Network attached storage (NAS) appliances are becoming much smarter than being just “disks over Ethernet”. When Iomega came out with the StorCenter ix2 NAS at CES, they added powerful video surveillance/recording features, such as an internal API that is supported by several camera vendors, giving users choice over hardware, software and storage. Additionally, having a local storage for video recording allows entities like small businesses to keep their video-surveillance in-house, while still having a remote-viewing capability. Of course, on the paper, this sounds great, but how does it perform in the real world? Let’s put it to the test.
We had our hands on an Iomega ix2-dl unit with the following specifications:
2 HDD bays (3.5”, SATA), tool-less
Supports RAID 1, JBOD
1x USB 2.0
1x Ethernet RJ45 (10/100/1000 Mbps)
DLNA server, iTunes server
202x99x149mm, 2.55lbs (1.55kg)
2 x 1TB 3.5″ disks
Iomega has redesigned its NAS systems and in my opinion, the ix2-dl looks modern and clean. It is built with quality material, and most of the surface is made of brushed aluminum. The front and the back are made of hard plastic because they have a lot of holes to accommodate LED lights, and airflow.
To insert the hard drives, you just need to lift the front facade up, which is very easy. In the back, there is one fan to blow hot air out of the unit (actual temperature depends on your disks). The overall design is simple and exactly what one would expect from a NAS unit.
Iomega ix2-dl Setup
Our ix2-dl unit arrived “bare” (no drives), so we inserted two identical 3.5” drives and after turning the unit ON for the first time, the ix2 will initialize the disks in RAID 0. This can take a while, so just be patient and wait until the HDD LED stops blinking, or just plug and go to lunch.
Setting-up the device is relatively easy. Out of the box, it is programmed to get its IP from a DHCP server which is what most home routers do: when you connect a new network device, the router will give it a new IP (internet protocol) address and let it join the local network. Upon installing the Iomega ix2 manager software, you should see the device in the management interface, and the ix2 software should have created network drives to the different locations on the device (movies, documents, etc…). I’ve tested it under Windows, but it should work similarly on Mac OS.
I bumped into an issue at the office where the unit would not appear when connected to one of our Network switch (a Netgear GS108). I was able to debug the problem easily by connecting the Iomega ix2 directly to my PC (via Ethernet). From there, I was able to verify that the unit worked fine and that it was probably an external problem on the network. I really like the convenient http:\\ix2 URL to enter the administration area.
Once inside, you will see a flurry of options as the Iomega ix2 does have quite a lot of features – It’s impressive. Also, the user interface is friendlier than most networked devices that I have used as of late. This is a welcome improvement.
IP Cameras Setup
Setting up the cameras is initially not done in the Iomega ix2 management interface. You have to keep in mind that each modern surveillance camera is a self-contained system with an internal web server that needs to be configured on its own. Configuration basically means adding the camera to the local network, and assign an IP. Cameras used for this test: two Axis M1031W and one DLink 930 (warning, the DLINK 930 can be viewed in the video wall, but the video stream doesn’t appear to be compatible with the ix2 video recording).
Although using DHCP is the simple solution to get the ball rolling, I typically recommend using a static IP address for each camera, because if your camera reboots or if you router restart, there is a chance that the cameras may be assigned with a different IP, which would then be an issue as most software, including the ix2 internal camera management, rely on an IP address to identify the camera on the network.
This is not very difficult to the initiated, assigning static IP addresses can be daunting for users not familiar with TCP/IP lingo because they may need to know what the current network address range is, and what an IP mask is, etc… Anyhow, it’s nothing impossible with a little research, but I want to properly set the expectations. Once the cameras have been connected, they can then be added to the ix2 management and recording system in a snap: just enter the IP address and make/model and admin password of each device and the ix2 does the rest.
Iomega IX2 cameras management
Here, the fun begins. You can choose where video feeds will be recorded and how often recordings should be rotated to conserve disk space. This is all pretty easy. Once connected, the cameras can be previewed in a “wall”, which has ample room for at least a dozen cameras (on my screen). This is a fairly cool solution for a large size home or business as the video streams are fairly fast on a local network.
Note that ultimately, the more video streams you add, and the slower each of them will get. After adding three cameras, I could already feel that the frame rate had dropped, although everything was still very much usable. From that same screen, you can turn the recording on and off as well, and video files will be automatically created and split.
Unless you have a very fast upload bandwidth, it will be difficult to save the videos remotely. The more cameras you have, and the more bandwidth and storage you need to move those videos offsite. Most small businesses may have a hard time handling more than a couple of cameras like this and I suspect that many will choose an on-site solution, which means that you may want to hide the unit in a place that burglars won’t hit. With in-wall Ethernet, it’s pretty easy. If the ix2 had a WiFi option, that would be even better, but you can always buy a powerline Ethernet box, or a WiFi-to-Ethernet extender.
There a second video surveillance option: there is an app called SecureMind Surveillance Manager. It has the same goal than Iomega’s surveillance app, but it is based on the VLC web player, which is a bit more stable. For instance, the camera views never go away. As far as I can tell, this is a free option. The only drawback of SecureMind Surveillance Manager is that it does not support the DLINK cameras like Iomega does.
Things that could be better
Using the Iomega ix2 for video surveillance was nice, but not quite perfect: setting up the cameras was annoying, and while I certainly can’t blame Iomega for the lack of user-friendliness of Dlink or Axis products, you still have to deal with that. We really need to have a camera identification system that is based on names, or even unique network ID (MAC address) instead of IP addresses.
Also, the ix2 “video wall” had glitches were a stream would go away on a regular basis and come back later on. If you need to have eyes on target, there are probably more reliable (and proprietary) solutions out there. SecureMind provides some of that, but doesn’t reach perfection either. We had to refresh things several times during this test.
The Iomega ix2 has started a new trend that I hope will continue: with their webcam API, Iomega is unifying video-surveillance at an unprecedented level for consumers. With APIs and standards, innovation can happen at all levels of the stack, and hopefully, this category of products will enjoy faster improvements. Having a common API also frees users from being locked to a single hardware provider.
While not perfect, the Iomega ix2 is a very powerful and affordable solution for on-site videos surveillance (and backup offsite) recording. Right now, I wouldn’t recommend it to the lay person who only needs one or two low-quality cameras to watch over a baby. There are services like Dropcam that are extremely easy to setup for that purpose. If you don’t care about video recording, MyDlink would probably suffice.
For small businesses or enthusiasts who want to have a very respectable video-surveillance/recording setup, the Iomega ix2 offers superior value over the long run when compared to any subscription-based web video recording solution. It is also much better than trying to hook up an old PC with a video surveillance software as a PC would probably be less stable, and non-trivial to configure anyway. [official ix2 product page]