QNAP's TVS-871T Solves All of Your Home and On-the-Go Data Storage Needs

QNAP's TVS-871T Solves All of Your Home and On-the-Go Data Storage Needs

For me, storage is a huge pain. On one hand, it’s simple. Buy a bunch of hard drives, back everything up, repeat. But I want to simplify it further. I hate having one system that’s speedy for in-office editing and another that’s slow, but network-connected. I couldn’t find anything that offered both a network connection and fast thunderbolt-like speeds when attached locally until I came across QNAP’s TVS-871T networked-attached storage solution that also features dual Thunderbolt connectivity.

The Problem

I like to have one solution that I might buy into several times, but that works the same throughout my entire workflow and no matter where I am. I don’t want to have a Promise RAID array for live work and a separate Synology box that I then have to transfer to from the Promise device. I just want everything to live in one place, to be accessible everywhere, and to move at the fastest reasonable rate considering wherever I am at that moment.

Synology’s systems have a great user interface and amazing features that easily let anyone manage multiple users, password-protected folders, etc. While I was less familiar with QNAP’s system, it didn’t take long to figure out the two offered extremely similar support. However, the TVS-871T included Thunderbolt for lightning-fast local connections; and I didn’t get far into a phone call with Synology’s support team before they told me they don’t have any plans to do something similar.

Now, alternatively, I could get a Mac desktop system and set that up with extra storage and OS X Server, etc. But in my search for the perfect solution, I downloaded that and tried it, but there is no way that someone that doesn’t know their networking tech will ever get that working. It’s just a bit too far over my head — and likely over yours as well (assuming we’re all photographers and not necessarily IT specialists). Of course, Windows users have similar options, but I imagine there might be some of the same tech-related barriers to entry for that to actual be a viable solution.

And so, this is why I was so excited when I first saw the 871T. I asked them for a temporary review unit, and they happily obliged.

With on-screen directions that are easy to follow, setup really is just about this easy.

The Solution

I’m not averse to the occasional Terminal-based fix for an issue I’m having with my Mac if I have the directions of what to copy and paste from a reputable blog online. But I’m not the most tech-savvy IT person, either. Setting up the QNAP did take just a few minutes, but I ran into a few issues that I needed help with soon after. However, this was after having changed some settings on my router. Nevertheless, QNAP’s support team was responsive and incredibly helpful. I felt I had an ongoing, virtually direct connection with the same support tech (I believe we even talked about when he got off work and when he’d be back down in Corona, CA, or somewhere nearby), and the problem I had caused was resolved relatively quickly.

From my limited understanding, you can take advantage of multiple Ethernet ports and connect them to a switch to increase your throughput. But again, you’d have to ultimately connect all this through relatively expensive and/or complicated adapters to eventually go through the Thunderbolt port on your Mac anyway. To the best of my knowledge, there’s only a single-port Ethernet-to-Thunderbolt adapter available, so I’m not sure you’d even get the speed out of multiple ports from a network-attached storage (NAS) system on a local network, though it may alleviate some minor bottlenecks to having just one port out, comparatively.

Regardless, this is definitely the most simple solution. When I’m on the go, I have access to a great portal that lets me set virtual partitions with varying amounts of data allotted for each user, each with their own password, etc. I can set passwords for individual files or folders, make myself the administrator so I keep control over every aspect, manage bandwidth on a per-user basis, and set up backups for each system that connects to the system. There is so much more I can do, but that’s a pretty good start that covers me for just about any client need.

When I’m home, I pull my laptop out of my bag, plug in a Thunderbolt cable, and I instantly have a local connection that runs as fast as those hard drives can go. It’s the perfect intersection of robustness and simplicity. Once I get one, I put a second one anywhere in the world to back up to, and I’m done. One solution, clear as day.

The Numbers

As with most network speed tests, results may vary — a lot. But there are essentially three types of connections and, therefore, three different categories of speed that you’ll see with a solution such as the QNAP depending on how you connect: via non-local network connection, local network connection, or direct Thunderbolt connection.

