QNAP ES1640dc NAS Review

QNAP Systems, Inc., which is short for “Quality Network Appliance Provider”, has always been at the cutting edge of network attached storage (NAS) solutions which are easy to use, has high storage capability and is very reliable. As always, QNAP tries to blend technology and design to bring to their clients the products that will help them achieve their business ends. The QNAP ES1640dc NAS is certainly a step in this direction. The QNAP ES1649dc NAS is a high end Enterprise Virtualization / Cloud Computing Solution which is based on ensuring high availability at all times. QNAP has had quite some products in the business-class cloud computing data storage category and with the release of the ES1649dc NAS, they have left a firm and solid footprint in the market that will make its competitors take notice. The ES1649dc comes with a FreeBSD-based QES operating system which allows business enterprises to handle their data efficiently and in safety. Armed with Intel Xeon E5 processors and dual active controllers, it is highly cost-efficient, has nearly zero downtime and is optimized for high end cloud computing applications. QNAP has taken special efforts to ensure and highlight 100% availability as one of the most striking features of the ES1649dc NAS.

The QNAP ES1640dc has been introduced as a business class cloud computing data storage solution by QNAP. In order to improve its standing, QNAP is going HA, leveraging better hardware, software to this device as well as deduplication and data compression. Each node inside the ES1640dc comes armed with an Intel Xeon 6-core E5-2420 v2 Processor, 32GB of DDR3 RAM, an M.2 SSD for NVRAM cache and comes preloaded with the FreeBSD-backed QNAP QES operating system. The new QES OS is compatible with ZFS, which can lead to better data protection and higher storage capacities. The ES1640dc comes with 16 3.5″ drive bays with SAS 12Gb/s capabilities, supporting the latest in high-performance SAS SSDs and high-capacity HDDs.

High availability has been the focus of the new ES1640dc. As discussed above, the new unit has dual active controllers with failover, so in the event one is lost the other takes over immediately, resulting in zero downtime. Storage can also be adjusted in such a way to also operate in an active/active configuration where both controllers can be put to use hosting their own allocated storage. The field replaceable nature of the controller allows for a quick replacement without shutting down the NAS. Along with the high availability theme, the QNAP ES1640dc also offers battery-backed NVRAM cache that writes data to an m.2 SSD in the event of a power failure. The NVRAM cache also has mirroring between both controllers to ensure there is no data loss in the event of one node going offline.
The QNAP ES1649dc NAS basically uses the same NAS OS that has been used for other units as well and then modified it to suit the new enterprise system. The new operating system, QES, will share the same architecture as that of QTS, shortening the learning curve. QES improves upon FreeBSD, offering support for ZFS for better data protection. Along with ZFS comes deduplication and in-line data compression, which QNAP assures will maximize VDI storage potential. QES is designed more to the needs of the enterprise and we take a more in depth look in our management section below.

The QNAP ES1649dc NAS has been made available in the market and goes at a ballpark figure of $9,699 USD. For this review we will be considering the ES1640dc v1. There is a v2 available now, but not at the time of when this review was done. The v2 is compatible with SAS 12Gb/s drives, has up to 4 10GbE SFP+ ports per controller, and the expansion slots come preinstalled with Mini-SAS and 1 LAN-10G2T-X550.

• QNAP ES1640dc NAS specifications:
• Form Factor: 3U
• CPU: Intel Xeon 6-core Processor E5-2420 v2 (15M Cache, 2.20GHz)
• Memory: 32GB/64GB (DDR3) for main memory DIMM and 16GB write cache DIMM per controller
• Cache: M.2 2280 SSD dedicated to NVRAM, SATA signaling
• Drive bays: 16
• Max Capacity: 160TB (10TB x 16)
• Compatible Drive Types:
• 3.5” SAS 6Gb/s/SATA 6Gbps/3Gbps HDD
• 2.5” SAS 6Gb/s/SATA 6Gbps/3Gbps HDD
• 2.5” SAS/SATA 6Gb/s SSD
External Ports:
• 2 x USB 3.0/2.0 port
• 1 x 10/100/1000 Mbps LAN Port/controller
• 2 x RJ45 (LAN-10G2T-X550)/controller
• PCIe slots
• PCIe Slot x8 (Gen2 x8): reserved for 40GbE or 10GbE LAN card
• PCIe Slot x4 (Gen2 x4): reserved for dual path Mini-SAS
Power Consumption:
• Sleep mode: 314.86W
• Operation: 501.40W
• Supply: 770W
• Fan: Hot-swappable fan module (60x60x38mm; 16000RPM/12v/2.8A x 3)
• Dimensions
• Depth: 618mm
• Width: 446.2mm
• Height: 132mm
• Weight: 26.75kg / 58.97lb

