Storage Server Review: LaCie 5big Network 2

by Joseph Moran

Easy administration and lots of capacity make the LaCie 5big Network 2 with NAS 2.0 software an excellent choice for small business storage.

LaCie's 5big Network 2 network attached storage device avoids the four- or six-drive configuration common to small network attached storage (NAS) devices. Instead, it splits the difference by offering five drive slots. This strategy delivers a storage capacity and flexibility that's close to a six-bay NAS at a price not far off that of a typical four-bay.

With its recently updated operating system, the 5big Network 2 offers small businesses a very capable and user-friendly storage server. Let's take a closer look at its capabilities.

NAS Hardware Features

Whereas most NAS devices offer bland, utilitarian looks, the 5big Network 2 presents a very stylish face. Its gray-sliver chassis (created by product designer Neil Poutlon) and large blue indicator light orb make the 5big Network 2 look more like a data nexus for some mysterious alien race than for an earthbound small business.

The business end of the 5big Network 2 is around back, where in addition to five drive bays, you'll find a pair each of USB 2.0, eSATA, and Gigabit Ethernet ports. The Ethernet ports can be configured for load balancing to improve performance, or failover for better reliability. (The 5Big Network 2 doesn't offer any USB 3.0 ports, or ports of any kind on the front of the unit.)

Each of the aforementioned drive bays can accommodate up to a 3 TB SATA drive for a maximum raw storage capacity of 15 TB. Drives are secured to sturdy aluminum trays with screws (rather than using the tool-less flexible plastic trays ones that are increasingly common), and the trays lock individually into place rather than collectively behind a door. This isn't for security, though, as the locks are really only latches. As such, you can remove a tray with a supplied tool, or even a coin or strong fingernail.

Hands-on Storage Server Testing

After powering up the 5big Network 2, we used the included Network Assistant utility (available for Windows, Mac and Linux) to locate the small business storage server on the network and update it with LaCie's new NAS 2.0 operating system before proceeding to and launch the Web-based administration console.

The 5big Network2's administration console is every bit as simple and attractive as its exterior design. The layout is clean and easy to navigate, and it's surrounded by a half-dozen feature widgets that give you quick-and-easy access to status information and configuration options. You can reposition the widgets to your liking via drag and drop, and you can substitute any of the standard widgets with ones from preferred configuration categories.

LaCie's 5big Network 2; NAS; small business storage
The 5big Network 2 has a simple and stylish look, with all the drive bays and ports located in the rear (See Figure 2 on page 2).
(Click for larger image)

Our 5TB unit came configured of the box as a RAID 5 array, offering about 3.6 TB of usable storage. If you're willing to give up more capacity for added data protection, you also can set up RAID 6, which cuts usable storage down a bit below 3 TB but can keep humming with two drives offline rather than one. The 5Big Network 2 also supports RAID 0, as well as RAID 1 and 10 when you have only two or four drives installed.

While simultaneously copying a folder to the 5big Network 2 and streaming video from it, we abruptly pulled out a drive to generate a failure, and after a momentary hiccup, both operations continued to a successful conclusion. When a drive dies, the front indicator turns red, mimicking the light above the failed drive's tray.

You'd think something with five hard drive drives churning inside would make a fair amount of noise, but the 5big Network 2 is virtually silent, with only a subtle detectable hum. Another welcome feature is Eco Management, which lets you minimize the unit's power consumption by scheduling it to turn on and off automatically at different times and days of the week.

A new addition to LaCie's NAS 2.0 software: the capability to migrate to new RAID modes without having to blow away existing data as you add additional drives. We were able to start out with a single drive, add a second and convert the unit to RAID 1, and then add additional drives and convert to RAID 5 or 6, all without disturbing the stored data.

You can perform migrations manually or automatically, with the process taking anywhere from one to eight hours, during which time the drive is still accessible (albeit with slightly degraded performance).

There are two caveats worth mentioning about RAID migration. One is that you can only migrate non-destructively when adding new drives. Converting a five-drive RAID 5 to RAID 6, for example, does involve loss of data. Also, all current 5big Network 2 models ship with all five drive bays full, which limits your practical ability to utilize the migration feature unless you start anew with your own drives.

The 5big Network 2 is available in 5, 10 or 15 TB versions for $799, $1,049 or $1,399 respectively.

Data Sharing and Backup

Windows, Mac or Linux systems can connect to shares on the 5big Network 2. Two default shares are called Public and Share, with the latter requiring specific user rights to access. You can set up users and groups right on the 5big Network 2, or join the unit to Active Directory to use an existing list.

For backing up users' computers, the NAS storage server comes with three licenses each for Genie and Intego Backup Manager Pro (for Windows and Mac systems, respectively). It can also backup Macs via Time Machine, and backup itself to an external storage device.

 In a helpful nod to people who like to keep a data backup copy offsite, you can configure backups to occur automatically when a specified external storage device is connected (rather than at a particular day and time) and then automatically disconnect the drive when the backup is complete. This saves the trouble of logging into the unit to initiate a backup and then doing so again to safely eject the drive.

Remote Access

Chances are you'll need to get to data from outside the office at some point, and while the 5Big Network 2 lets you accomplish this, it's remote access capabilities aren't as sophisticated as, say, the Iomega's Personal Cloud feature available on its comparable NAS products.

The 5Big Network 2's Web-based File Browser lets you browse and manage folders, upload and download files, etc. over either HTTP or (secure) HTTPS. File Browser also displays photo thumbnails and streams MP3 files, but it doesn't stream video files. (It does, however, stream to a local network via UPnP AV/DLNA.)

LaCie's 5big Network 2; NAS; small business storage
Figure 2: The LaCie's 5big Network 2 view from around back.
(Click for larger image)

As browser-based interfaces go, LaCie's is well laid out and responsive. Still, this method of remote file access seems somewhat crude in comparison Iomega's Personal Cloud, which lets remote computers map shared folders as drive letters for convenient and consistent access irrespective of whether they're connecting from the local network or the Internet.

While the 5Big Network 2's approach to remote access isn't nearly as slick as Iomega's, it does have the advantage of being self-sufficient. Unlike Personal Cloud, it doesn't depend on a matchmaking service to facilitate a connection between remote computers and the server over the Internet.

If you want to connect to a 5big Network 2 on a network without a consistent IP address, you'll still need to set up a dynamic DNS service -- the unit works with four different DNS providers, but you have to set up the service yourself in advance. A future software update will let you set up a LaCie-hosted dynamic DNS right from the device, as well as add some unspecified improvements to remote access.

The 5big Network 2 offers an additional drive bay and 1 TB of storage for an MSRP only fifty bucks higher than an Iomega StorCenter ix4-200d. If you're mainly concerned with local access to your data and want the most storage and bays for your money, LaCie's 5big Network 2 will not disappoint you.

Price: $799, (5TB) $1049, (10TB), or $1399 (15 TB)

Pros: Excellent administrative interface; non-destructive RAID migration when adding new drives

Cons: No USB 3.0 ports; browser-based remote access

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 Sep 29th 2011
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