ProStor Is a Top Performer

But Network Storage Solutions' low-cost device lacks scalability found in rival NAS products.

The latest midrange NAS device from Network Storage Solutions Inc. demonstrates that top-notch performance need not necessarily cost a bundle. Targeted toward the middle of the network-attached storage market, the ProStor NAS device offers workgroup and departmental IT managers a low-cost, high-performance storage system that can be quickly implemented on any network.

Shipping since March, the $9,995 ProStor 180 that eWeek Labs tested comes with an 866MHz Pentium III processor, 256MB of error-correcting code-synchronous dynamic RAM, 10/100M-bps and Gigabit Ethernet adapters, a Chaparral Network Storage Inc. Ultra-160 RAID controller, and five disk drives with 180GB of native storage capacity.

Other ProStor models ship with 100GB, 250GB and 360GB storage capacities and similar hardware configurations. The highest-capacity device, the 360GB ProStor 360, is priced at just $17,595, or about $48 per gigabyte.

The ProStors low price makes it very competitive with midrange NAS devices such as Network Appliance Inc.s NetApp F700 and Procom Technology Inc.s NetForce 1500, both of which cost more than $30,000.

The ProStor also competes with server vendors that offer NAS devices, such as Compaq Computer Corp.s TaskSmart N2400, which starts at $15,000.

Scarce scalability

Although the ProStor beats competitors in price, it lacks the storage scalability offered by those devices—the ProStor can only accommodate a maximum of 10 internal hard drives. In contrast, the TaskSmart and NetApp NAS systems can accommodate external storage arrays to scale into the terabyte range.

In addition, the ProStor lacks some of the feature sets found in the NetApp filers, such as failover clustering and snapshot backup capabilities.

Still, the ProStors low cost, high performance and ease of use make it worth a look. In tests using Ziff Davis Media Inc.s NetBench 7.0 benchmark, which measures file server performance, the ProStor achieved a maximum throughput of more than 259M bps in a RAID 5 configuration.

This performance is comparable to more expensive enterprise-class NAS systems such as Compaqs TaskSmart N2400 and leaves midrange NAS devices such as Procoms NetForce in the dust.

ProStor taps a home-grown, optimized "thin" operating system, called SpanStor, to log high marks for file service. Unlike the Linux or FreeBSD variants used in other NAS devices, the SpanStor kernel is streamlined for file service and resides on a single floppy disk. The tiny footprint of the SpanStor kernel minimizes recovery time during hard drive failure and simplifies software updates.

We were impressed with how quickly we could get the ProStor up and running out of the box. We could connect a monitor with a keyboard or use a serial terminal session to assign an IP address to the system. The ProStor also comes with Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol enabled for networks that use that protocol.

Once we configured the network connection, we could configure and administer the ProStor via a Web browser. The ProStor device allows one administration session (Web browser or console) at any given time for security purposes.

The ProStor lacks clustered failover capabilities but offers dual hot-swap power supplies and uninterruptible power supply support.