Thecus W2000 Windows Storage Server Review: SOHO NAS with the Power of Microsoft Server
Introduction: This Is Not a NAS
The new WSS NAS series from Thecus contains some very interesting devices, and particularly so at the entry-level price with the unit we’re looking at today. WSS is the abbreviation for Windows Storage Server (in this case it’s 2012 R2), and this provides a huge increase in functionality compared to a standard NAS, as you might imagine.
Need a server? Just add a keyboard, mouse, and monitor
It’s really quite remarkable what Thecus is doing in partnership with Microsoft here in terms of value, as this entry 2-bay unit costs just $350. While this may seem high for a dual-bay NAS, we really aren’t talking about a NAS at all with this - which will be readily apparent to the user upon first powering it up. We are talking about a full-scale server here, replete with Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials goodness. Of course a savvy user could easily deploy a small server in a home or office, and there are many advantages to managed solutions beyond the simple NAS appliances. But the advantage of a NAS is just that: it is significantly less complex and accessible for a consumer. The W2000 presents a very interesting option due to one particular aspect of its own accessibility: price. At $350 you are getting a very compact server with internal hardware much more akin to a standard desktop than you might imagine, and it ships installed with Microsoft's Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials.
What is “Storage” Server Essentials?
Ok, so I was a little confused as to the specific difference with the Storage version of the Server OS, unless it was simply a licensing distinction. My research first brought me to this quote from Microsoft:
“Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials is based on Windows Server 2012 R2. In fact, when it comes to functionality, you get key some features that aren’t included in these first two editions.”
After looking through the available documentation it appears as though Storage Server Essentials is, essentially, just Server Essentials with the distinction of being licensed differently. Microsoft TechNet defines it further:
“A computer that runs Windows Storage Server is referred to as a storage appliance. Windows Storage Server is based on the Windows Server operating system, and it is specifically optimized for use with network-attached storage devices. Windows Storage Server offers you a platform to build storage appliances that are customized for your hardware.”
If you consider the cost of Server Essentials 2012 R2, which is $500 alone, it starts to seem more and more crazy that a $350 device would provide that level of functionality. I reached out to Thecus to clarify, and licensing turned out to be an accurate assumption as to what (if anything) differentiates this version of Server Essentials:
“Windows Server and Windows Storage Server are almost identical. The differences come in the rights that are attributed to each license.”
So think about this for a moment. Not only are you getting a 2-bay NAS with underlying hardware powerful enough to run a Server OS, but you’re getting a full version of that OS preinstalled with a valid Microsoft COA. What’s the catch? Really, for a home or small office user, nothing. The limitation under the terms of the Storage Server license for the W2000 is support for up to 50 users, and Storage Server does not require any Client Access Licences (CALs).
For the (rather lengthy) full listing of specifications you can visit the Thecus product page. Here's a quick rundown of some of the W2000's features:
Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials
Intel® Atom™ Processor (2.13GHz, Dual-Core)
2GB DDR3 RAM
HDMI and VGA output
1 x eSATA for external
Enhanced Boot Drive: Embedded SSD
Data Deduplication: Performance Optimization
Active Directory Domain Services: Scalable, Secure User Management
Office 365 & Microsoft Azure: Cloud Service Integration
Global Language Pack: 36 Interfaces Available
Automated client backup built in
Microsoft Bitlocker drive encryption
Simple administrative dashboard
NTFS Online Scan and Repair
Here's a quick look at the packaging and contents for the W2000. Microsoft's involvment in the product is evidenced by the minimal Thecus branding (in fact, there is no Thecus branding beyond than the product information on the back).
The W2000 is a nice-looking unit with a shiny back plastic finish on the front, and a matte black metal body.
Up front there is a USB 3.0 port and SD card reader slot, along with the power button (and of course the dual 3.5" bay door).
Around back we see a pair of USB 2.0 ports, dual Gigabit Ethernet ports, (which support teaming), eSATA, and both HDMI and VGA outputs for connecting a monitor.
The drive trays themselves are well made, and both drives can be locked in place (keys are provided).
One of the W2000's metal and plastic drive bays
Next we'll take a close look at the components under the hood!