei World Trade Center, Nangang Exhibition Hall, Stand J1118.

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