Design and Build
The QNAP ES1640dc has a front loading 3U unit. It can accommodate up to 16, 3.5” drives with these bays dominating the majority of the front of the device. On the left hand side, the QNAP ES1640dc has the power and status button. And each drive tray has an indication light for status when the unit is switched on.
Since the theme of the ES1640dc revolves around availability, it is designed with field replaceable in mind as a field replaceable unit or FRU. The two controls are at the bottom of the device and can be removed and replaced without having to open the chassis. On the left hand side of both controllers, a removable BBU is located. And above both a removable PSU is installed. The fan module is also easily removable and replaceable, however, the top of the chassis have to be removed first.

Management

Conventionally, QNAP has gone with the same operating system in all its other devices, which assures that the user gets the same user experience no matter what hardware he uses. While the new QES OS advances to a new backend OS, it still has the same look at feel as existing systems running QTS. The interface is pretty user friendly, but lacks some of the refinement that other large-enterprise companies offer that are pushing down into the sub-20k market segment.

Although both OS’s may seem very similar, a trained eye can easily identify some stark differences. Apart from having different OS kernels (the old was Linux with the new being FreeBSD), the new OS uses ZFS for its file system versus Ext4. In QES Operating System there is no App Station, Virtualization Station, Container Station, or Intel Quick Assist. However, the new OS has considerably increased its upper Snapshot and single LUN snapshot limit from 1,024 to 65,536. The transition from Virtualization Station shows a level of seriousness from QNAP for larger businesses that are more likely to favor hypervisors such as VMware or Hyper-V. For remote backup and DR, QES employs SnapSync as opposed to Snapshot Replica used by QTS.

Application Workload Analysis

The key to understanding the performance characteristics of enterprise storage devices is to reproduce the application workloads found in live production environments while modelling the infrastructure. Our standard for the QNAP ES1640dc are therefore the Microsoft SQL Server OLTP performance, MySQL OLTP performance via SysBench, and VMmark. For our database application workloads, each drive will be operating 4 or more identically configured VMs.
Realizing how important zero downtime is in cloud computing enterprises, this feature is sure to turn a lot of heads and reassert the trust their clients has in them. We will analyze its features in this article and put its various functionalities to test and see how it fares in comparison with similar enterprise solutions available in the market today. More importantly, we will see how QNAP has addressed the downtime problem that has been ubiquitous in the products of all its competitors. Some of the features that allow this product with this is the battery-protected DRAM write cache, dual 10GbE ports and the optional 40GbE NIC. The design has also been considerably overhauled and redundant features taken off. By incorporating the new FreeBSD-based QES operating system into the QNAP ES1640dc, they have brought in much needed user friendliness to the system. It adopts dual active-active controllers to limit the downtimes. By retaining crucial functionalities of the QTS operating system, QNAP has helped out its old users and saved a considerable amount of their time which would otherwise had been spent in learning the new system from scratch. Below, we have put the various aspects of QNAP ES1640dc to test and compare how it fares with its competitors.

