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IoSafe N2 review: Real disaster-proof, robust NAS

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While I haven't seen any demos on the N2, IoSafe has shown many crazy, over-the-top demos with similar products to prove just how tough they are. (Here are a few examples from CES 2009, CES 2010, CES 2011, and CES 2012). These are enough for me to believe the N2 indeed could withstand a disaster. (Note that the server itself can't survive extreme heat or water-submersion. Under these conditions, its outer parts, as well as ports, fans, internal circuits, and so on will likely be destroyed, however, the server's internal drives will survive, so does the data they contain.)

IoSafe backs the N2 up with a one-year warranty that includes a Data Recovery Service (DRS) that covers up to $2,500 of the cost of data recovery, should anything happen to the data the N2 hosts. The warranty is valid no matter what happens to the server and can also be upgraded to cover up to five years, and up to $5,000 per terabyte for those who want to use the next level of DRS, called DRS Pro.

On the other hand, at heart the N2 is a Synology DS213 NAS server, running Synology's DSM NAS operating system. In fact, during my testing, the only thing that reminded me that this is an IoSafe product was the IoSafe logo in the background of DSM's Web interface. Even the System Information shows that this is a DS213 model.

Thus, the N2 has all that a Synology NAS server has to offer, which is a lot. Generally, Synology's DSM offers the most features and is the most robust NAS OS I've seen among all consumer-grade NAS products on the market, and it does the same for all DSM-based NAS servers with variations only in terms of performance and the feature limitations of a server's actual hardware and the number of internal drives it can host.

Based on the DS213, the N2 is classified as a budget dual-bay server, powered by a 2GHz processor and with 512MB of RAM. Running DSM 4.1, the server supports up to eight IP cameras for its Surveillance Station and up to 16 user accounts for its Dropbox-like Cloud Station feature, exactly the same as what you get from the DS213air. And the Surveillance Station and Cloud Station are just two of many features the N2 has to offer, such as the Photo Station and Download Station.

At heart, the N2 is a Synology DS213 NAS server that offers lots of features via the Packet Center.
At heart, the N2 is a Synology DS213 NAS server that offers lots of features via the Packet Center. Dong Ngo/CNET

The Download Station enables the server to download files from the Internet by itself from virtually any download protocols and services, including FTP, HTTP, and BitTorrent. The server's BitTorrent function is the best BitTorrent client I've seen that lets you search for what you need and and download it with a double-click. There's no need to download the torrent file from a separate Web page and load it, even though you can also do that with the Download Station. You can tailor the Download Station to use a certain amount of bandwidth and to avoid certain types of content, such as those that could pose a copyright infringement violation. There are also many other ways to customize the way it works.

The Cloud Station works similarly to the Dropbox service but much better. Once the application is run, you'll be given an EzCloud ID (you can choose your own as long as it's still available). This ID needs to be unique for each server. After that, you can download and install Synology Cloud Station on your PC (running Windows XP or later) or Mac (running Mac OS 10.6.8 or later), run it, and enter the EzCloud ID and the username and password for your account on the server. After that you can sync data from the computer, no matter where it is as long as it's connected to the Internet, with the N2. The only limits to how much data you can sync with the server are the available space on the server and the quota of the account, and, individually, files can't be larger than 5GB. There are no other limitations in terms of how much you can sync between computers.

The Surveillance Station enables the NAS server to work as a video recorder and management station of a very comprehensive surveillance system -- again, possibly the best such that I've seen. It supports a good selection of IP cameras on the market (though not all of them -- make sure you check the supported list) and supports recording images based on scheduling or motion detection. When multiple cameras are used, you can even synchronize the playback to see what happened in front of different cameras at a given time. The Surveillance Station supports all features of the camera, such as night vision, pan, tilt, zoom, and audio. There's also a free DS Cam mobile app for iOS and Android devices that people can use to monitor and manage their Surveillance Station while on the go. The mobile app worked excellently in my trials. Note that the N2, like all Synology NAS servers, comes with only one camera license. To use more than one camera, you'll need to buy additional camera licenses that cost about $50 each.

The Photo Station lets you easily organize photos into albums. Once activated, a share folder called Photo will be created. Photos stored in this shared folder will be automatically placed in well-organized, customizable albums, one for each subfolder. You can then browse the album via a Web browser, like a Google Picasa Web album, and very easily add captions and comments to each photo or album. The Photo Station also offers a complete blogging engine for those who want to chronicle their lives with photos and text. And like the Surveillance Station, the Photo Station comes with a mobile app called DS Photo for both iOS and Android platforms.

In addition to these, there are many other useful and effective applications for the N2, such as Time Backup, which makes backups of data on an external hard drive; a VPN server; Audio Station; a DLNA/UPnP Media Server; and a Video Station for recording digital TV and streaming recordings and movies to mobile devices and so on. The server can also run applications developed by third parties that you can install via its organized Package Center, and comes with many other mobile apps for both iOS and Android devices. The server supports Time Machine natively and also supports online backup services.

I tested the N2 both with Hybrid RAID and RAID 0. As mentioned above, since it's a dual-bay server, Hybrid RAID in this case is similar to RAID 1. In either configuration, the N2 offered about the same performance as the DS213air.

CNET Labs NAS performance scores (via wired Gigabit Ethernet connection, in MBps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

The server was tested using a Gigabit Ethernet connection and in Hybrid RAID the server scored 49MBps and 76MBps for writing and reading, respectively, compared with the 46MBps and 79MBps of the DS213air. These speeds are about the same as those of USB 3.0 portable drives. In RAID 0, which is optimized for speed and storage space at the expense of data security, the N2 scored 58MBps for writing and 86MBps for reading, again very similar to the numbers of the DS213air.

Overall, these are very fast speeds and faster than those of most NAS servers of the same configuration. Compared with some other higher-end NAS servers, including many from Synology, the N2's performance is about average. Still, at this speed it's more than fast enough for home and even many small offices.

The N2 also worked smoothly during my testing and remained very quiet and completely cool even during heavy loads.

The IoSafe N2 is first and foremost an excellent dual-bay network-attached storage device. While its added extreme protection and included Data Recovery Service are overkill for many, those who need to keep their critical data safe at all times will find this NAS server more than worth the extra cost.

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