Many small businesses and advanced home users will use some form of external storage device to backup data or store common files across a network. One of the most convenient methods of doing this is to use a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device, which allows you to access network shares from all other PCs connected to the same network:
The QNAP TS-209 Pro II provides space for two SATA hard drives, providing ample storage capacity (for example, 2 x 1TB drives). However this NAS unit isn’t quite as simple as just providing access to storage space, it can do a whole lot more. The official manual lists the 12 additional functions as follows:
In this price bracket (around £250 at the time of writing), it will be difficult to find another NAS with so many powerful features. Most other NAS devices will include the file server with FTP access and backup tools, however this QNAP device can allow you to run a webserver (using PHP, with MySQL databases) and even download torrent files without turning your PC on. These features will be covered in more depth in subsequent pages.
- File Server
- FTP Server
- Backup Server
- Encrypted Remote Replication
- Web Server
- MySQL Server
- Printer Server
- UPnP Media Server
- Image Files Backup
- Download Station
- iTunes Server
- Surveillance Station
Installation and Setup
Everything you need to get the NAS up and running (apart from hard drives) is included, meaning that you should be up and running within around 5-10 minutes. QNAP include thumbscrews for the front facia and drive bay mounts, which is a welcome addition when disks are swapped about frequently:
The TS-209 Pro II follows the same design style as its predecessors, a glossy black front with a matt grey metal casing. The NAS cube has a recessed indicator panel with an array of LEDs, USB Port and two buttons (power and backup):
The casing feels reassuringly solid, with no rattles or flimsy chassis areas. Once the hard drives have been mounted, it does become too heavy to become an easily portable solution (which isn’t a problem, considering it is after all a NAS drive). The rear of the TS-209 Pro II (from left to right) includes a Kensington lock slot, power socket, reset button, LAN connection and two USB sockets. Above these ports is a small fan exhaust, used to cool down the internal hard drives and NAS chipset:
Installing the drives is a straight forward process, involving removing the front panel and placing each SATA drive into the removable drive trays. There is a list of compatible hard drives on the QNAP website, but you should be able to use almost any SATA drive in the NAS unit. In this example, a 250GB and 1TB drive have been used. Once they are screwed back into place, the front facia can be reattached and the power/LAN cables connected – then it is time to power on:
The power on sequence does take some time (under a minute), which will be followed by a beep sound when ready. Once the boot up sequence is complete, you will be able to access the drive over the network. The first time you connect to the device, you will need to initialise the disks and configure the NAS settings. This process doesn’t take long, but it is worth mentioning that you will lose any existing data on the disk during the initialisation process (due to a change in file storage systems). At this stage you can set up RAID 0 or 1, ideal for mirroring your drives in case of disk failure:
Advanced NAS Features
The QNAP TS-209 Pro II runs an embedded Linux operating system that provides a whole new level of features. A 500MHz processor and 256MB ram are built into the NAS to facilitate this, and should prove powerful enough for these tasks. The advanced features are all accessed and configured through an easy to navigate web administration page:
File Server (with FTP access)
The file server is the primary use for the NAS and allows you to create network shares on the two disks inside the unit. These network shares are automatically detected within windows, and appear when you browse the NAS network. You can also map these to a drive manually by using “\\NAS\Sharename”. Once you are logged into the web admin page, you are presented with a page listing all of the existing network shares and options to create new ones:
When you create a new share you can choose a name (that will be visible when browsing the NAS) and the location that the data is stored in. This means that you might choose to store music in a folder on the 1st drive, and backups in another folder on the 2nd drive:
The FTP service can be configured to allow anonymous or authenticated browsing, with detailed options allowing the specification of maximum transfer speeds and connection limits. Connecting to the NAS over FTP is a basic and straight forward affair, and works perfectly as expected. It’s even possible to automatically copy files from a USB storage device (i.e a digital camera or USB stick) to a folder on the NAS via a copy button on the front of the unit.
Webserver / MySQL Server
One of the most interesting features about the TS-209 Pro II is the ability to run a website (complete with database) directly from the NAS. This would be ideal for a small business intranet, where a website and forum could be accessed from any PC on the local network. Even more interesting is the ability to access the hosted website remotely over the internet by using DDNS (Dynamic Domain Name System). This would allow you to access the hosted website from any remote location, even if your NAS router IP address changes each time you connect to the internet.