QNAP ES1640dc Configuration as tested:
• 16 x 960GB Toshiba PX04S SAS3 SSD (2 RAID10 Pools, one per controller)
• 2 x Intel X520 SFP (one per controller)
• 2 x 3.1TB instant-allocated LUNs (one per controller, compression and deduplication disabled)
• Mellanox SX1036 as ToR switch for storage and compute on same fabric

The SQL Server Performance was tested in a Microsoft SQL Server OLTP testing protocol which uses the latest directives from the Transaction Processing Performance Council’s Benchmark C (TPC-C), which effectively is an online transaction processing benchmark that reproduces the various parameters found in complex application environments. The TPC-C standard comes closer than synthetic performance benchmarks to gauging the performance strengths and bottlenecks of storage infrastructure in database environments. Each instance of our SQL Server VM for this review uses a 333GB (1,500 scale) SQL Server database and evaluates the transactional performance and latency under a load of 15,000 virtual users.

SQL Server Performance

The SQL Server VMs used in this analysis has two vDisks, the 100GB volume takes care of the boot and a 500GB volume which is primarily used for the database and log files. From a system resource angle, we configured each VM with 16 vCPUs, 64GB of DRAM and leveraged the LSI Logic SAS SCSI controller. While our Sysbench workloads tested previously saturated the platform in both storage I/O and capacity, the SQL test is aimed at checking for latency performance.
Dell’s Benchmark Factory for Databases specifies using SQL Server 2014 running on Windows Server 2012 R2 guest VMs, and the same is being used for this test as well. While our traditional usage of this benchmark has been to test large 3,000-scale databases on local or shared storage, in this test we focus on spreading out four 1,500-scale databases evenly across the ES1640dc (two VMs per controller).

SQL Server Testing Configuration (per VM)

• Windows Server 2012 R2
• Storage Footprint: 600GB allocated, 500GB used
• SQL Server 2014
• Database Size: 1,500 scale
• Virtual Client Load: 15,000
• RAM Buffer: 48GB
• Test Length: 3 hours
• 2.5 hours preconditioning
• 30 minutes sample period

SQL Server OLTP Benchmark Factory LoadGen Equipment

• Dell PowerEdge R730 Virtualized SQL 4-node Cluster
• Eight Intel E5-2690 v3 CPUs for 249GHz in cluster (Two per node, 2.6GHz, 12-cores, 30MB Cache)
• 1TB RAM (256GB per node, 16GB x 16 DDR4, 128GB per CPU)
• 4 x Mellanox ConnectX-3 InfiniBand Adapter (vSwitch for vMotion and VM network)
• 4 x Emulex 16GB dual-port FC HBA
• 4 x Emulex 10GbE dual-port NIC
• VMware ESXi vSphere 6.0 / Enterprise Plus 8-CPU

Our focus here is at SQL Server Output and hence we had incorporated four identical VMs for this purpose which returned TPS scores ranging from 3,045.2 to 3,050.8 with an aggregate of 12,192.9 TPS. Looking at average latency, the four VMs were in the range of 153ms to 158ms with an average of 155ms. While latency was consistent across all four VMs spread across two controllers the average latency was more than other all-flash enterprise solutions we’ve tested; albeit faster than solutions running in-line data-reduction.

Sysbench Performance

There are three vDisks that are used to configure Sysbench, while the first one is for boot (~92GB), the second is for pre-built database (~447GB) and the final one for the database under test (270GB). In previous tests, we allocated 400GB to the database volume (253GB database size); however, in order to pack additional VMs onto the SC9000, we reduced that allocation down to make more room. From a system resource angle, we configured each VM with 16 vCPUs, 60GB of DRAM and leveraged the LSI Logic SAS SCSI controller. Load gen systems are four Dell R730 servers with VMs evenly distributed across the cluster.

• Dell PowerEdge R730 Virtualized MySQL 4 node Cluster
• Eight Intel E5-2690 v3 CPUs for 249GHz in cluster (Two per node, 2.6GHz, 12-cores, 30MB Cache)
• 1TB RAM (256GB per node, 16GB x 16 DDR4, 128GB per CPU)
• 4 x Mellanox ConnectX-3 InfiniBand Adapter (vSwitch for vMotion and VM network)
• 4 x Emulex 16GB dual-port FC HBA
• 4 x Emulex 10GbE dual-port NIC
• VMware ESXi vSphere 6.0 / Enterprise Plus 8-CPU
• Sysbench Testing Configuration (per VM)
• CentOS 6.3 64-bit
• Storage Footprint: 1TB, 800GB used
• Percona XtraDB 5.5.30-rel30.1
• Database Tables: 100
• Database Size: 10,000,000
• Database Threads: 32
• RAM Buffer: 24GB
• Test Length: 3 hours
• 2 hours preconditioning 32 threads
• 1 hour 32 threads

4 VMs gave an average TPS score of 3,496. When it was doubled to 8 VMs we saw an aggregate score climb to 4,320 TPS. While this performance range isn’t the fastest we’ve measured in the recent past, it stacks up well quite well for the price segment the ED1640dc competes in.

