Review: Netgear's ReadyData makes a splash with flash

Netgear's better, faster rack-mount NAS and iSCSI SAN makes the case for enterprise workloads with read and write caching and unlimited snapshots

Netgear's ReadyNAS appliances may be the most polished entry-level NAS products on the market. Now Netgear has set out to redefine this category of storage products with the ReadyData series. The new definition combines a variety of drive types plus innovative software to handle a wide range of storage tasks. The key here is flexibility. The ReadyData 5200 -- a 12-bay, 2U rack-mount system -- provides the building blocks you need to configure a storage system tailored to meet specific application profiles.

Many basics are assumed in a small to midrange enterprise storage system, including 10GbE networking, redundant power supplies, and support for SATA, SAS, and SSDs (solid-state drives). The ReadyData 5200 has all that covered and more. In addition to the hardware flexibility, the ReadyData delivers software features for both block (using iSCSI) and file (NFS and SMB) storage options to meet any need. Couple that with thin provisioning, data compression, and deduplication, and you have the kinds of features normally seen only on high-end products.

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A number of innovative features are used by the ReadyData to improve performance. If you have SSDs installed, you can configure them for either "Read Boost" or "Write Boost." Thus, you can use SSDs as a read cache or a write cache in front of rotating SATA or SAS disk drives to improve overall performance.

The system I reviewed came configured with a total of 10 SATA drives, plus one read-optimized SSD and one write-optimized SSD. Data management features of the ReadyData unit include the ability to take an unlimited number of block-level snapshots. The administrative interface for restoring a snapshot displays a timeline where you can choose to restore from any point in time. This feature could really come in handy when users have the "it was there yesterday" missing file problem. For saving space there is both compression and data deduplication. These features must be enabled for each volume and will affect performance.

Virtual networking is another key feature in the ReadyData box, allowing you to create multiple virtual network connections to any of the physical ports. This becomes really useful when you want to enable off-site data replication and use a different IP address for this function. It also helps when you need to provide a large number of iSCSI LUNS and you want to separate the traffic.

At $18,850 full retail, the ReadyData 5200 reviewed here costs more than twice the price of the 12-bay ReadyNAS 4220 I reviewed last month. If all you need is a backup target, or enough oomph to support light file sharing, the ReadyNAS will do the job for much less. For heavier duties -- such as a back end for virtual servers or database-driven apps -- the ReadyData delivers significant performance advantages, as well as advanced features the ReadyNAS can't match.

Setup and configurationBy default the ReadyData will attempt to establish an IP address using DHCP. A utility program called RAIDar (available from the Netgear support website) will probe a network subnet from a workstation looking for a specific hardware MAC address range. It will present all discovered Netgear NAS products in a menu and allow you to connect to any device through the Web admin interface. Once connected, you can change any number of default settings on the system, including the IP address.

The ReadyData standard configuration includes two 1GbE plus two 10GbE ports. These must be configured individually using the Web-based admin tool if you don't want them to have DHCP assigned addresses. Each physical NIC (eth0 through eth3) shows the status of the device, including speed and physical (MAC) address. One virtual NIC is associated with each physical interface card by default.

My test system came configured with one 50GB SSD devoted to log files, one 200GB SSD configured as a write-optimized drive, and a second 200GB SSD configured as a read-optimized drive. The remaining nine slots contained 7,200-rpm 1TB SATA drives: eight configured as a RAID 10 array and one as a hot spare. Default configuration for all new volumes is to have continuous protection.

One ding against Netgear's management GUI is that you have to know what the color codes stand for in order to tell how a particular SSD has been configured. Although the drive status display clearly labels RAID arrays, log drives, cache drives, and hot spares, it does not provide the key to distinguishing read cache from write cache. According to the manual (page 33), yellow is used for Write Boost and orange is used for Read Boost.

Hardware and software optionsAvailable disk types include SATA (7,200 rpm), near-line SAS (10,000 rpm), SAS (15,000 rpm), and SSD. You can also attach up to two 4U disk enclosures to scale out to 180TB of storage. Individual disk volumes can be configured in RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, or 10. Any number of available disks can be configured in different RAID settings, so you could have both a RAID 1 volume (mirrored) and a RAID 5 volume (striped with parity) in the same box.

Creating new SMB or CIFS shares includes the option to enable compression and deduplication. These two features work in tandem to reduce the footprint of the files stored on individual volumes. While this might not be a good idea for a database volume, it would make sense for backups or users' files. Be aware that the deduplication feature works outside the purview of any client operating system. You wouldn't want to do something like enable the Windows Server 2012 deduplication feature at the same time.

Thin provisioning allows you to create a volume that appears to be larger than it really is. It's a feature designed to allow you to add physical capacity only when you actually need it, without having to resize volumes or file systems. Microsoft supports this type of volume creation with Windows Server 2012. The ReadyData 5200 provides its own thin-provisioning capability for iSCSI volumes, making it possible to provision an iSCSI volume that presents itself as a particular size without the requirement to immediately allocate the full amount of physical disk space.

Performance testingTo test performance, I ran Iometer on an HP BL660c blade server with four Intel E5-4610 CPUs and 64GB of memory. I used the same Iometer configuration file (OpenPerformanceTest32.icf available at as in my tests of the ReadyNAS 4220 and its competitors. This test configuration uses four different scenarios to measure sequential I/O and random read/write performance.

Although the ReadyData 5200 unit was equipped with a dual-port 10GbE NIC, I tested using a single 1GbE port in order to draw comparisons with the ReadyNAS 4220. The charts below show the results from the four tests against an SMB share and an iSCSI LUN on the ReadyData. The results for the ReadyNAS reflect the same four tests against an SMB share.

The numbers show iSCSI to be the faster interface for the ReadyData. Both volumes were created from the same RAID set, so the disk access should be about the same. Keep in mind this is the SMB 2.0 protocol as opposed to the new Microsoft SMB 3.0 protocol. Comparing the ReadyData and ReadyNAS results shows the obvious advantage of SSD caching.

The flash caches give the ReadyData significant latency and random access advantages over its ReadyNAS sibling. With flexibility to adjust the flash sizes and distribution to meet specific application needs, you can tailor the ReadyData device to just about any workload. Add to that the ability to take unlimited snapshots and roll back to any instant in time, and the ReadyData will be much more appealing to a small or medium-size enterprise looking for a general-purpose storage system.

Netgear prices the ReadyData based on the types and numbers of drives in the system. My review unit as tested would cost $18,850 at full retail, but can be had for considerably less through any number of different distributors. If you choose to purchase drives separately, the ReadyData can be had sans drives for less than $6,000.

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