The market for network-attached storage units has expanded significantly over the last few years. The rapid growth in public cloud storage (Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive and the like) has tempered the expansion a bit amongst consumers who are not very tech-savvy. However, the benefits provided by a NAS in the local network are undeniable, particularly when complemented with public cloud services. Enterprise users obviously need NAS units with different performance and feature requirements. Our previous NAS reviews have focused more on the performance aspect. With feature set and ease of use becoming important across all market segments, we believe that a qualitative evaluation of the different commercial NAS operating systems is needed to educate consumers on the options available.


Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) NAS operating systems are popular across a wide range of market segments - business and enterprise users (including those with dedicated IT staff) prefer to have plug-and-play storage units that don't need much babysitting, while the average consumer often wants a media-centric unit without the hassle of re-purposing an old PC or building a file server from scratch. This regularly-updated piece will take a look at the features and usability of the currently popular COTS NAS operating systems.

The following NAS vendors / operating systems are currently covered in this article:

  1. Asustor [ ADM 2.6.5R9N1 ]
  2. Netgear [ ReadyNAS OS 6.6.0 ]
  3. QNAP [ QTS 4.2.2 ]
  4. Synology [ DSM 6.0.2-8451 Update 3 ]
  5. Western Digital [ My Cloud OS 2.21.19 ]
  6. ZyXEL [ FW v5.20(AATB.0) ]

Different vendors cater to different market segments - both in terms of hardware and software features. For example, Asustor, Netgear, QNAP and Synology have units ranging from 2-bay desktop models targeting the average home consumer to 12-bay rackmounts targeting SMBs and SMEs. Western Digital has only desktop units- 1- and 2-bay models targeting entry level users, and multiple 2- and 4-bay models targeting experts, professionals and business users. ZyXEL, on the other hand, focuses on only one market segment - the average home consumer. Every vendor other than ZyXEL in the list above carries both ARM- and x86-based solutions. ZyXEL has only ARM-based solutions in their lineup. The choice between ARM and x86 has to be made by the end-user depending on the requirements (number of users, transcoding support etc.). This piece is not meant to provide inputs on the hardware choice, though we will briefly touch upon how the OS features might vary based on the platform. The hardware currently used to test out the various OS features are tabulated at the end of this section.

Security has turned out to be a very important concern for equipment connected to the network, particularly those exposed to the Internet. Therefore, frequent updates are needed even in the NAS firmwares to handle vulnerabilities that get exposed from time to time. The release date of the latest firmware is also a measure of the commitment of the NAS vendor to their consumers.

Most COTS NAS operating systems are based on Linux, and utilize software RAID (mdadm) with the stable ext4 file system. Recently, btrfs has also become popular in this space. ZFS, due to its resource-hungry nature, has been restricted to units targeting enterprise users. DIY consumers can also get a taste of it using open-source BSD-based operating systems such as FreeNAS.

The following table provides the essential information discussed above in a easy to compare manner.

NAS Operating Systems Evaluation - Comparison Details
Firmware Version ADM 2.6.5R9N1 ReadyNAS OS 6.6.0
Firmware Release Date October 3, 2016 September 29, 2016
OS Kernel Linux 4.1.0 Linux 4.1.30
File System ext4 btrfs (Customized)
Evaluated Hardware 10-bay AS6210T 4-bay ReadyNAS RN214

This piece focuses on the core user-facing aspects of COTS NAS systems. These include the setup process and the quality of the user interface. Storage management and configurable services are the next topic. An overview of user management is followed by discussion of the networking features available in each OS.

Most NAS operating systems have feature parity in terms of core features. However, as we shall see at the end of this piece, there is a difference in ease of use which make some vendors stand out of the crowd. These vendors also try to differentiate with value-added services such as media servers, surveillance (IP camera) support, cloud features and other such features. They will be covered in detail in a follow-on article.

Setup Process and User Interface
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  • jlabelle2 - Thursday, November 17, 2016 - link

    - About $300 for a 5 bay implementation

    So what's the point then? If it cost 300$. How much do you really save then when a DS416J cost below 300$???