VMmark Performance Analysis

We believe that all Application Performance Analysis has to be conducted in such a way as to gauge the actual performance in live conditions as opposed to what the company claims. We understand the importance of calculating storage as a component of larger systems, most importantly how responsive storage is when interacting with key enterprise applications. In this test we use the VMmark virtualization standard by VMware in a multi-server environment.

VMmark is a very resource-intensive benchmark, which has a mix of VM-based application workloads stressing storage, network and compute activity. When it comes to testing virtualization performance, there is almost no better standard for it, since VMmark looks at so many facets, covering storage I/O, CPU, and even network performance in VMware environments.

The performance of the QNAP ES1640dc was highly satisfactory considering the fact it is a SMB-geared NAS in our VMmark 2.5.2 benchmark, achieving 20 tiles. Considering that many 100k enterprise platforms a few years ago had not been able to hit 10-tiles, an 11k NAS hitting 20 tiles equipped with a read-centric flash is impressive.

Conclusion

QNAP surely is targeting the SMB/SME markets and the ES1640dc NAS is surely a step in this direction. The NAS is 16-bay (160TB max capacity before expansion units are added) and comes with dual controllers, battery-backed with flush to NVRAM controller cache, as well deduplication and compression abilities. Two of the main attractions of this NAS are its high availability through its active/active controllers, and its new enterprise operating system QES which brings with it rich enterprise features such as data-reduction, snapshots and end-to-end data integrity.
To analyze the performance of the ES1640dc, we had it tested with SQL Server, SysBench, and VMmark. In our SQL Server TPC-C benchmark the ES1640dc had an average score of 12,192.9 TPS and an average aggregate latency of 155ms. On our SysBench TPC-C benchmark, the NAS hit an average of 4,320 TPS with 8 VMs, and had an average average latency of 59.5ms. In a virtualization-rich environment testing performance with VMmark, the QNAP was able to achieve a 20-tile load, which is very impressive given the price-point of the system. Overall for the 11k starting point, the QNAP ES1640dc has a lot to offer in the entry-enterprise segment where budgets are tight, but requirement for rich feature sets are also high.

Pros

• Dual controllers that can run in active/passive or active/active configurations
• Features data-reduction and snapshot capabilities
• Strong virtualization performance as measured in our VMmark benchmark

Cons

• Lacks some OS refinement compared to other enterprise offerings

The Bottom Line

The QNAP ES1640dc is a dual-controller high-performance NAS ideal for customers in the SMB/SME sector who are looking for feature-sets on a restricted budget.
For someone looking at affordable cloud application or virtualization solution, the QNAP ES1640dc provides a solid solution and within their budget. It is compatible with most of the drivers and machines in use today and hence can easily used to replace the current system or upgrade it. Tests have shown that is so much easier to integrate the QNAP ES1640dc into commercial cloud storage platforms than the other products out there. By adopting deduplicated virtual desktops which takes out a lot of duplicate data, the QNAP ES1640dc saves a considerable amount of storage and hence allows for optimized usage of storage space. As most systems today use Microsoft Hyper-V, it makes a lot of sense that the QNAP ES1640dc is compatible with it. It allows for hassle free deployment and management in virtualization environments. Its snapshot capability is another factor that works in its factor. The importance of snapshots can only be identified when you are working with a system that does not allow snapshots. It has given satisfactory performance in most of the tests conducted against benchmark performance and that is certainly good news for people on a budget. In effect, you are getting a high performance system with minimal downtimes at a limited budget.