Non-Local Network Connection

When you’re on the go at another hotel on the other side of the planet, or at your mother’s house for Thanksgiving, you’re going to connect back to your NAS over a non-local, Internet-based connection. You sign in online through QNAP’s portal, and from there you can upload, download, change settings, etc., all at the not-so-speedy upload rate of whatever Internet connection you’re stuck with. Your download rate will be limited by the upload rate of the Internet connection wherever your QNAP is based (be it at your home or in your office, etc.). Because download speeds are almost always many times faster than upload speeds, it can be extremely beneficial to get a great plan for yourself.

Typical for any NAS system, connecting over the network limits you to the upload speeds you get through your ISP (for whatever network to which the QNAP system is attached).

These days, many larger cities have access to fiber-based connections that feature identical and extremely fast upload and download speeds. So instead of being limited to a relatively normal and pitiful upload speed of 4-10 MB/s, you could see speeds as fast as the normal download speeds for whichever area you’re traveling within, which could be upwards of 20-40MB/s. That makes a huge difference when uploading the kinds of large files we photographers often do to back up on the road. At the end of the day, everything is dependent upon the data rate you get through your ISP.

Local Network Connection

When you’re at home or in the office and connected to the same wireless network as your QNAP server, you can see a significant up-tick in data speeds. This is because your computer can go directly through your router to communicate with the NAS system without going through the Internet. When I tested this connection in my home with a decently fast TP-Link AC router, I saw consistent speeds of greater than 40MB/s. That’s not bad for sitting on your couch and grabbing a few files here and there as you need them.

You could also connect locally via Ethernet, but again, if you’re going to plug a cable into your computer — well, that’s what’s so awesome about having Thunderbolt.

I got the same 40 MB/s speeds over the wireless local connection through my home router when transferring both smaller images and large multi-gigabyte-sized files. This is faster than the Internet based <8MB/s I was getting earlier, but hold a candle to Thunderbolt 2 speeds.

Direct Thunderbolt 2 Connection

The previous two options are available with any NAS system today. However, it’s the direct Thunderbolt 2 connection that makes this so attractive. Want to offload an entire hard drive of data onto the NAS? It might take more than a day or two to do that over a typical connection. But plug yourself into one of the two Thunderbolt ports on the back of the 871T, and you instantly have access to speeds that reach the limit of the hard drives you have inside the box. This is exactly why you get this: for the ultimate flexibility.

Here, you can see how speed varies greatly for each individual file when we're dealing with a bunch of smaller files. Regardless, we're operating at much faster speeds with Thunderbolt 2, but check out the other tests below for maximum speeds.

Moving data this fast, you start to see a property that affects any data transfer rate: smaller files will typically transfer much more slowly than single, large files. A bunch of tiny JPEGs might transfer at only 80 MB/s on the same connection that a ten-gigabyte movie file might transfer at 900 MB/s. There are a couple reasons for this, but between the images above and below, this is why you’ll see a difference in speed. Still, you can see how a six-gigabyte OS X image transferred at an average rate of more than 400 MB/s while smaller raw images transferred at still-respectable, but slower, speeds. Regardless, we’re still talking an average of a three-fold increase in transfer rate even for these smaller files when compared to local network connections.

Below, I briefly discuss the main caveat to all of this: I only had four of the eight bays filled with hard drives. As such, 400 MB/s is a great rate to see with a large file like this. But you can hit more than twice that by filling this unit to full capacity or by adding SSDs.

The one caveat to this – and it's a big one in favor of the QNAP – is that I was only given four hard drives to test in this system. With room for eight hard drives, this system can reach almost 1 GB/s. That's as fast as any reasonable live-workstation setup. You can even get faster speeds if you set up some of the bays with SSDs instead of normal HDDs. For this reason, I included a great video review of the full speed capabilities below.

