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Iomega StorCenter ix4-200d Test Drive

If you want to get serious about backing up your data, and small businesses should, Iomega’s new StorCenter ix4-200d, a four-drive network attached storage (NAS) server, is certainly a serious piece of backup equipment.

The ix4-200d comes with big business features — backup software from storage giant EMC (Iomega’s parent company), RAID configuration, Gigabit Ethernet, remote access, iSCSI support, etc. — but Iomega designed the desktop storage server for small offices with 50 or fewer employees. It also supports PC, Mac or Linux systems.

The ix4-200d comes with either 2, 4 or 8 terabytes (TB) of storage, and it sells for $700, $900 and $1,900, respectively. (We tested the 4TB model.) Should a drive fail, you can replace the installed drives with standard SATA drives of any capacity from any maker.

Reliable RAID

While even 2 TB is probably more than most small businesses will ever need, given the rate at which data volume keeps growing at many companies, you never know.

To put it in perspective, one terabyte equals 1,000 gigabytes (GB). Few PCs ship with drives larger than 500GB – and few small business employees ever store anything close to that amount of business-related data.

The ix4-200d comes with the drives configured for RAID, which reduces effective capacity while ensuring more reliable storage. Essentially you use about half of the total capacity to store your data while the other half acts as a backup of your data.

Configured in the default RAID 5, the 4TB model provides 2.7TB of data storage capacity.   

Beefed-up Features

StorCenter ix4-200d substantially improves on Iomega’s previous four-drive NAS. It’s smaller, quieter, comes with a more powerful processor (1.2GHz  instead of 400MHz ) and more memory (512MB versus 256MB).

The all-new monochrome LCD on the front panel provides status information and makes it easier to use the product’s one-touch QuickProtect features.

The ix4-200d measures only 7.7 x 7.9 x 6.6 inches, which means it can sit on even a narrow office shelf. The fact that it runs as quietly as it does is particularly welcome since NAS products can be very noisy indeed.

Retrospect Software

The storage server also includes software that provides several different kinds of backups. Retrospect Express HD, made by EMC, looks after most backup chores, and you can install it on as many workstations as you want.

With Retrospect, you can back up everything or choose selected folders and file types. It will backup only new and changed data and maintain a history of different versions of a file.

The software can also backup open files, including Microsoft Office Outlook database files. This is an important capability not available with all backup programs. It means that unattended scheduled backups will run completely even if you leave important files open.

The Retrospect Express user interface (version 2.5) is a significant improvement over earlier versions we’ve used. It’s simpler and more intuitive.

We made the mistake of testing it on a machine running Microsoft Windows 7. While the software performed basic functions correctly, it was somewhat unstable. EMC promises a fully Win7-compatible version by end of October. 

The new Iomega Copy Jobs software lets you do low-level machine-to-machine copies of an entire device — including iSCSI, the very high-speed network data transfer protocol — but only if you have a network and other devices that support it iSCSI.

For example, you could use Copy Jobs to create an off-site copy of your business data by regularly copying an ix4-200d in one location to another at a remote site over a wide area network.

Another convenient way to move data from one drive to another:  if you plug a USB drive into the port on the front of the device, a message appears on the LCD asking if you want to copy all its data to the NAS. Pushing one of the soft buttons beside the LCD launches a copy job.

Quick Setup

Our out-of-the-box experience with the ix4-2009 was generally good — despite the noted problems with Retrospect under Windows 7.

The physical installation is simple: you plug the device into an Ethernet port on the network router or hub using the supplied Ethernet cable, and then plug in power.

The software installation was almost as simple. On one PC, you install both the device administration software and the Retrospect. On other PCs, you install only the backup software.

The final stage of the software installation, during which the PC restarts the software on the device, involved messages appearing and disappearing from the PC screen too quickly to read, with insistent beeping at each step. This was disconcerting, but it culminated with a message saying the device was properly installed.

The entire procedure took 20 minutes and went without a hitch.

It took only a few minutes more to set up and schedule a backup using the very intuitive Retrospect wizard that walks you step-by-step through the process of selecting the type of backup and the folders and file types you want backed up.

The software reported a minor error on the first run — an error related to network availability, though, not a failure of the software. It ran flawlessly on subsequent scheduled runs.

Performance

The StorCenter ix4-200d’s more powerful processor may, as the company says, speed raw throughput when compared to earlier products, but in our testing it was only marginally faster than a two-year-old NAS drive from Buffalo Technology.

With both products and a PC attached to the router through wired Gigabit Ethernet connections, we copied the same 3.56GB chunk of data from the PC to each of the drives. Over a few test runs, the difference in time taken was less than four percent.

This might make a difference on very large initial backup or copy jobs, but on routine differential backups where you’re typically backing up relatively small amounts of new or changed data, it’s insignificant.

Remote Access

Remote access lets authorized individuals access the device from any Internet-connected, browser-equipped computer. If you’re visiting a customer on the other side of the country – or world – and need a file you forgot to bring on your laptop, you can go online and download it.

The Remote Access capability requires a Dynamic DNS service, which keeps track of changes to a device’s 12-digit numeric IP address and provides an alias Web address — www.etc. — that always redirects to the device.

Iomega includes a 12-month subscription to Dynamic DNS service from Tzolkin Corp. (TZO). When it expires, you have to pay to maintain it.

We had a minor but irritating difficulty setting up this feature. Messages from the software did not make clear that we had to manually configure our network router. (The software can automatically configure some routers, but not ours apparently.)

Result: the software said Remote Access was working, but the drive wasn’t accessible. After reading Iomega Help files, and configuring the router using information provided — not a difficult task, but one that may intimidate non-technical small business people — Remote Access worked fine.

Bottom Line

If you’re running a home office or very small business, the Iomega StorCenter ix4-200d NAS Server may be overkill. But if you’re a small business with five to 50 employees and you’re getting serious about backup — this product provides just about everything you need.

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