Iomega StorCenter PX Makes the Grade

NAS device goes beyond typical applications and use cases.

Network-attached storage devices have to do more than ever before. It used to be that presenting an Network File System (NFS) target was enough, but today, it's hard to find a network-attached storage (NAS) unit that doesn't support a vast array of network and storage protocols, and it's expected that a NAS device intended for the "prosumer" or small and midsize business (SMB) markets will include a variety of applications as well. Iomega's StorCenter PX line of devices has everything one needs in this class of NAS and more.

The StorCenter PX comes in one of three basic forms: two desktop models and one high availability rackmount unit. On the desktop side are the px4-300d (which I reviewed), a four-disk desktop unit that also has a 12TB capacity, and the px6-300d, which supports up to six disks and 18TB. Iomega's PX series storage devices are offered with solid-state and conventional drives. Zero-drive configurations are also available. In the case of the px4-300d, pricing ranges from the diskless option's suggested retail price of $799, up to the 12TB HDD configuration at $2,299.

Iomega also offers the px4-300r, a four-disk 1U array that supports up to 12TB of raw storage. This model includes redundant power supplies and other features from the company's top-end storage array, the StorCenter ix12-300r.

The basic features of the StorCenter PX series devices are what has become the customary inventory for these devices: dual Gigabit Ethernet adapters, an Intel processor (in this case, a dual core Atom CPU) running a Linux-derived operating system, offering various levels of RAID support and a JBOD configuration as well. The PX devices' exact degree of RAID support depends on the number of physical drives; RAID 0, 1, 5, 5+1 and 10 are possible and in all RAID levels, the devices implement hot swap and automatic rebuild in the event of a drive failure.

Of course, a proper NAS device has to support a wide range of communications, management and storage protocols. The StorCenter PX series works with Apple (AFP and Bonjour) and Windows (CIFS/SMB, DFS and Rally) discovery and storage protocols, as well as FTP and TFTP, HTTP and HTTPS, and NFS. Management through SNMP is also possible. The PX series devices also provide iSCSI block-level storage and support the persistent reservations feature of SCSI-3.

The StorCenter PX series is certified on a wide range of platforms, including Citrix XenServer 5.6, VMware vSphere 4.1 (with 5.0 certification presumably pending) and Windows Server 2003, 2008 and 2008 R2. The devices also support advanced Windows Server features such as Active Directory Trusted Domains, Microsoft Cluster Server and Hyper-V Live Migration.

One of the increasingly popular uses for this class of storage devices is as a dedicated backup server for systems running Apple's Mac OS X-with one catch. Although the PX devices present themselves as a Time Machine target, devices already in the field will need a firmware touchup to support machines running Mac OS X "Lion." Iomega expected to release updated firmware for the PX series in September, but by my mid-September deadline, that code had not been made available. (For my follow-up testing, featuring Mac OS X Lion and VMware vSphere 5.0, keep an eye on the eWEEK Labs' blog.

I tested the px4-300d with a mix of Mac OS X and Windows clients. Except for some issues during Time Machine setup, first involving an unworkable name for the backup file and the already-noted Lion support issue-due to changes Apple made in the authentication scheme of AFP-I had no noteworthy problems using the device as a storage target in a number of applications.

I did, however, run into one interesting setup issue when configuring the px4-300d to use the NTP server running on the network in eWEEK's San Francisco test facility. An ambiguously worded dialog box led me to enter the IP address of the time server, as a sort of lowest-common denominator. Unfortunately, the device's NTP client wouldn't work with such a primitive form of direction, but pointing it at the time server's fully qualified name from DNS solved the problem. (I think I've convinced Iomega to fix this in a forthcoming software update.)

Most of the management of PX series devices takes place through a Web-based front end. Also available for use is the Iomega Storage Manager, a utility that presents a graphic view of networked Iomega devices. The Storage Manager is available for Linux, Mac OS X and Windows clients.

One application on the px4-300d that caught my eye was the Iomega Personal Cloud, which allows devices to be presented as secure Internet-accessible storage, without the costs associated with using someone else's cloud. This is easy to set up and manage. Perhaps it's too easy to sit well with anyone in IT security whose responsibility includes preventing data leaks, but central management and logging features on the device should tattle in the event an unauthorized cloud is instantiated.

Iomega's px4-300d is a good choice for many users and workgroups who are looking for a flexible yet reasonably priced NAS device. Its features support a broad range of use cases, from serving as a home media center to filling out a storage pool in a stack of virtual machines. Although my experience saw the px4-300d as anything but idiot-proof, it's nevertheless as good as anything I've seen to date in its class.