As an educational technologist I try to look for products that will enhance the abilities of teachers in the classroom. For the past couple of months I have been in contact with QNAP, one of the main suppliers of Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices and I have been offered the opportunity to review one of their products the TS-470 TurboNAS from the x70 range.
The main reason that I wanted to review a NAS was because I am getting continually frustrated by the lack of options when it comes to exporting content from a class set of iPads that I use with my classes. When I asked for the advice from colleagues on Twitter many suggested the Google Drive option. I am personally a fan of GDrive but I do think that in this specific case it does have its limitations. To set the scene, I am currently leading the rollout of iPads to many departments in my school and as such have access to 17 iPad mini’s for class use. The children love using the iPads and have created some brilliant content on them. But to get the content from the iPads so that they can use it again is difficult. We are looking into using Google Apps for Education (GAFE) but at the moment only myself and a few other teachers have accounts. I could give a specific class accounts and trial that but it seems very restrictive. Once the content is in the students GDrive I will have far less access over it than I would on the normal school system. Other options are available such as Dropbox and other cloud based storage but similar issues would arise I believe.
With this all in mind, I contacted the customer services department at QNAP and asked if any of their NAS devices would be able to help me. They offered me the TS-470 TurboNAS from the x70 series and this is my review of the device.
As you can see in the video the box itself gives you a lot of information about the TS-470: its extreme performance, the private cloud at your fingertips, IOS and Android device compatible, with apps that allow the user to browse, monitor, manage and access files on the NAS wherever they are and an intuitive and easy to use Graphical User Interface (GUI). inside the box you find all of the equipment and instructions that will allow you to get up and running in no time.
The accessory box contains the quick start guide, 4 CAT5 cables, the power cable, 4 STC round security keys, mounting screws for the HDD or SSD you choose to install and the Software CD.
The TS-470 is a 4bay NAS, this means that you can install up to four Hard Disk Drives (HDD) or Solid State Drives (SSD) into it. The drives can be locked in using the STC security keys provided meaning that the drives are safe a secure at all times. The device does not come with any drives preloaded so you will have to purchase your own. I found that this was a simple matter of checking for the compatible drives on the official QNAP website, which also sent me to the unofficial site run by QNAP users where I found a list of drives that definitely did not work with the TS-470. I then purchased an off the shelf 1Tb HDD for £65 from my local electrical goods provider and proceeded to install it. It is worth noting here that you must use the flat head screws that QNAP kindly provide rather that the round-headed screws that came with the HDD. This meant that the drive was secured into the tray with 2 screws and ran into the NAS smoothly. Once in, the HDD was installed by the NAS device without me having to do anything. This automated feature is one of many that really allows the user to do potentially complicated process that normally they might not be so confident in doing. Up to four HDD can be loaded into the NAS potentially giving you a storage space of 16Tb (4Tb in each drive, although more storage space is possible!)
Once the HDD is installed the GUI takes you through a series of steps that allow you to set up an admin account and your basic cloud storage. Once this is all set up you are away and can explore the potential of the NAS.
iPads and the TS-470
The first thing I looked at was the apps available for both Android and IOS devices. I currently have an iPad and a GS4 so need to have both options available to me. I was not disappointed. The IOS apps that are available include the Qfile HD, Qmobile and Vmobile. All three apps are free and allow users to access content from their IOS devices. The Qfile HD app allows you to browse and manage files stored on the TurboNAS whilst the Qmobile app allows users to access their multimedia content stored on the NAS remotely. The Vmobile app allows users that are using the NAS as a surveillance system to remotely access the camera feeds from their IOS device. Android users have a slightly bigger range of apps to choose from but they also include Qfile, Qmobile, Vmobile. Also available are: Qmanger for monitoring and managing the TurboNAS itself, Qget to schedule download tasks on the NAS via the download station (more on that later!), Qmusic to stream your music collection stored on the NAS to the device and Qremote that allows you to control the TurboNAS when you have it connected to your TV via the built-in HDMI port at the back of the NAS. Once I had installed all of these apps I was ready to begin.
My first concern once I had the NAS setup was the feature of saving content made on the iPad directly to the NAS. I chose to use a Keynote presentation that I had been working on but this process also works for all of the other apps that allow you to “open in”. From the main Keynote page I selected the share button in the top left hand corner. It then gave me the option to “Open in another App” I selected this option, chose the presentation and then chose the format that I wanted to open the document as. I was then give the apps that I have on the iPad that could be used to open the document. I had already downloaded the QFile HD app from the App Store and selected it from the list of apps provided. I then was given a choice of either : saving the document to the download folder or uploading to the NAS now. I selected the latter of the two options and within 10 seconds it was sat in my Home folder on the NAS. For me this is potentially a game changer. If at school I can get the children to save their work from the class set of iPads into a folder on the NAS which I can then access or more importantly allow them to access, even from home, the work that we do on the iPads starts to become more effective. It becomes usable.
The possibilities for this clever little box of IT wizardry is endless. The following are a few examples that I have thought up already but there must be hundreds more: It can be configured as an Itunes server, thus any books or videos that are on there can be accessed by the pupils on the iPads but also with the right restrictions they can also access it at home on their handheld equipment without the need for them to log into their school account. It can be used to host a WordPress site which would mean that a class blog or school blogs could be managed locally. For a small primary school it could potentially be all that is required from an IT point of view. With big enough HDD all data could be stored on it, the school website could be run from it, digital signage can be run from it via an app and that’s not even thinking about it more complicated features like being compatible with most virtualization applications including those from Microsoft (Hyper V) and Windows Server 2012.
I can not wait to take the TurboNAS into school next week and to see what it is really capable of. I will be trialing it with the class set of iPads and streaming multiply videos all at the same time. If you have any specific tests that you would like me to have a go at please leave a comment at the bottom of the page and I will try to complete it before I write the next post in about 2 weeks time.
The last thing that I wanted to mention in this post is regarding the price of the device. For some this may look very restrictive but think about the possibilities. As for me, I honestly think that the price is a true reflection on the work that has gone in to develop the GUI and the apps that make this TS-470 TurboNAS the One Stop Shop for all of your iPad teaching needs.