Morro CacheDrive G80

The NAS box sector is a very dynamic one today, with lots of companies delivering innovative solutions for every tier of home or business user. 

Morro DATA is a business promising a wholly different approach to NAS. The company started by Paul Tien, the man who created ReadyNAS and then subsequently sold that business to Netgear.   

Morro Data has the declared aim is to turn traditional NAS upside-down with its radical CloudNAS Series, and a radical approach to the management of Cloud-stored data. 

Out of the box the CacheDrive G80 looks like a standard piece of Intel hardware, but what Morro Data did with it is far from conventional.

Design

On first opening the packaging, it would be easy to conclude that this is the wrong item sent by mistake. Because the G80 is merely an Intel NUC system, or an NUC6i3SYK to be exact. The barebones version can be had for roughly £260 ($275), although this one has a 1TB SanDisk X400 SATA M.2 SSD in it, plus 4GB of Crucial 2133MHz DDR4 RAM. 

The NUC6i3SYK is a general purpose micro PC built around a Skylake series Core i3-6100U processor. It includes lots of useful features like an SD card slot and WiFi. And, many other great hardware features, the vast majority of them won’t be needed in this context. We estimate that the hardware is worth about $650 (£470) in total.

With the addition of a Morro Data logo sticker, that you apply yourself, and a few pieces of documentation, that’s the G80. 

Obviously, there is more to this solution than what comes out of the box, and what the G80 represents is a dedicated gateway to a Cloud service. 

But to understand that, we first need to consider traditional Cloud services, like Google Drive and Microsoft One Drive, and the issues that businesses have when they try to use them in a commercial context. 

To better explain that issue, we now head to ancient Greece. No, really, we do. 

The Battle of Thermopylae 

If you’ve never seen the movie ‘300’ or read anything about the Greco-Persian wars in 480BC, the critical part of that story is that a small number of well-trained warrior held back an overwhelming force of invaders.

They did so by utilising the terrain to their advantage, funnelling the attacking Persian’s into a narrow gap between the coast and the hills, where the numerical differences became negated.

What has this to do with business data on the Cloud, you might reasonably wonder? If you use storage on a business network, irrespective of how fast the computers can communicate internally, the solution is always dragged down to the level of the broadband connection.

Each transaction with a file must be managed and confirmed by the client computers or devices, and the more users you have, the less bandwidth each of them will have to complete their reading or writing tasks.

Like the Spartans at Thermopylae the broadband link holds back the flow of data, and the only conventional answer is to buy more lines or install dedicated internet backbone links.

The approach that Morro Data took is to place a device between the users and the service, a Cloud Cache, that can smooth out the bumps and release the client end of the chain before the data has made it on to the Cloud.

From the client end working with the Cloud is just the same as working with a file server on the internal network, and the broadband link doesn’t get jammed with tens of Cloud transactions being attempted using it. 

A resolution is especially important if you have multiple sites and employees are working on collaborative projects across all of them using Cloud services, and this solution is designed for that scenario too. 

Well, that’s the theory, so what is the reality like? 

Morrow CacheDrive G80 cache and sync

Cloud cache and sync 

Setting up the G80 is relatively painless. It comes pre-installed with a dedicated operating system, and once connected to the network and power the rest of the installation involves joining the final dots with account information at the Morro Data website.

Registering involves providing a credit/debit card payment source for a Cloud subscription service that is a prerequisite for using the G80.

Once registration completes, the G80 can be accessed by local network users as a shared file system, and anything placed on it will be automatically sent to the Cloud.

They then treat this folder structure like they would if it came from any other local server without needing to be concerned about what happens to their files once they’re on the G80’s 1TB internal drive. 

Interestingly, the network attached drive that they access will appear to be the size of the storage they’ve paid to use. So if that’s 8TB, that’s what the computer sees as a capacity.

The internal 1TB of the G80 contains the most relevant files based on the usage pattern, which are managed by the code running on the cache and in the Cloud.  

The CloudNAS service works on a binary model where a file and a ‘stub’ file header are used to separate actual data from virtual versions.

