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Iomega’s ix4-200d: A Killer Desktop Storage Array

Iomega is well into its second coming as EMC’s entry-level storage division. First, they applied EMC’s compact and full-featured LifeLine home storage software to existing gear, giving birth to the Home Media Network Hard Drive, StorCenter ix2, and StorCenter Pro ix4-100. Then they wooed the small-business community with the rack-mount StorCenter ix4-200r, adding iSCSI target support and VMware compatibility.

Today, they are back with the new ix4-200d, probably Iomega’s best product yet. It includes every feature of the rack-mount ix4-200r, including NAS and iSCSI target mode plus great new stuff like one-touch synchronization. All of this is packaged in a Drobo-like desktop system with a starting list price of just $700, or less than half the cost of a comparable ix4-200r!

Desktop Storage

External desktop storage products, exemplified by Western Digital’s wildly successful My Book series, have been a huge retail hit. Priced just over $100, these drives pack a terabyte or more and offer plug and play simplicity. I recently visited a small business with a WD or Seagate USB enclosure on every single desk. I’ve purchased five USB- or FireWire-connected hard drives myself over the last two years!

But these single-drive desktop wonders are a disaster waiting to happen:

  • They fail frequently (like my Maxtor 3200), instantly wiping out the data they contained
  • They are targets for thieves, so data loss prevention (DLP) experts warn against their use
  • They aren’t shareable natively, so most people resort to sneakernet swapping rather than fight with Windows to present them as a network share
  • When they’re full, they’re full, forcing the purchase of a whole new drive

Many vendors sell grown-up versions that address some or all of these concerns with multiple drives, network connections, and encryption, but these have been slow to catch on. Since they contain redundant drives and extra hardware and software, they are much more expensive than their little cousins. Iomega has done battle in this arena with their original StorCenter ix2 and the ix4-100, but these have yet to catch on. Even Drobo, with their fanatical user-friendly focus, has failed to convince many buyers.

Then there is the world of business storage. Way down at the bottom of the enterprise storage pyramid lies the realm of small 4- and 8-drive storage arrays. These SMB storage arrays offer a lot of capacity and reliability for the money but very little in the way of features. Iomega’s StorCenter Pro ix4-200r, in contrast, wowed the techies with a full iSCSI target stack that was certified for VMware ESX. But the price, over $1500, definitely limited sales to the home hobbyist.

“Just Right” Storage

Although the name is similar to the StorCenter Pro ix4-200r launched this Spring, Iomega went back to the drawing board for the ix4-200d. They built an entirely new device that could offer the impressive features of their StorCenter Pro line at a price closer to consumer storage offerings. The result boasts everything the Pro has and more at less than half the price:
  • You want connectivity? The ix4 sports dual gigabit Ethernet ports that can be teamed up for performance or split off for redundancy.
  • You want NAS? The ix4 supports NFS, SMB, and even Apple’s AFP, plus it’s Active Directory compatible.
  • How about iSCSI? It’s a full-featured iSCSI target, certified for Microsoft Server 2003 and 2008.
  • Want to host virtual machines? The ix4 is certified with VMware ESX 4 vSphere using both NFS and iSCSI, on the Xen HCL, and that Microsoft logo means it will work with Hyper-V as well.
  • Need backup? The ix4 comes with EMC’s Retrospect and supports OS X Time Machine over AFP just like an Apple Time Capsule.
  • Looking for weird features? How about support for up to 5 Axis network cameras, BlueTooth Picture Transfer Protocol, and UPnP/DLNA media service!
  • Iomega also added a new feature, QuickTransfer, to synchronize files between devices.

QuickTransfer: Data Synchronization for Everything

One nifty new feature included with the ix4-200d is QuickTransfer, a one-touch data synchronization capability. Leveraging rsync technology, but hiding this complexity with a more-friendly wizard-based GUI, QuickTransfer allows users to set up synchronization jobs between the ix4 and a variety of targets:

  • USB drives can be plugged into one of the three USB 2.0 ports and synchronized with a subset of the content of the ix4. For example, a portable USB drive could be “recharged” with the latest set of data before one heads out of the office.
  • Two Iomega ix4’s, or other NAS systems for that matter, can be synchronized over the Ethernet/IP LAN. This would provide a robust and bandwidth-friendly remote office backup or data replication solution.
  • A PC or Mac can also be synchronized over a network share, providing a simple alternative to the bundled backup software.
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