Along with a superior hardware specification, the Mini-SAN scores over Netgear's products as transtec's Storage Manager utility is much more sophisticated. Along with a far more informative display it also integrates with the Windows SNMP trap service enabling it to provide pop-up messages in the System Tray to advise on errors or detected faults. On first contact, the Storage Manager searched the network for appliances and displays any logical partitions it detects. Creating new ones is easy enough as a wizard takes you though selecting a physical hard disk, deciding on a partition size and choosing a file format. For the latter you have two choices but only the proprietary Z-FS format enables partitions to be shared across multiple users. NTFS is supported but the partition will only be accessible to the user that created it. Usefully, you can apply password protection to each partition and to the physical drives as well.
There's more, as during partition creation you can opt for mirrors, stripes and striped mirrors and you can deploy these across single and multiple appliances. You can even spread a single partition across multiple physical drives and to make hard disk identification easier you can rename each one and the Storage Manager will also blink the drive's LED so you can see where it is in the appliance. The status page offers details of system events and provides useful pie charts of disk utilization.
The Mini-SAN may be more cost effective than most iSCSI solutions but one area it can't compete on is performance. Using a Supermicro 3.2GHz Pentium D workstation we copied a 690MB video file to and from a single Z-FS partition over Gigabit Ethernet and saw average write and read speeds of 20.4MB/sec and 21.5MB/sec. Most iSCSI appliances we've tested will deliver at least double these speeds. The Z-FS format also takes its toll as running the same test on an NTFS partition returned average write and read speeds of over 27MB/sec.
Transtec has been stingy with its software bundle as you don't get any backup software included – it's not great but at least Netgear includes the SmartSync Pro utility which provides backup and data synchronization tools. We also encountered an irritating problem with Z-FS partitions where occasionally Windows wouldn't assign a drive icon to them. You may also need to reconfigure any local firewalls as these can block access although transtec's manual does cover this. Nevertheless, if SoIP (storage over IP) piques your interest we would suggest the PROVIGO 210 Mini-SAN is currently the best one to go for.
The Mini-SAN delivers a fair amount of storage for the price and superior management tools to Netgear's SC101T. Performance won't worry most iSCSI products but it is faster than a lot of NAS appliances. It's not perfect, but this is the best implementation of Zetera's Z-SAN technology currently available.