When a user copies a file to the CacheDrive it then travels to Cloud storage. A side effect of that operation is that a small stub header is generated also duplicated to any CacheDrive devices at other locations.

If a user at one of those remote sites wants that file, they simply click on it in there network share, and immediately the file is copied down from the Cloud to their CacheDrive box to sit on their local cache.

By taking this approach files only need to make each journey once, and not all files travel to all locations.

Once the cache is used up, records about when files were last accessed and how often are used to determine those to purge, and the stub file header are left on the cache so that users can still access them should then need them. 

Morro Data included a full user/group/domain structure enabling shares to be segmented by department or seniority. Using the admin web interface you can also access previous versions of any file, should a calamity occur. 

And, they also provide application support for linking to Dropbox and OneDrive using a tool called ECHO. That they don’t offer the same for Google Drive is regrettable, since they’re probably the most widely used Cloud storage solution.
That point aside, the thinking behind the G80 is sound, and the implementation equally so. 

Performance

The speed of the G80 is much what you might expect from a Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 1TB SATA drive connected via gigabyte Ethernet. Using CrystalDisk 6, the network attached G80 hit 116MB/s both reading and writing, running into the effective brick wall of gigabit Ethernet bandwidth.

In theory, you could make it faster if the G80 had two Ethernet ports, or 10GbE, but for a smallish team of users, it is plenty quick enough.

For those that want more performance and users, Morro Data has options. What those numbers don’t tell you is how rapidly that data progressed out to the Cloud, but that will be entirely dependent on broadband connection and contention. If you dumped the full sized of the cache, 1TB on there, it would take a while. But then it would also take more roughly three hours to copy it there in the first place.

That’s not how this system is intended to be used, although you might need to schedule that type of exercise to initiate it. 

Cloud storage options

Pricing and overheads

Using the Morro Data Cloud Cache solution costs more than just the Intel NUC device, and understanding the full cost is important in justifying the ongoing expenditure.

After the flat cost of the hardware, you have a monthly or yearly subscription that’s dependent on exactly how much Cloud data you are looking to use with it, and if you have multiple sites and devices. 

The cheapest option is CloudNAS Essentials that uses Wasabi Hot Cloud Storage and provides 1TB of Cloud capacity for $69 (£50) per month. You can sync up to five sites for $89 (£65) per month on CloudNAS Business for the same capacity, or pay more for greater storage. 

Upgrading this to CloudNAS Enterprise will enable 500 sites and five devices for $995 (£720) per month, and you can add extra devices for $199 (£145) each. 

On the two top levels Morro Data offers Amazon S3 storage in addition to the Wasabi option. Each Terabyte costs $19 (£14) per month on Wasabi or $39 (£28) on S3, and there is also an additional download cost per GB for using AWS. 

You can bring your own storage if you already use Backblaze B2 or AWS S3 Regions, and you are charged a flat rate of $15 (£11) per TB per month for the privilege. There is also support for Microsoft Azure AD and local AD. 

Those are the potential outgoings, but it should also be factored that it should deliver major cost savings in eliminating user delays and securing live data seamlessly. 

Having Cloud secured files ticks one box for a disaster recovery plan, as does having file versioning, and the ability to reduce the time to access Cloud data is also a big plus.

But the best aspect of all this is that while it would be possible to create similar effects with off-the-shelf tools and planning, the G80 and its sibling devices are all meant to deliver exactly this solution, and aren’t just software tools repurposed for the job. It’s the subtle features of the Morro Data solution, like the controlled distribution of files and cache management that make it superior to other Cloud server sync tools and methods. 

For those wishing to dip their toes into the Morro Data experience, the cheaper G40 ($499, around £360) is available, a lower spec Intel NUC that uses a Celeron CPU and a physical hard drive. 

Morro CacheDrive G80 side view

Final verdict

The Morro CacheDrive G80 is an innovative product that fixes many of the issues relating to integrating Cloud storage and local servers effectively. 

The G80 is ideal for a business that has a small number of locations with 50 or fewer users at each site. And for bigger operations, it can be scaled up, with 500+ users using VMware or Hyper-V on more powerful hardware. 

Mark Pickavance
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