What I Liked

- Direct Thunderbolt connectivity combined with NAS solution

- Great, solid build quality

- Fantastic support

- Ease of use

- Can connect to look like local drive through OS if set up properly

- All the user management features of any professional NAS system

- Quick set-up option makes it easy to get right in minutes out of the box

- Supports Time Machine, but also has its own backup options

- A lot of things that aren’t worth mentioning here and are very specific to certain cases…but there’s a lot more this “box” can do from serving as a hub for your studio's video surveillance needs to using SSDs for even faster transfer rates

What I Didn't Like

- Still not 100-percent dummy-proof, but close (the support is amazing, so this isn’t a huge deal for me)

- Some features of file management only work in Chrome and are not necessarily supported in Safari

Conclusion

I searched for months for a solution like this; and I finally came across this a number of months after it was announced. It’s still relatively new, and no one else has anything like it. I’m not sure why no one else will do this, but I don’t really care. This QNAP is the perfect solution that solves all of my problems. I don’t need an IT gear head to do a thing for me. I can manage it myself, add and remove my own hard drives, and customize the file structure for my own needs with a few simple clicks.

Here’s the thing: Synology and QNAP are probably the top two NAS companies out there. They’re both well-known and create quality products. And I do have a little more experience (and perhaps a slightly greater natural affinity toward) Synology’s systems. But when I need to get to my files from anywhere in the world (whether it’s when I’m traveling to LA, which I do a lot, or to some amazing place in Mexico that Mike Kelley is dragging me to yet again — what a drag), I don’t want to kick myself wondering why I didn’t transfer that one folder from my Promise RAID storage to the NAS before I left. And when I get back to the office, I would still have to transfer folders constantly between both devices and also between my computer depending on what I needed to shuffle around for the next edit.

There is so much to be said for having your archive be your live work system and also to have that same system be your backup in yet another duplicated, but geographically separated environment. The less you travel, the less this will matter. But then you’re likely not in need of a NAS system to begin with. For me, this is huge. You can get a non-Thunderbolt TVS-871, but adding that T offers priceless flexibility and simplification to an already complicated lifestyle. The TVS-871T is the perfect, all-in-one solution — end of story.

I Lied...A Little

At the time of requesting the unit for review, the 871T was the only system I had seen that offered both NAS connectivity and Thunderbolt connectivity (let alone Thunderbolt 2). But since then, QNAP has released something that seriously blew my mind. Their even newer TVS-x82T series is all I could imagine needing for a decade or two. The expansion options are virtually endless with as many as eight standard 3.5" drive bays, an additional four dedicated 2.5" SSD bays, an additional two mSATA bays for easy acceleration, and yet another three PCIe expansion slots that you can fill with graphics cards or even more SSDs of the ultra-fast PCIe variety. The future-proofing was already incredible in the still-capable and current TVS-871T we've been discussing. But if you're the kind of person that wants to future-proof your studio for decades, this is the one box that might actually do that.

The TVS-x82T comes in three varieties including the TVS-682T, TVS-882T, and TVS-1282T which feature four 3.5" HDD bays and two 2.5" SSD bays, six 3.5" HDD bays and two 2.5" SSD bays, or eight 3.5" HDD bays and four 2.5" SSD bays respectively – all in addition to the PCIe slots and dual mSATA acceleration options.

For all of these, we're talking a starting price-point of about a couple grand depending on the model – without hard drives. But this is more than normal, especially considering what you're getting and what you're saving in time, headache, and overall hassle. These newer systems are definitely on my radar.

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27 Comments

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

LOL, I would never recommend this to non tech savvy user.

You may be able to set it up but you will not take advantage of 10% of what you are paying for.
This is full-blown storage server. If you have small business with multiple people accessing the device at the same time, and on top of that, properly setup network, you may take advantage of this machine. Although in that case there are better, more manageable solutions...
One can definitely use it at home, but it is definitely waste of money.

As far as using multiple Ethernet ports, it will improve your experience as long as you are accessing multiple files at a time. In general, one session will not be split between two ethernet links. Furthermore, to take advantage of 10Gbps Ethernet, you will need this type of devices/ports throughout the network. The same goes for 1Gbps. Most of home routers/switches have 100Mbps interfaces so it will be a bottleneck.

