A NAS is a specialized file server sometimes implemented with custom hardware and custom operating system. There are other distinguishing elements as well:
- Specialized software features for point-in-time copy and roll-back
- Failover mechanisms to deal with IP address and in some cases MAC address takeover
- Administration specific to NAS
- The risk-reducing feature of not allowing "other" software to be loaded and executed
- A few vendor-specific capabilities
Yes, you can use a standard server as a file server for NFS, CIFS, etc. In the end, you are providing remote file serving with both types of solutions. A NAS device or appliance was created to reduce cost (primarily in administration), risk and installation simplicity. There's a lot more to consider than just the backend file system used.
Evaluator Group, Inc.
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This was first published in May 2002