I’ve been thinking of blogging about this for a little while but I thought I would wait until some kind of conclusion had been reached before making judgement. As you might know, I bought a QNAP TS-209 recently, and my initial experiences with it were mixed. On the one hand, it was incredibly well put together and easy to set up - literally 15-20 minutes to plug in the 2 hard disks, connect it up to the network, and zip through the basic configuration set up. At first glance everything seemed to ‘just work’ - the file server was easy to set up and administer, the iTunes server just worked with whatever music happened to be in the multimedia area (including DRM’ed tracks), and the 360 picked up all the media perfectly, with all the various categorisations like albums / dates etc. I was all ready to sing its praises.
Then, problems. I had initially transferred a ton of data directly from my other Linux server, rather than pointlessly copy things off one server and onto another via an intermediate XP box. When I came to transfer more data directly from XP though, I experienced some really weird stalls. File copies took way longer than they should, and often the explorer process would just hang completely until it was done (and with it, large parts of XP - gotta love monolithic design). This made it completely impractical to copy large amounts of data up from XP to the QNAP - although accessing it once it was there was fine, and I could temporarily shuttle data via my other Linux server if I was in a bind.
I went to raise a support call on QNAP’s forums, but found there was already a thread about it (initially a good sign), but that the QNAP guys seemed to be being a very slow at follow-up responses - over a week of people posting and only one initial vague response from support - it was actually us users amongst ourselves who were doing all the investigation on it. I got a very bad feeling, and added my fuel to the fire on the thread, making it rather clear that if support responses to this were not going to be forthcoming, I was seriously considering returning the QNAP and getting something else.
Luckily that seemed to get a response. To be fair it appears that there’s only around 3 people manning the forums from QNAP and they’re spread pretty thin, and as it turns out once they were ‘engaged’, the support I got got exponentially better. I got a PM from one of the support guys to arrange an IM & remote desktop session with him to try to investigate the problem, since they had tried various things and had not managed to recreate it. I of course agreed, and yesterday I ended up spending a large part of my morning going over the issue with him, testing from multiple machines, tracing etc. They’re in Taiwan so it ended up being quite late for them - they notionally work 10am-7pm, but we ended up finishing at about 8:30pm their time in the end. I would have preferred not to use up so much of my morning on this, but I could hardly expect them to fix it without at least trying to help out.
In the end, it turned out that the problem was a combination of their latest stable firmware and Kaspersky anti-virus, which must subtly alter the behaviour of explorer in such a way that QNAP’s (modified) version of Samba didn’t like what it was hearing. It would cause the smbd process on the QNAP to hit almost 100% utilisation immediately,and for whatever reason the resulting traffic also made explorer really unhappy, so they got into some nasty error/retry feedback-loop or similar. The fix is either to disable Kaspersky (not likely) or to install QNAP’s beta 2.0 firmware, in which they’ve streamlined their customised version of Samba. I can only imagine it was other changes they made which triggered the problem initially, since I’ve run Samba on Linux for years without hitting this problem before. I wouldn’t normally run beta versions of firmware, but since this was the only practical option, I’ve done it and all seems well now.
So, my conclusion on the QNAP is a positive one in the end. The device is really nice - it’s tiny, not that much bigger than 2 disks stacked on top of each other, quiet (although not completely silent), gives off next to no heat at all, barely registers at all as a drain on the UPS I have it plugged in to, and does what it says on the tin very well. If it wasn’t for the firmware problem I would recommend it to unskilled friends & family as a good server solution - I’m sure once it’s bedded down I will though. More importantly, even though the support was looking shaky to begin with, the willingness of a QNAP employee to hang around on IM with me for several hours into his evening to get to the bottom of a problem they were having problems recreating is a very positive thing. Good customer service is about making the customer happy when things go wrong more than anything, and in the end they came through.