Burak Erzincanli's picture

Hey Roman,
What would you recommend as an alternative for home office use? (considering very large psd files and thousands of raw images)

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

Burak, first of all I would suggest looking into proper workflow/media management. I wouldn't recommend keeping all your data in one place. And I don't even go so far as having off-site backups, although that is recommended. Simply, you should have one working storage and then place where you can archive data that you will not use more than once or twice a year.
NAS is convenient but you still need to consider back-up solution. RAID will only protect you from HDD failure(if the proper RAID is utilized) but not from accidental data deletion(overwriting) nor viruses/malware/ransomwere (look up cryptolocker)
There are NAS solutions that give you all that you have here for $500-$700. 5bay system is good for RAID6 that will withstand loss of 2 HDDs without loosing data and still provides good read/write performance.
If you want to stream standard HD movies, most NAS will do. For 4k you may want to get little bit more RAM and faster CPU.
As far as your large PSDs, you have to keep in mind that Photoshop will not work on live files but rather keep them in the temporary location (scratch disk). You can point the scratch disk to $3k external extremely fast array but if you have internal SSD you will have as good experience.
I use two internal SSDs. One 960GB for operating system and applications, and second 500GB as scratch disk. For my RAWs and finished PSD/TIFF I use external HDD 2x6TB in RAID1. Every now and then I archive data to separate HDDs and put them away.

Anders Madsen's picture

Roman, I think you are right as far as this device not being for typical home use - it's definitely better suited to serve a small office with a couple of photographers, videographers and a studio manager or similar.

However, I can definitely see this being used for 4K video editing by a single user, and to be honest, I don't think that QNAP is that difficult to set up. Yes, you need to screw in the disks, but other than that, it is actually pretty straightforward when it comes to the software setup. I have been using both QNAP and Synology, from the single disk versions all the way up to the rack-mounted solutions, and I think that the software is reasonably easy to work with.

One note about ethernet: Having multiple ports on the QNAP does increase bandwidth between the user and the storage, regardless of whether you are accessing multiple files or not (at least it does on the QNAP I have been working with), and although I can find 100 Mbit/s switches if I look for them, the 1Gbit/s version are much more common (and only slightly more expensive).

Regarding 10 Gbit/s switches you are definitely correct - these are not as common and much, much more expensive.

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

Andres, I suspect that it is easy to setup. I just don't think that most people will take advantage of this equipment. To edit 4K video you can purchase multi HDD array without paying for the powerful NAS. $2k 8 bay array with 4TB drives will cost around $2k, where half of the price is just in the drives. NAS comes with no drives so you looking in some extra $$ to put into this baby.

Phil Newton's picture

Nice article; far too technical for me!! I need to modernise and streamline my storage system; at the moment I'm just using a couple of 1TB external hard drives with USB plug in and back them up and keep them physically separate. Problem is all this fancy talk of RAID arrays and thunderbolts and other terms are way over my head. I'm not a beginner anymore but my storage and file management feels quite amateur. Can you point me toward a website if you know one (or a previous article on here) that might give me some pointers??

Adam Ottke's picture

Thanks, Phil. I will look into it for you. We must have something somewhere on here ;-)

My advice is simply try to not be too shocked by it all. Yes, these devices can do way more than you or I will ever use them for. However, when's the last time you used every single one of Photoshop's features?

Instead, know that these are relatively simple to set up. Once you have them going, they pretty much just keep working. If a single drive fails, it tells you, you get a new one, slide it into the system, and simply wait for everything to automatically fix itself again.

The software makes it easy to see what you're setting up -- you just can't get too hung up on all the other settings you'll see in the same areas.

I'll find something for you in the next couple days. Stand by.

Phil Newton's picture

Thanks Adam! Appreciate it

Brad M's picture

My brother uses a Western Digital MyCloud for his backups and to share things around his house (computers, phones, TV). For anything used as a working drive, you'll likely want it to be connected, unless you have a crazy fast network in your house. Some of the MyCloud options have 2 drives and support 'RAID-1', which makes a copy of everything onto 2 identical drives. Some can be plugged into a network or a computer via USB. These would match some of the features, and be easier to set up vs a QNAP. But it depends on what your needs are.

