iSCSI is a network protocol over Ethernet that creates a virtual drive on your NAS that behaves a lot like a physical drive to your computer. It’s more complicated than that, but the results are more important than the details for the home. Once created, it’ll act like like a USB or Thunderbolt drive. This creates a lot of advantages such as working with native file formats. You can do more in storage that’s NTFS or HFS+ formatted than SMB or AFP network protocols. For most NAS companies, iSCSI is something only offered with SMB level rack mount units. QNAP offers it for almost every product they make, even the 2-bay HS-210.
Use a Wired Network. No, Seriously!
For best results, you want to use iSCSI through at least a gigabit WIRED Ethernet connection using at least Cat5E or Cat 6 cabling. It’s faster and more reliable than Wi-Fi. In theory you could use iSCSI over Wi-Fi, but if the connection were to drop while connected, it would be like pulling a drive out of your computer while running. Just forget Wi-Fi and use gigabit Ethernet instead.
Special Note for Mac users: Since iSCSI is treated like a physical drive in OS X, remember to eject it before disconnecting from your network.
There are a couple of terms you have to know, Target and LUN. The target is like a drive itself and the LUN is like a partition. Yes, like I said earlier, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but that is how they function operationally.
Setting Up An iSCSI Target
Your iSCSI “drive” is actually called an iSCSI target volume. The target volume connects to a software initiator on your computer. Windows comes with an initiator and there’s an open source one available. Macs will need a paid third party initiator and we’ll talk about that in the next section. You’ll now need to create a target volume on your QNAP.
First, as always, log into your QNAP to launch your QTS Desktop environment. The easiest way to login is though the QFinder Desktop App, but can also be done by typing your QNAP’s IP address into your web browser followed by :8080. The app does this for you, so I highly recommend having it installed. You can find out about QFinder for Mac, Windows, and Linux in our post about QNAP apps.
Next, choose Control Panel on the Home Screen. It’ll be the icon on the top left.
In the Control Panel. Click on Storage Manager, it should be the second icon on the top left.
You’ll next be asked to enter some data. First enter something for the Target Name. This is the identifier name and will show up in its address. Next enter something for the Target Alias. You’ll also have optional settings for CRC/Checksum. Click Next to continue.
Next you can optionally use CHAP Authentication. If you wish to do so, click the box next to Use CHAP Authentication. Enter your desired username and password. Your CHAP password must be between 12 and 16 characters. You can also choose mutual CHAP. Once done click Next. Remember, this step is Optional.
The next screen is setting up your LUN. First choose between Thin Provisioning and Instant Allocation. Thin provisioning is a kind of virtualization; it is more flexible, but doesn’t guarantee the allocated space is actually there. Instant allocation is a bit safer bet, but not as flexible. For this tutorial, I’m going with thin provisioning.
Finding an iSCSI Initiator
Keep your QTS browser window open, as you set up your iSCSI initiator. For Windows it’s called Microsoft iSCSI Initiator and on Linux it’s Open iSCSI. Both of those are free to download and use. For Macs, we’re not so lucky. You’ll have to buy a piece of commercial software called globalSAN iSCSI Initiator from Studio Network Solutions. It’ll set you back $89. There is no current free option for OS X. Since I have neither a Windows nor Linux machine handy, the next part will be done from GlobalSAN on the Mac. The IP address for the iSCSI device will be the same as your QNAP.
For Mac users, here is a video tutorial on how to use globalSAN. Windows users, you can find a tutorial on setting up iSCSI here. Linux users, you can find the read me here. It’ll all be command line for you.
You’re now able to use an iSCSI drive and the benefits that come with it. It’s the best of both worlds between NAS storage and physical drives. After you read this, take a look at our other QNAP tutorials.