In the universe of storage solutions, one of the more recent entries in the space is called Network Attached Storage (NAS). What is NAS, and why is it important? We’ll be exploring both questions in the article that follows.
What Is NAS?
Network Attached Storage (NAS) is, as its name implies, a storage system that resides on a small-to-medium business’ (SMB) internal network and can scale up to Enterprise level with certain adjustments and additions. Each NAS device exists as a node on the network and has its own IP address.
Installation and Setup
When discussing what is NAS, one advantage NAS systems have is ease of installation and setup. NAS systems are built for companies without an IT department and come with some easy-to-use software and setup routines. This relieves the burden placed on the staff of SMBs by implementing more complex storage solutions.
Configuration and Management
NAS devices typically do not have a keyboard or display and are usually managed by a web-based utility. Management tools are graphical based and are meant to be administered by non-IT personnel.
One big advantage NAS has over other solutions is allowing data access and sharing by authorized users. NAS systems are very fast at storing and retrieving data. As they are attached directly to your internal network, upload and download speeds are not limited to your Internet’s bandwidth. Your company may also make certain data available for your clients to access, such as how-to guides and troubleshooting techniques.
NAS vs. SANS
Storage Area Networks (SANS) are used for a different purpose than NAS.
Businesses typically use NAS systems to store data that is unstructured. Examples of unstructured data are Microsoft Office documents, websites, audio and video files and text files. Workgroup collaboration files are also a good fit for NAS.
SAN systems are most typically used for structured data. Block storage of data bases is one example of the type of data that resides on SANs.
Is There a Need for NAS?
When answering the question what is NAS, it’s helpful to look at why it is advantageous to use NAS instead of other data access storage solutions. Let’s examine some of these in more depth.
Ease of Access
A big advantage of NAS over other storage solutions is the ease with which employees and clients can access data. You can access the NAS system via a web-based interface, making it ideal when working with remote workgroups who need access to data from different time zones.
Scalability and Cost
One advantage of NAS systems is the ease with which companies can increase the storage capacity of their systems. This makes NAS systems cost-effective because you are only paying for the amount of storage capacity you need.
NAS systems typically start at 1TB (terabyte) of storage, and each unit has a maximum capacity of 10TB. If you reach the 10TB limit, you can further increase NAS storage capacity by installing additional units.
Many SMBs use their NAS storage systems as the foundation of their personal or private cloud. A private cloud has advantages similar to a public cloud, such as self-service, ease of use and scalability, but where a public cloud services many users, the private cloud is dedicated to a single company.
Can You Use an NAS for Backup?
Yes, but not exclusively. The disadvantage of using an NAS for backup is that it’s on site. Consider what the effect on the business would be if NAS were the sole backup solution, and a disaster such as a fire or flood hit the building that houses the NAS and other network components.
You should back up everything on your NAS device using either a physical drive that you can store in a secure and safe facility off-site, or via the Internet to a commercial cloud or backup service. Most NAS vendors partner with cloud storage and backup providers. Make sure you check out these partnerships when you are evaluating NAS vendors.
Enterprise vs. SMB
We’ve discussed the use of NAS in SMBs. What are the differences when dealing with an enterprise-sized business?
Size and Power
Enterprise-level NAS installations require larger and more powerful hard disk drives (HDD) and more robust network processing capabilities. They also require higher network bandwidth, including multiple network pathways.
Larger NAS systems can also be configured to support redundant array of independent disks (RAID) configurations. RAID is a way to configure multiple hard disks into one logical unit. Data is distributed to the RAID array across multiple disks and is often redundant to protect data from loss. RAID arrays can also boost performance and provide high availability.
An Enterprise-level NAS system can be configured to provide clustering capabilities. Clustering created a way to address some drawbacks associated with traditional NAS systems.
Consider the situation when a single NAS device is the complete storage solution for an SMB. This creates a single point of failure. There are ways around this, including spreading important applications and files across multiple NAS devices, and ensuring that backup schedules are frequent enough and are strictly adhered to.
Replication in Clustered NAS Systems
One of the major advantages of clustered NAS systems is data redundancy. Clustered NAS systems typically provide transparent data replication and fault tolerance. If one (or more) nodes fail, the system can continue to function with no data being lost.
Data can be stored across both the NAS cluster and other storage subsystems, such as the SAN system we discussed earlier. While clustering looks similar to file virtualization, the main difference is that the storage system nodes must be from the same vendor and all the nodes need to be configured in the same way..
Why NAS Is Important
Before NAS systems became available, business entities had to manage hundreds of discrete file servers. NAS provides a simple, centralized way for SMBs to manage data and provide ease of access to it. As the business grows, their NAS system can grow with them.
Now that you are aware what is NAS, your next step should be to evaluate which of the commercially available NAS systems best meets your company’s needs.