I personally use a more complex system that includes cloud backup of everything. But everyone is different. I did recently suffer a complete failure of my primary computer (which had encrypted drives). I was able to recover from this in a weekend while switching from Mac OS X to Windows 10.

Adam Ottke's picture

Something like this totally works, too; and it's likely the same basic structure that most people use to have both a cloud system and a local system. But again, my goal is to unify everything into one system, and any imagined complexity to the setup (it's really not that hard) is way worth this further simplification. Just the way I see it.

Phil Newton's picture

Cheers Brad. Yeah cloud and on-site in one could be a way to go about it

Jon Wolding's picture

Does the QNAP have the option to format its drives as exFAT?

That's pretty much mandatory for me as I have to work with both OS X and Windows.

Adam Ottke's picture

Most NAS systems these days (including these) are compatible with both Windows and OS X/MacOS. In fact, I'm not currently aware of one that only works with Mac.

Jon Wolding's picture

Well, if you're dumping directly (via Thunderbolt or USB), the drive has to be readable and writable by both Mac/Win... so exFAT is the only option, as far as I know. Just curious if the hardware controller is format-agnostic.

Adam Ottke's picture

So, apparently the main formatting options are of the EXT variety, of which ext4 is pretty much the go-to for larger file support than previous versions. While that's compatible with Linux machines and not so much with Windows, because you're accessing the QNAP through the file station/web server, etc., this doesn't matter. The QNAP is essentially another computer anyway (it does have its own processor, ram, etc.) that takes care of "feeding" the information to your other devices and/or computer. And either way, because you're likely setting up a RAID array through the QNAP, you'd need/want to use the QNAP "box" to read all those hard drives anyway. You wouldn't really be expected to take out a drive and read it separately, etc.

I hope this helps.

Jon, the way a NAS works is that you create a volume and the software that ships with the NAS exports the volume as either CIFS (Windows) using SAMBA, NFS (UNIX/Linux) natively by the OS or Netatalk (Apple MacOS). You use the NAS utilities to format the volume based on what OS the NAS uses, in the case of the QNAP, it is Linux thus it uses ext4.

Whether or not the QNAP supports mutiprotocol file sharing is a question best posed to QNAP. My last experience using a NAS as a multiprotocol device was a mixed bag. It was an Oracle ZFS Appliance and there were issues around Windows files, permissions and extended attributes. I would expect something similar with mixing MacOS and Windows files on the same device.

Adam, I am a senior UNIX/Linux system administrator and a photographer. The QNAP TVS-871T has some serious networking capabilities for those who have the network to support it. With four Gigabit Ethernet and two 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports, you could create high speed links to the device at one of two price points.

To connect multiple network interfaces and make one requires the use of a switch that supports Link Aggregation. Without Link Aggregation support all you will have is multiple single connections.

For people who have a managed Gigabit switch that supports Link Aggregation, you could combine any number up to all four ports for a low cost performance connection. If you have a 10 Gigabit switch, use the two 10 GbE ports to get a serious connection for handling large files. In either case you can make the device available to multiple users and get good read and write speeds provided you use fast disks.

Daniel Shortt's picture

I like my option more, use a pc, put 6 drives in it, 4 in raid, and problem solved for thousands less.

In my case, my router is 1gbit (not byte) so about 120MB/s second. Guess what the read speed of a standard WD RED NAS (5400rpm) drive is? about 75mb/s, now depending on how many disks you have and the type of raid, you can get more speed when you combine them, but I for example get 75mb write and 130mb read on a raid 1 array (that is internal to my box). So thunderbolt is totally useless as the Ethernet speed basically matches the disk speed.
The only way to get more is to use solid state storage, only then will the thunderbolt be useful.

ALSO
"Typical for any NAS system, connecting over the network limits you to the upload speeds you get through your ISP (for whatever network to which the QNAP system is attached"
This is false, you are limited to the speed of the router's Ethernet ports, not the internet speed of your ISP (it has nothing to do with the ISP).

Adam Ottke's picture

That's great if those speeds work for you. Naturally, this is a concept for those that need much faster speeds for live video work, large shoot transfers at one time, etc.