QNAP provide easy access to the MySQL service through the PHPMyAdmin web interface. This is a really intuitive method of uploading/downloading/modifying the database to integrate with the webserver. To run a website, you simply need to copy the website files (which can be PHP) to the hosting folder and then configure the database (if any) to work with the settings you are provided. It should be possible to run most PHP/MySQL applications (including Joomla, Wordpress, vBulletin etc...). During testing the pcreview.co.uk files were even run (locally!) on the NAS, and worked without a problem. It would not be practical to host a large site which is available to the public over the internet, as the hardware simply isn’t designed to cope – but a private internet or local intranet site would work brilliantly.
QNAP provide extensive guides and support on their website if you wish to set up any advanced webhosting features (such as hosting your own forum):
The QNAP download station is one of the most powerful included features, and adds the ability to download via HTTP, FTP and even bit-torrent directly to the NAS. If you often download large files and don’t want to keep your PC on or use up resources on your computer then this is ideal. The download station runs within the NAS and can run on a schedule to time your downloads as required (for example, download only at night if you want to make use of overnight bandwidth):
To add a new Bit Torrent download, simply browse for the .torrent file on your PC and upload it to the NAS via the web-admin interface:
Once it is added, the torrent will appear in the download list and will begin transferring:
HTTP/FTP downloads are added in a similar method, and are added to the same list. Authenticated downloads (with a username and password) are also supported:
The download manager is configurable, and allows you to select the maximum number of simultaneous downloads, maximum upload/download speeds and port settings. The scheduled download settings are enabled by picking times that downloading is enabled. Once the NAS clock detects that it is this time, the download managed is activated and the downloading commences:
iTunes Media Server
The iTunes media server (labelled iTunes Service) is an extremely easy way to share a range of music files across an entire network of users. Enabling this service within the QNAP web administration page creates a “QMultimedia” folder which you can copy all your music files to. Not only will this appear as a network share, but it will also appear within iTunes as a shared network drive (in this example, it is called NAS):
This handy feature means you can share media across several PCs at the same time, without causing problems to the iTunes filestore (which would normally happen if you share songs from the same location, and open multiple versions of iTunes).
The QNAP features an effective print server, which allows you to share any USB printer across the network. Drivers are still required as normal on each PC, however you need to mount the network printer to enable use of the device. The TS-209 Pro II has been used continuously for two weeks, in which two printers have been connected and used on a daily basis. Printing works in just the same way as if it were connected directly to your PC, but there is the flexibility of network sharing:
After two weeks of continuous usage, the QNAP TS-209 Pro II has become an indispensable part of the office. Several PCs (and the NAS) are connected to a 100mbps ADSL router, which is able to provide consistent read/write speeds of just under 11MB/s. Playback of videos, music and ISO files was reliable and speedy on all occasions, although copying a directories of hundreds of smaller files does reduce the transfer rate:
The features of the TS-209 Pro II are not found on many NAS units in this price range, and prove to be very welcome tools for advanced users. Web developers will find the web/MySQL hosting feature of the NAS an indispensible, as it allows workers to interface with a locally run website without needing a host PC.
Reliability of the NAS hasn’t been brought into question during testing, and it has been actively used as a file/print server, with plenty of scheduled downloads and intranet testing. The old Landisk NAS used previously has been blown away well and truly. It is evident that a considerable amount of time has gone into developing the software and user interface, as this works flawlessly and is significantly more impressive than most other NAS offerings.
There are a couple of minor points that QNAP could do to improve this offering, such as offering a method of securing the internal drive trays (as the NAS is K-locked, but not the drives) and providing a feature to sync from a remote FTP website to the QNAS (i.e. to schedule remote website backups). A quieter fan would also be a welcome addition, however it is not as loud as most computer PSUs during operation.
Overall, this is an excellent piece of equipment for a home office – combining many useful tools into a single NAS unit. It is difficult to find faults with this unit, other than nit-picking, so the TS-209 Pro II gets a thorough recommendation.