network-attached storage (NAS)

Definition: Learn what network-attached storage is and how it provides file-based data storage services to other devices on a network through a standard Ethernet connection.

Network-attached storage is a type of dedicated file storage device that provides local area network (LAN) users with centralized, consolidated disk storage through a standard Ethernet connection.

NAS devices are connected to the LAN as an independent network device and assigned an IP address. The primary advantage of NAS devices is that network storage is no longer limited to the storage capacity of a computing device or the number of disks in a local server. Many NAS products can hold enough disks to support RAID, and multiple NAS appliances can be attached to the network for storage expansion.

NAS devices typically do not have a keyboard or display and are configured through a web-based management utility.  Some NAS boxes run a standard operating system (OS) like Microsoft Windows, while others may run their own proprietary operating systems. Although Internet Protocol (IP) is the most common network protocol,  some NAS products may support other network protocols such as Network File System (NFS), Internetwork Packet Exchange (IPX), NetBIOS Extended User Interface (NetBEUI) or Common Internet File System (CIFS), an enhanced version of the Microsoft open, cross-platform Server Message Block (SMB) protocol. Some NAS products also support Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) for faster data transfers across the network.

NAS products are often categorized as being enterprise, mid-market or desktop. Such categorizations are usually based on the NAS device's number of drives, its drive support, its drive capacity and its scalability.

Enteprise NAS:  This end of the market is driven by the need to store huge amounts of files, including virtual machine (VM) images, as well as the need for rapid access and NAS clustering.

Mid-market NAS: This end of the market can run to capacities of several hundred terabytes.  Mid-market NAS devices can not be clustered. This can lead to siloed file systems if multiple NAS devices are required.

Desktop NAS: This end of the market is aimed at small businesses and home users who require local shared storage. Increasingly, this market is shifting towards a cloud NAS model.

This was first published in August 2014

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