Netgear ReadyNAS Ultra 2 Small, Simple and Affordable

The Netgear ReadyNAS Ultra 2 is a compact network attached storage appliance powered by an Intel Atom processor. Targeted at the small businesses or organizations with very modest storage needs, the NAS offers two drive bays that can be set up either with mirroring or as a single volume that spans both hard disk drives (HDD).

To determine the suitability of ReadyNAS Ultra 2 as a small businesses NAS, I evaluated its general usability and its capabilities in various storage scenarios.

ReadyNAS Ultra 2 Specifications and Setup

Image courtesy of Netgear.

The Netgear ReadyNAS Ultra 2 supports up to two 3.5-inch, 3TB HDDs for 6TB of total internal capacity. Each drive is hot swappable and mounted onto a metal drive tray using screws. They are loaded into the NAS from the front and hidden behind a metallic door.

To remove individual drives, simply press on the spring-loaded lever of the desired drive bay to eject the tray. To guard against accidental removal, the lever itself can be secured with a sliding lock.

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Under the hood, the ReadyNAS Ultra 2 is powered by a single-core Intel Atom processor, though an "Ultra Plus" model offers more oomph with the use of a dual-core Atom chip. In addition, the ReadyNAS Ultra 2 comes with two Gigabit LAN ports, two USB 2.0 ports on the back, and a USB 3.0 port on the front. As the lowest-tiered offering with two drive bays, the Netgear ReadyNAS Ultra 2 makes use of an external 60W power adapter. A blue LED on the front indicates whether the device is switched on, and a separate green LED blinks to indicate activity for each HDD.

Overall, the small footprint of the NAS allows it to fit in easily, though placing it at a location with good ventilation would probably be a wise idea. To set up the ReadyNAS Ultra 2, wire it up with the power adapter and connect an Ethernet cable to one of the LAN ports. Once powered up using the "Power" button, the NAS will automatically obtain an IP address via DHCP by default.

Next, install the "RAIDar" utility, a nifty tool to locate all ReadyNAS appliances on the network, from the included resource CD. Clicking on the appropriate NAS followed by the Setup button within the utility launches the Web browser and connects administrators to the Web interface of the correct NAS. Here, preliminary configuration tasks such as setting the IP address and changing the default password can be completed.

ReadyNAS Ultra 2 Configuration

The ReadyNAS Ultra 2 supports the common file protocols such as CIFS, NFS and AFP, which are respectively used in Windows, Linux/Unix and Mac environments. In addition, FTP and the popular rsync incremental backup protocol can be enabled. Home users will find its support for DLNA and iTunes streaming server a bonus, though they are probably of limited usefulness in the office.

As with any NAS, the first two tweaks are typically setting the disk volume and assigning the users. Where the former is concerned, the ReadyNAS Ultra 2 supports standard RAID 0 and RAID 1 configurations. One volume, capable of hosting multiple shares, is created by default. Each share is then individually configured with the appropriate user rights, with each enabled file protocol managed separately. Storage devices plugged into USB ports are managed in a similar manner, though they appear as a single shared device. Businesses that prefer block level control can also enable iSCSI.

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Like other products in the ReadyNAS Ultra series, the ReadyNAS Ultra 2 supports X-RAID2 automatic volume expansion technology. As opposed to traditional RAID, X-RAID2 eliminates the tedium of having to back up the data, then delete and recreate a RAID volume when adding new HDDs. We did not test this, however, due to the implausibility that businesses would deploy the two-bay ReadyNAS Ultra 2 in a single disk configuration, since it provides no redundancy.

User accounts can also be created under the User & Group Accounts tab and assigned a storage quota. For ease of management, it's also possible to categorize users by groups in an Unix-like manner complete with GID. Both user lists and group lists can be imported and exported as CSV files if desired.

ReadyNAS Ultra 2 Features

For small businesses, the most useful capability of the ReadyNAS Ultra 2 is probably its capability to create and schedule backup jobs. A wide range of data sources can be selected as the backup source, including remote websites, attached USB drives, NFS and FTP locations and home directory of users. A diligent administrator can easily configure the NAS to perform a daily backup of user data to an external storage drive, for example, or make a copy of the company's website on a weekly basis.

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Another helpful feature is the capability to connect supported USB printers, which are then automatically shared with Windows and Mac users on the network. This can be useful in small offices equipped with inexpensive, nonnetworked printers. Meanwhile, small businesses looking to set up a hybrid cloud solution will be interested to know that ReadyNAS Ultra 2 comes with baked-in support for Netgear's own ReadyNAS Vault cloud backup service.

One complaint is that the Web interface of the ReadyNAS Ultra 2, while functional and logically ordered, looks dated. Also, though most actions were completed snappily, functions such as enabling file protocols cause the interface to lock for a few seconds. I suspect this has to do with the way the Web interface was designed, as opposed to limitations in the Atom processor.

ReadyNAS Ultra 2 Surveillance Add-Ons

One strength of the ReadyNAS Ultra 2 is undoubtedly the capability to install add-on modules to enhance its capabilities. These could be official add-ons such as Symantec Backup Exec and Logitech Media Server or modules from a vibrant community of third-party developers.

One Netgear add-on, the ReadyNAS Surveillance Network Video Recorder, loads as a separate browser window when launched. This (NVR) module comes with support for more than 1,000 name-brand IP cameras to set up an affordable and easy to use surveillance solution. Depending on the underlying NAS platform, it is capable of recording at up to 240fps at 1.3M, H.264 recording. The ReadyNAS Surveillance is licensed at a list price of $95 per camera and includes a 30-day free trial for testing purposes.

On this front, Netgear sent along two Axis M1011 IP cameras along with the ReadyNAS Ultra 2. In the tests I conducted, I was able to quickly search and add the newly powered-on cameras from the Web interface of the NVR module. It was possible to view a real-time stream from the connected cameras and playback recorded video footage.

ReadyNAS Surveillance is a polished package overall, though one downside is that the add-on will only work properly on Internet Explorer 8 and 9 due to the presence of an embedded ActiveX control. The vendor does provide a free Windows-based ReadyNAS Surveillance application for Windows users, though. Hopefully, Netgear will update the NVR module soon to support other desktop platforms such as Linux and Mac OS X.

Finally, Netgear offers an online surveillance bandwidth and storage calculator for computing the storage requirements under varying camera resolution and scenarios. A camera compatibility list is also available.

Summing Up the Netgear ReadyNAS Ultra 2

The ReadyNAS Ultra 2 is a full-featured NAS powered by a mature platform. I like that it offers a fair number of sophisticated features presented in a way that doesn't overwhelm users. Setting up a new ReadyNAS was also straightforward, while deploying additional appliances appears to be easy with the use of the included RAIDar utility. Perhaps the greatest asset of the ReadyNAS platform, though, is its support of externally developed add-on modules, which let you add impressive amount of features to complement the baseline capabilities of the NAS.

At the time of this review, the Netgear ReadyNAS Ultra 2 was available, diskless, for under $200 on Amazon. This is a very appealing price for small businesses looking for a NAS to centralize its storage needs.

Paul Mah is a freelance writer and blogger who lives in Singapore. Paul has worked a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. Paul also enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones and networking devices. You can reach Paul at paul@mah.sg and follow him on Twitter at @paulmah.

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Read more about network attached storage (nas) in CIO's Network Attached Storage (NAS) Drilldown.

This story, "Netgear ReadyNAS Ultra 2 Small, Simple and Affordable" was originally published by CIO .

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