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Small business NAS systems are becoming more enterprise-like

Small business NAS systems are popping up with more enterprise-like NAS features. Find out what features to look for when choosing a small NAS system and why these NAS systems look like they belong in the enterprise.

Small business network-attached storage (NAS) systems have been coming out with more enterprise-like NAS features...

in their products lately. Most recently, NetGear launched its ReadyNAS Pro desktop product for small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and remote offices, which is a NAS system that has a fairly robust set of features for a small business-focused product. It comes with enterprise SATA drives, a 100 GB 12-month hybrid cloud subscription, and VMware, Microsoft Hyper-V, and data backup software certifications. The ReadyNAS Pro also supports iSCSI.

In this Q&A, Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at the Storage IO Group, looks at the ideal use cases for small business NAS systems. He discusses the features you should look for when choosing small business NAS for either your backup target or primary storage, explains how low-end NAS systems are becoming more full-featured, and describes how to upgrade a NAS system for your small business once you outgrow it. Read the Q&A or listen to the MP3 below.

Listen to the small business NAS systems FAQ

Table of contents:

>> What's the ideal use case for small business NAS systems like the ReadyNAS Pro desktop?
>> Who are NetGear's main competitors in this space?
>> What features should you be looking for if you're using a small NAS system as a backup target?
>> What features are most important for primary storage?
>> What happens when you outgrow your small NAS?

 What's the ideal use case for small business NAS systems like the ReadyNAS Pro desktop?

This is a category and type of a product that's fitting into a very popular growing movement in the industry, which generically stays focused on the SMB, but lately it's really pinpointing and laser-targeted at the mid-SMB, the small office-type environment, and maybe even some super users for their VM labs, or their own test lab-type environment. But it's also targeted for the workgroup and the departmental- and distributed-type environments. Small NAS systems really comes into play in environments that need shared storage and data sharing, file sharing of videos and content like that. These environments also need better data protection and better management capabilities. That's mainly where these small business NAS systems are fitting in.

 Who are NetGear's main competitors in this space?

You have real diversity here. You've got Buffalo Technology, Cisco Linksys, Dell's Microsoft-based solutions, Data Robotic Inc.'s Drobo, EMC Iomega, Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. via Microsoft, Intel, Overland Storage Snap Server, Seagate Black Armour, Western Digital Corp., and many others. Some of these vendors are household names that you would expect to see in the upper SMB, midsized environments, and even into the enterprise. But some of these vendors like EMC, Dell and HP have solutions that do come down into the SMB space, along with some of the others that you traditionally associate with that lower-end of the SMB space.

 What features should you be looking for if you're using a small NAS system as a backup target?

They key point here is "as a backup target." First and foremost, your NAS system should have the capability of protecting your data. What's separating these solutions from traditional products in this space -- which typically have been maybe one or two disk drives in a small enclosure --

 is these systems all have RAID. You know that technology that everyone's supposedly declaring "dead"? But yet it's proliferating all the way down into the low end of the SMB, the SOHO [small office/home office] and the consumer market. The key basic functionality of RAID is isolating data when a disk drive fails. But you should also look for multiprotocol capability. In other words, make sure it provides block-based access, so if your backup currently expects to see a block-based device, you can support it. But also look for file-based, NFS, NAS, and CIFS capabilities so that you have the option of backing up in different ways and techniques along with the associated management tools. They key thing is that there are some attributes that are there for a backup. But keep in mind that if you're also going to use that NAS system for your general everyday storage sharing, then there are other features that you want to look for.

 What features are most important for primary storage?

Your RAID capability. Some level of RAID, whether it's RAID 5, striping with parity, RAID 1 mirroring, RAID 6, whatever it happens to be. But then you start to get into some extra functionality, certainly with that multiprotocol support. For example, support for iSCSI is very common on these systems so that you can do block storage for your Microsoft Exchange or your SQL Servers. But support is also common for NFS or CIFS. For your Unix environments you use NFS; for your Windows environments you use CIFS; or maybe some combination of the two. Some of these systems even actually support Apple either with an AFP or some add-on capability. So that whole notion of multiprotocol and multi-interface will give you that capability. But you're also seeing additional protocols, things like http so that these NAS systems can function as a web server, or https for secure web, or FTP servers, or BitTorrent, or WebDAV -- protocols that you don't normally associate with traditional block or file-base type, but effectively what we know as cloud-type protocols.

Some of the things that are showing up with small NAS are snapshots. Some NAS systems come either with built-in snapshots or additional software that you install on one of your systems for doing syncs or replication, and things like that. But what it's really come down to is functionality that not long ago was reserved for the higher end of the SMB, or for even the enterprise is trickling down to "enterprise-like." In other words, they're like what the enterprise has, but they're "light" versions of what the enterprise has. They may not be extensible and they may not have all the detail or the currency support, but they also don't have that price tag. I actually bought one of these NAS systems myself for my own business; I looked at them, researched them, and purchased them on Amazon.com. They're that easy to buy. They're that affordable. They're that functional.

 What happens when you outgrow your small business NAS? Are there typically clear upgrade paths to bigger systems? How does that work?

It's similar to enterprise NAS. You can buy NAS systems that are based and designed primarily around the tenant. They're designed so that you can keep adding systems to them. But then there are other systems that have a different design premise. They have different feature-functionality so that when you hit a certain point you buy another one or you do some conversions and upgrades. And that's what many of these solutions are; their value-prop is ease of use and affordability, and as they fill up you can either add drives to a certain extent, or you can take out the existing drives and add new drives. But some of these systems are actually supporting expansion so that you can add extra drives to it. So you get to a certain point, fill it up, buy another one or you redeploy it. So what might happen is your primary storage today for your file sharing, data sharing, quick sharing and quick backup snapshots may eventually become your archive device, or it may get redeployed for some other application. Just like in the bigger environments, some technology gets outgrown, but it may not have consumed its entire useful life, which means it gets redeployed. In other words, it's a hand-me-down-type approach where it becomes cost-prohibitive to keep that around. So these different solutions vary. Some can be expanded. Some have a fixed-expansion capability but with the ability to support external drives.


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