NAS Review: Iomega StorCenter ix4-200d Cloud Edition

by Joseph Moran

This NAS device simplifies access to small business data no matter where you are -- thanks to a fee-free Personal Cloud feature.

In any contemporary discussion about small business storage technology, the term "cloud" is likely to come up often enough to make a meteorologist feel at home. Cloud storage has many benefits -- notably easy access to your data from anywhere there’s an Internet connection -- but it also comes with things your small business may not want, such as the need to transfer your  data offsite into the custody of a third party and then paying a monthly charge to access it.

Iomega’s StorCenter ix4-200d Cloud Edition network attached storage device gives small businesses a way to establish their own cloud of sorts -- without giving up possession and control of their data. Moreover, it offers a method of data access that’s simple and consistent whether you’re on the company network or somewhere outside the confines of the office.

NAS Hardware Features

The StorCenter ix4-200d Cloud Edition comes housed in a compact, cube-shaped case and available in 4, 8, and 12 TB models that cost $799, $1,099, and $1,599, respectively. Regardless of capacity, all ix4-200d models include four SATA II hard drives set up in a default RAID 5 configuration, which means about a quarter of the overall capacity is set aside to store the parity data that lets the unit recover from a failed drive without any data loss.

In RAID 5, our 8 TB test unit offered roughly 6 TB of usable capacity. The ix4-200d can also be used in RAID 10 (50 percent of space set aside for data redundancy) or in non-redundant configurations that can use the unit’s full capacity.

Iomega Storage manager; NAS, small business storage
Iomega's StorCenter ix4-200d Cloud Edition.
(Click for larger image)

The ix4-200d’s hard drives aren’t quite as easy to access as on some other NAS units. Instead of being located behind a front-panel door, you need to pop off the ix4-200d’s case to get at the pull-out drive trays within. But removing the case isn’t a major hassle, as it involves only two large thumbscrews and requires no tools. The drives aren’t hot-swappable, so you need to power down the unit before replacing one.

What you do get on the ix4-200d’s front panel is a small but easy-to-read LCD display that cycles through basic unit info -- time and date, a capacity gauge, and the unit’s name and IP address. The ix4-200d sports a pair of Gigabit Ethernet ports, which can be used independently for increased data throughput or bonded together to provide a redundant network connection in the event one of the ports should fail.

To accommodate external storage, the ix4-200d offers three USB 2.0 ports -- two on the back and one on the front, though we would have preferred at least one higher-performance eSATA  or USB 3.0 port as well. We do like the QuikTransfer feature, which lets you transfer the contents of an external drive to a specified folder on the ix4-200d with only a couple of quick button presses.

Cloud Connectivity

The ix4-200d (like many other NAS products in the StorCenter family) now sports a feature that Iomega calls a Personal Cloud. In a nutshell, it lets the ix4-200d maintain a direct and secure link via the Internet to a network of other devices, which can include PCs, mobile devices or other network-enabled Iomega storage drives.  Although Iomega maintains an online service necessary for members of the cloud to locate and connect to each other, the company doesn’t charge a subscription fee and says that data stored on the ix4-200d is neither replicated on nor transferred through Iomega’s servers.

Setting up a cloud on the ix4-200d is very simple, and should require little more than giving it a name of up to 20 characters (no spaces, punctuation, or symbols allowed). If your broadband router supports UPnP, the ix4-200d should be able to configure the necessary port forwarding on its own. If not, or if you have special network circumstances such as Double NAT (more than one router handling the network address translation), you’ll have to manually forward a single port -- namely 50500, though you’re free to change the port number.

The ix4-200d offers two options to encrypt communications between the ix4-200d and the devices that link to it; the default option, Medium, is a 64-bit DES-based encryption scheme, while High employs stronger 128-bit AES.

Once you establish the Personal Cloud on the ix4-200d, you can send out membership invitations to employees, clients, partners, etc. via email directly from the unit’s browser-based administrative console. The email invitations contain a link to Iomega’s Storage Manager access software that’s embedded with a unique access code which, upon installation, automatically configures the software to connect to the specified cloud.

This makes it easy to set up clients since the recipient doesn’t need to know any particulars like an URL for the ix4-200d or even the name of the cloud.  At the moment, the Storage Manager software is available for Windows, Mac and about a half-dozen flavors of Linux systems. On the mobile device front, an Apple iOS version is due out in mid-May, and one for Android is scheduled to follow around the end of June.

NAS and Data Security

It’s important to note that when you issue an invitation to join your cloud, you’re not actually inviting an individual, but rather, his or her computer/device. (Incidentally, Iomega says that a Personal Cloud can have up to 250 members.) Once the Storage Manager software’s been downloaded and installed, it provides that computer with access to the ix4-200d’s array of default array of shared folders, including Backups, Documents, Movies, Music, Pictures and more.

Iomega’s Personal Cloud doesn’t provide any inherent way to define access permissions; a device is either a member of the cloud or it’s not. So, to control access to specific folders by specific people, you must set up user accounts and configure folder access rights by enabling security on the ix4-200d itself.

Iomega Storage manager; NAS, small business storage
The Iomega Storage Manager interface.
(Click for larger image)

After you do this, the Storage Manager prompts for a login password and then automatically provides access to any folders the user has rights to.  For the most streamlined access, ix4-200d account names and passwords should be set to match those on the user’s system, as this eliminates the need to log into the cloud separately. If a person doesn’t have an account on the ix4-200d the first time he or she accesses the cloud, Storage Manager helpfully offers to create the account, which can be a bit of a time saver.

What’s particularly nice about Storage Manager is how it provides access to the ix4-200d’s shared folders. There’s no proprietary or klugey browser-based interface that requires you navigate and access files in an unfamiliar way (e.g. checking boxes to select files and downloading files before you can open them).

Instead, folders are automatically mapped to drive letters in Windows Explorer (or accessible through Finder on a Mac, for example) so you can interact with them as if they were a local drives, or at least a local network.

We’re somewhat less enthused about the fact that, in Windows at least, there’s no way to specify which of the ix4-200d’s folders Storage Manager will map -- they’re all mapped all the time, which can make for lots of unnecessary drives for some people.

Moreover,  you can’t control what drive letter a shared folder will use on a given system, so the Pictures folder might be drive R: on your desktop but drive U: on your laptop depending on what other devices on your system (e.g. hard drives or DVDs) are using drive letters. This may also require users to refer to folders by name rather than by drive letter, since the latter may not be consistent from person to person.   

Personal Cloud Storage Performance

It’s important to keep in mind that when you're accessing the ix4-200d from a distance, the performance won’t be nearly as sprightly as it is when the unit’s sitting in the same building as you. How fast you can access your cloud’s data will ultimately depend on the speed of the Internet connection between you and the ix4-200d.

That said, we tried accessing the ix4-200d’s cloud via a laptop from a number of remote locations, and it was responsive enough that there were only very infrequent reminders that we were accessing our data from afar. (For best results, Iomega recommends a 500 Kb/sec upstream connection and between 2.5 and 6 Mb/sec downstream depending on the type of data you’re working with.)

Bottom Line

If you want a way to keep your small business data in-house but still be able to access it from places like your home, an airport, or coffee shop as easily as you do from your desk, the Iomega StorCenter ix4-200d Cloud Edition is worth a serious look.

  • Price:$799, $1,099, $1,599 (for 4, 8, or 12 TB, respectively)
  • Pros:Easy access to data from remote locations via Personal Cloud; no monthly subscription fees
  • Cons: No eSATA or USB 3.0 ports for external storage; Storage Manager software lacks customization options

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

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This article was originally published on Thursday May 12th 2011
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