Also, connecting over a local network would be limited by your router's capabilities and/or whether or not you're using link aggregation, etc. But connection speed from connecting remotely will definitely be limited by the speed your NAS can get that info out over the connection your router has through your modem (which is the upload speed your ISP gives you).

Antonio Carrasco's picture

Has anyone had any luck setting up a NAS like this primarily for delivering files to clients? Like a Dropbox alternative? After a shoot, I have to get my clients approximately 50-200 jpegs. CDs are dirt cheap, but most don't have disc drives anymore. USB flash drives are even becoming less useful, as people want access to their photos on mobile

Adam Ottke's picture

This is one of my main reasons for something like this. You can create links that are password-protected and give clients access to a folder similarly to how you would do it with Dropbox, except you own it all and don't keep paying monthly. Check this out:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfTUgg8-XJw

Antonio Carrasco's picture

Thanks for the response. I will check out that video. Wonder what upload speed my internet needs to be for the experience to be acceptable for the clients.

Adam Ottke's picture

The standard 4-10MB/s (in the U.S. for most broadband connections, that is) should be fine. It's not lightning-fast, but perfectly acceptable. The only reason I'd want faster for myself is to one day be able to have always-on 100MB/s+ speeds for editing on the go. But that's ridiculous and way off in the future...

The way I look at it, if a client has to start a download and wait thirty minutes for a full wedding shoot -- not a big deal. For something smaller for a commercial client with a spread that you're sending, it shouldn't take longer than a few seconds to transfer JPEGs like that anyway (a few minutes for TIFFs).

Adam Milton's picture

I dig the in-depth approach, but this solution is only for folks with really significant data demands, as well as pockets deep enough to part with $5,000+ for a storage solution. Would love it if you could do a similar article, but covers different options out there and their price points. Even a Promise RAID system can be very pricy for the average photographer, so I would be curious to see what the best practices are at various levels of investment

Adam Ottke's picture

Thanks for the feedback, Adam. You're definitely right. This is for someone who gets how to use a computer, but not much more, but still needs to store a ton of data and have access to it all the time.

I will look further into doing an article about other options at lower levels of investment for people more like portrait photographers, etc., who might not have the volume of a commercial/wedding shooter, but that might still be traveling a bit and want access 24/7. Does that sound more like something you'd be interested in?

As a quick note, I would almost just recommend scaling down and looking at both QNAP and Synology solutions with fewer drive options and at lower price points as a way to get what it sounds like you're after. Not everyone needs eight bays as a primary and another eight for backup. Some people could get away with four relatively easily, I'm sure.

Adam: You convinced me to get a NAS that I could work off of directly, so I got the new QNap1282T3. I have it set up with 1 TB of SSD cache, but I'm not sure how to set it up properly to most effectively use it with Photoshop and Final Cut ProX. Do you know what settings would help maximize the use of the cache?

Adam Ottke's picture

You know, I wish I knew exactly what to do, here; but I'm not THAT well versed in this. I thought the system made fairly automatic and efficient use of the SSD cache (on its own). However, I did need to use the support once or twice, and QNAP support was great. It was a guy that was fairly local at some office and I had a direct line to him once I called in that I used a couple more times. Through a combination of emails and phone calls, he got me sorted out pretty quickly. I'm sure they'd be happy to help you, too (it's not like some other companies that are a nightmare to get in touch with).

I hope that helps.

Edit: Just to reiterate and consider... Most of these systems really do handle the caching on their own. I am curious, however, as to what happens when you have a system that's capable of pushing out data faster than the SSD cache thanks to a multi-drive RAID setup. If one has an SSD that can "only" do about 500MB/s or so, it wouldn't take too many hard disk drives working together to get up to speed. Perhaps latency would be slightly higher on the SSD, but this would be something really interesting to ask QNAP...

Regardless, whatever you do, the cache should take care of itself. It'll likely take a little bit of time to show its benefit as you begin to use files, but eventually, the concept is, of course, that it'll automatically pre-load everything you need faster (i.e. frequent) access to on the SSD.