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IoSafe N2 review: Real disaster-proof, robust NAS

IoSafe's N2 NAS server combines both disaster-proof technology and advanced Synology network storage features in one two-bay box that delivers on all of its promises.

Dong Ngo SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews
CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.
Dong Ngo
10 min read

Unveiled at CES 2013, the N2 NAS server from IoSafe is the first network-attached storage device that offers data protection against both hard-drive failure and disasters.


IoSafe N2

The Good

The <b>IoSafe N2</b> offers real data protection against disaster and mechanical drive failure while offering fast performance and an excellent set of features.

The Bad

The N2's storage can't be dynamically scaled up to more than two internal drives. It comes with limited peripheral options and is slightly expensive.

The Bottom Line

The IoSafe N2 is a unique device that combines robust network storage with disaster-proof protection, and delivers on both.

The device is a combined effort of Synology, the maker of several award-winning NAS servers on the market, and IoSafe, the storage vendor known for disaster-proof storage products.

That said, the N2 itself is basically a Synology DS213NAS server housed inside a waterproof, fire-proof, super-rugged 30-pound chassis. In my testing, the server indeed offered about the same performance and features as the recently reviewed Synology DS213air (the Wi-Fi-enabled version of the DS213), which was excellent for an entry-level dual-bay server.

While the N2 might be a little overkill for some users, those looking for a robust network storage product that can also keep critical data safe no matter what will find the N2 more than worth its not-so-budget-friendly price tag of about $600 (no hard drive included).

The N2 is a dual-bay storage device, capable of hosting two standard SATA drives of either 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch design. With current 3.5-inch hard drives capping at 4TB capacity, the server is able to offer up to 8TB of storage space in RAID 0 or 4TB of protected storage space in RAID 1. Considering the server is designed to be a storage vault, RAID 1, which guards the data against the event that one of the hard drives fails, is the most suitable way to set up the N2's internal drives.

The IoSafe N2 next to the Synology DS213air. While essentially the same, the N2 is much larger and heavier due to its layers of protection.
The IoSafe N2 next to the Synology DS213air. While essentially the same, the N2 is much larger and heavier due to its layers of protection. Dong Ngo/CNET

Note that the N2 also supports Synology Hybrid RAID, which automatically sets up the internal drives with a balance between performance, storage space, and data security, based on how many drives being used. Since the N2 is a dual-bay server, if you choose Hybrid RAID, the setup would be similar to a RAID 1. However, in this case you can later upgrade the internal drive to larger capacities without having to rebuild the RAID from scratch.

First user-serviceable storage vault
The N2 is not the first disaster-proof storage product from IoSafe, but it's the first that allows users to replace the internal drives. This is significant since it's hard to make something user-serviceable while still keeping the internal drive well protected. The N2 is also the first storage device from IoSafe I've seen that offers RAIDs. This means, apart from being able to survive a catastrophe, the N2 can also survive single-drive failure when used in RAID 1 configuration as mentioned above.

The server's front-facing drive bays are covered by layers of protection. The N2 comes with a hex driver designed to undo the two tamper-resistant screws on its front. This will detach the first, heavily reinforced fireproof drive door -- which resembles one you might find on a vault -- revealing another door on the inside. This second door protects the internal drive from water and can be removed using the same hex driver. Finally, the two hard drives are secured to the server with a latch that can also be removed using the same tool. All in all, the entire process of installing or replacing hard drives took me just about 5 minutes, and turned out much easier than I had expected. Note that without a correct hex driver, it's just not possible to do this at all.

A standard, entry-level server in a nonstandard physical form
On the front, the server has one USB 2.0 port, an SD card slot, and a Quick Backup button. Using this button, you can quickly back up an entire portable storage device, such as a thumbdrive, an SD card, or a portable drive, onto the server's internal storage. There are indicator lights that show the status of the internal hard drive, the network connection, and the power state.

On the back the N2 has one Gigabit Ethernet port and two USB 3.0 ports. These USB ports can be used to host more storage or printers, or to back up the server's internal data to an external storage device. This is rather limited; other dual-bay NAS servers have more USB ports and also eSATA ports and even dual Ethernet ports. You can't use the N2 with Synology's expansion to scale up storage space the way you can the DS712+ with a DX510 DiskStation Expansion Unit, either.

Also on the back, the N2 has a larger fan that manages to remain very silent even during heavy operations.

The N2 is very similar to other disaster-proof storage devices from IoSafe, such as the G3 and the Pro Solo, in terms of physical size. It's huge. Measuring 5.9x9.06x11.5 inches, it's the biggest dual-bay server I've seen and it's heavy, too -- around 30 pounds. However, since this is a NAS server, its size and weight don't bother me the way the size and weight of the G3 do. You don't really carry a NAS server around, after all.

Powered by Synology's DSM NAS operating system, the N2 promises to be one of the best dual-bay NAS servers, adding to its uniqueness as a disaster-proof storage device.
Powered by Synology's DSM NAS operating system, the N2 promises to be one of the best dual-bay NAS servers, adding to its uniqueness as a disaster-proof storage device. Dong Ngo/CNET


Best of both worlds: Over my years of reviewing storage devices, I have found that Synology NAS servers are among the best on the market, thanks to Synology's robust NAS operating system, DiskStation Manager (or DSM). On the other hand, IoSafe is the only company that offers truly disaster-proof storage devices.

The N2 is a combination of both. In fact, as mentioned above, as a NAS server, it's basically the same as the recently reviewed DS213air. For this reason you can expect all that the DS213air has to offer (save for the built-in Wi-Fi) and at the same time rest assured that your data will survive should disaster strike, which the DS213air can't do for you.

Per IoSafe, the N2 comes with enough protection to keep its two internal drives safe from heat of up to 1,550 degrees for up to 30 minutes, and submersion in up to 10 feet of water (including salt water) for up to three days.

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.


IoSafe N2

Score Breakdown

Setup 8Features 9Performance 8Support 8