Review: Iomega StorCenter px4-300d

When we looked at Iomega’s StorCenter ix4-200d Cloud Edition NAS device a while back, we found it to be a solid choice for small businesses that need to keep lots of data accessible both inside and outside the office.

Iomega’s new StorCenter px4-300d takes its place above the ix4 in the company’s NAS product line, and together with a pair of sibling products, offers higher storage capacities, more RAID options, and other enhancements. (Though it lacks the moniker, the px4-300d incorporates Iomega’s relatively new cloud-based features — more on that later.)

Hardware Features
The StorCenter px4-300d is a four drive bay desktop unit that’s available in 4 TB, 8 TB, and 12 TB models for $1,000, $2,000, and $2,800 respectively. There’s also an $800 version available sans hard drives for those who want to select their own storage media — Iomega provides a list of SATA drives that are officially supported.
Our test unit was the $2,000 8 TB model. Outfitted with four 2 TB, 7200 RPM drives and preconfigured as a RAID 5 array, it provided roughly a bit less than 6 TB of usable storage.

Iomega Px4

The Iomega StorCenter px4-300d.

The StorCenter px line also includes px6-300d and px4-300r models — the former is a six-bay desktop unit that can handle up to 18 TB, while the latter is a four drive, 1U-height rack-mount chassis. (Prices for these two models range from $1,200 to $4,000 depending on included storage.)

At the heart of the StorCenter px4-300d lies a 1.8 GHz dual-core Atom CPU mated to 2GB of RAM, and on the rear of the unit a pair of Gigabit Ethernet ports (which can be bonded together for redundancy and bandwidth aggregation), plus two USB 2.0 ports that can accommodate a range of devices including external hard drives, a UPS, and printers.

Thankfully, the px4-300d also includes a modern high-speed USB 3.0 port on the front of the unit beneath a large LCD status display that reports time, device name and IP address, the amount of total and available storage on tap, and notifies you when any drive problems are detected. (It’s worth noting that you don’t get a USB 3.0 port on the rack-mount px4-300r, however.)

Storage Configuration Options
Unlike the aforementioned ix-4 200d, the px4-300d provides convenient access to its four drives bays behind a front panel door. Neither the door nor the individual drives are lockable, however, so the entire unit needs to be kept physically secure.

Drives are hot-swappable, so bad ones can be removed and replaced without having to power down the unit. In addition to JBOD (Just a Bunch of Disks) and RAID 0 (disk striping) modes, which let you utilize the full capacity of the disks but lacks any data redundancy, the px4-300d supports all the common forms of RAID— 1 (mirroring), 10 (mirroring a set of striped drives), and RAID 5 (striping with parity), which is the default configuration. (The six-bay px6-300d also adds support for RAID 6, which is similar to RAID 5 but duplicates parity data so it can survive the failure of two drives instead of just one.)

The px4-300d (and the other px models) offers hot-spare capability, so if you’re willing to leave a drive bay occupied but unused (and in so doing, limit the unit’s total capacity) that drive will sit idle until called upon to automatically take the place of a failed drive.

In addition to conventional magnetic hard drives, the px4-300d also supports solid state storage devices (SSD), which forgo raw capacity for high performance and reliability. The px4-3ood’s drive trays can accommodate either type of media, and we had no trouble using a pair of Iomega-provided 128 GB Micron SSD drives.

Device Administration and Cloud Data Access
NAS devices aren’t typically known for great user interfaces, but the px4-300d is a welcome exception to that rule. Its management console is well designed and easy to use, which makes it simple to discover and configure features, such as joining an Active Directory domain, configuring iSCSI settings, or firing up the unit’s Personal Cloud feature. To see the px4’s management console in action, check out this functional demo.

Iomega’s Personal Cloud technology is another of the px4-300d’s strong suits. It requires minimal hoop-jumping to set up (a single port forwarding rule is all that’s required in most cases) and allows remote users on PC, Mac, or Linux computers to access the px4-300d’s stored data via the Internet as though they were on the same network.

Invitations can be issued via e-mail to individuals inside or outside an organization, and they contain and access code and a link to Iomega’s Storage Manager software, which installs without fanfare and automatically maps drives for whatever shared folders the particular user has been granted access to.

This essentially allows anytime, anywhere access to data without the need to host or sync it through a third party. Although Iomega maintains the network — it’s essentially a VPN — that comprises the Personal Cloud, it doesn’t replicate or monitor your data, and there’s no subscription fee for using the service.
One arguable weak link in the Personal Cloud feature is its lack of support for mobile devices like smartphones. Although iOS and Android apps have been announced and were scheduled for release earlier this year, they’ve yet to debut.

It’s also worth noting that the performance of the Personal Cloud for remote users will have a lot to do with the speed of an organization’s Internet connection, particularly the upstream portion (Iomega recommends at least 500Kb/sec upstream. We found that a 2+ Mb/sec upstream link allowed us to access remote data with reasonable alacrity.

The px4-300d offers plenty of options for both on- and offsite backup of itself and desktop systems. You can backup user’s personal Windows folders or Mac systems (via Time Machine) to the px4-300d, for example. The unit itself can be backed up to external USB storage or to another StorCenter (or any other Personal Cloud-enabled Iomega network storage device with sufficient storage) on the same network or at another location thanks to the cloud feature.

We configured our px4 to backup daily to the previously-reviewed ix4, and it went off without a hitch. The px4-300d also supports backup to various online storage services, including Amazon S3, Avamar, and Mozy Pro.

The Iomega px4-300d provides a good balance of storage capacity, configuration flexibility, and features for small businesses, and its price (at least for the diskless version) compares favorably to comparable products such as QNAP’s TS-459 Pro II Turbo NAS.

Price: $2,000 as tested (8 TB)

Pros: support for hot spare and SSD drives

Cons: Personal Cloud still lacks support for iOS & Android devices

Joseph Moran is a veteran technology writer and co-author of
Getting StartED with Windows 7,
from Friends of ED.

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