Friday, February 13, 2009

ReadyNAS Pro Review: Early Adopter Syndrome

I know I've been fairly quiet, but I came down with a bad case of early adopter syndrome in January, and it's taken a while for me to recover.

If you're not familiar with this syndrome, it involves buying something - typically technology - right when it's released or shortly thereafter and being rewarded for your early purchase with problems, failures, and headaches.

As you may recall from my prior ReadyNAS Pro review, I purchased a NETGEAR ReadyNAS Pro Business Edition 1.5 TB NAS (3 x 500 GB) back in October, 2008. I'd read a number of reviews of the ReadyNAS product line, and in general they are extremely positive. It made sense to go with this new model since it offered a lot more in terms of expandability and features.

I didn't think about it too much, but I was an early adopter.

What could possibly go wrong?

I had all email notifications from the unit turned on from the start and the ReadyNAS was very chatty about what it was up to (backups, self-tests, and volume checks that went fine without errors). I was pretty shocked when I looked at the front panel of the unit on January 3, 2009, and saw:

Vol C unprotected

Something wasn't right, and it didn't notify me. What if I had never looked?

I examined the logs, saw that a drive was having problems, then removed the disk that was showing problems and reinserted it; after several times of this and rebooting, the ReadyNAS Pro finally reported that a disk was missing or otherwise unavailable with an X on the pretty OLED display. The drive was completely gone.

Great. Well, it can tolerate a failed drive. No worries, right?

Notification of disk problems didn't work, but the unit as shipped can tolerate a single drive going bad without losing anything. I talked to tech support, they confirmed that I should just go to a store and buy a replacement 500GB Seagate disk, and I did that as soon as I could. In the meantime, I erased stuff I didn't need off of my desktop machine (after all, I got the ReadyNAS because I was out of space!) and copied over critical, unprocessed photos (I'll be posting some of those here soon).

At 73.5% of the way through resynchronizing using my new replacement disk, the unit hung completely. I couldn't monitor its progress with their Web-based front end and I also could not browse shares or otherwise access my data. When I tried restarting, it resynchronized and hung again in the same place.

This was really not good.

After more calls with tech support, sharing logs, removing the drive, and trying to function on two of the original three drives, support looked at the logs and concluded that one of the two remaining disks had gone bad - correction: had been going bad for some time! - and that my array was now a total loss.

What? Excuse me? So I plunked down an obscene amount of money for nothing? Sure, I should have a backup, but this is live storage that's supposed to be reliable and notify me of potential problems.

They advised me to turn it off and wait for engineering staff to call me back, and that's how it sat for over a week. On one of my later calls to tech support, one of their people said, "Yeah, it should have notified you, and we should cover data recovery costs."

Could I get that in writing? I sure was not paying for data recovery out of my own pocket.

On January 8, five days after my first failure, I heard back from an engineer.

On January 27, twenty-four days after the first failure, he shipped me a container to put all of my drives into. True to their word, Netgear was going to recover my data at no charge to me.

I applaud Netgear's excellent engineering staff. We communicated via e-mail to exchange shipping numbers and other information. I would have liked more communication, but I suppose no news is good news. At some point, the engineer did share that that they were able to read data off of the failing disk and that nothing was lost. What a huge relief that was.

On February 12, I finally got back the two good disks from my original shipment and two replacement disks from Netgear - with all of my data seemingly intact. Most importantly, they upgraded the firmware to address all of the notification issues that I (and now other customers) experienced. They also sent a t-shirt, mousepad, and two lanyards in the package. Sadly, none of them said, "Early adopter."

If you have a ReadyNAS Pro unit, upgrade your firmware now to the latest version to get these fixes.

I don't blame Netgear for disk failures. These happen and are out of the control of the software using the disks. However, I do think that Netgear released a product that had not been tested widely enough in the field, and as a consequence I and other users ended up doing this testing for them with our live data. I hope that they do a broader beta test next time they release a new product and consider shipping drives outside of the unit in shock-proof packaging.

It does look like the notification kinks have been worked out and that the product will now perform as advertised. I still think it's a great device, and I look forward to using it more and doing another review in a few more months.

This case of early adopter syndrome has been cured with no long-term ramifications - I'm back!

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