    - I am just spreading the word

    so do it: explain how you cover the basic functions I mentioned and then we will talk.

    - the same feature set,

    No. And you know it is true. Just the basic features i mentioned are not all available in FreeNAS.

    - advise you that you can have an enterprise solution for the same cost as consumer cots

    What are "entreprise solutions" that FreeNAS offers that "consumer" NAS do not? Could you share?
  • Namisecond - Tuesday, November 15, 2016 - link

    Unfortunately that sale ended last year. They start around $800 right now. Once you add up the cost of a server windows license, an 8 bay COTS NAS starts to look more attractive. Add in the hot-swap bays, small form factor, consumer appliance-level power consumption and noise level. A roll-your-own server sounds less appealing. Some of them even use (or can use) mid-range Intel processors.
  • jlabelle2 - Wednesday, November 16, 2016 - link

    One thousand times this.
  • JimmiG - Tuesday, November 15, 2016 - link

    Quite happy with my 2-bay QNAP NAS. It's much smaller and more power efficient than anything I could have built myself.
    RTRR is great and better than RAID IMO. The versioning works great, it's super fast to sync and it protects against corruption, accidental deletion, ransonware etc. I don't care if my media collection goes offline for a day or two while I get a new drive and restore. RAID is for when you already have a backup plan, and you absolutely need 24/7 access to your data, such as business critical applications.
  • jabber - Tuesday, November 15, 2016 - link

    Yeah I've been a QNAP user for years now. Small, quiet, low power and best of all all low effort. Sometimes people just feel they need to make a rod for their own back. Just because you can doesn't mean you should.
  • tokyojerry - Friday, November 18, 2016 - link

    Ganesh, thanks much for your intended series of posts to provide insight into NAS devices for the layperson to understand. I am relatively new to NAS devices and find something to learn all the time. So, I find an article posted like this one to be quite helpful. I've been running a NAS for just about a year now. I run a Synology DS1515+ but recently acquired QNAP's TVS-682T which still is not placed into production yet. The QNAP allows for added primary functionality of DAS and iSCSI in addition to NAS. I hope in future overviews of NAS devices you might cover these alternative configurations, when to use them, what they are for, etc. DAS I have basic ideas about but have zilch on iSCSI. Thanks much
  • vision33r - Wednesday, November 23, 2016 - link

    Choosing your NAS depends on what you're planning to do. There's no question that any low end PC today can be converted to handle simple File sharing. If your project has multiple purposes and interfacing requirements then you might need more enterprise like features.

    I've done some pretty decent sized Vmware projects and SAN is your headless disk array group. At home I can replicate that with a good NAS appliance, sure it doesn't have some of the sexy tech out there like 10G or Fiber Channel but having enough drives to host your OS data and bonding multiple NIC through LACP is good enough throughput to have a decent size Vmware site in your house. You could do something like this with a built HyperV or standalone ESX box but you run the risk of having non-standard RAID and complexity to your storage. The goal is to simplify storage and decouple OS running system from their disk arrays that's why having dedicated NAS for scalability is important.
  • biladwardjwr48099 - Friday, November 25, 2016 - link

    The market for network-attached storage units has expanded significantly over the last few years.HP microservers are often down to about £170 new, given that we pay VAT and our currency is now worthless, I imagine they are about the same in $
  • biladwardjwr48099 - Friday, November 25, 2016 - link

    мy coυѕιɴ ιѕ мαĸιɴɢ $51/нoυr oɴlιɴe. υɴeмployed ғor α coυple oғ yeαrѕ αɴd prevιoυѕ yeαr ѕнe ɢoт α $1З619cнecĸ wιтн oɴlιɴe joв ғor α coυple oғ dαyѕ. ѕee мore αт.
  • bobthedino - Monday, February 13, 2017 - link

    The article refers to Samba as a "protocol" (e.g. it says "accessible using protocols such as Samba or NFS") but it is not: Samba is a particular implementation of the SMB/CIFS protocol.

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