In the beginning, before gateways and similar devices, network attached storage (NAS) was a simple method for adding storage capacity to an Ethernet network. No file servers, no configuration complications. Just plug it in, use DHCP to grab an IP address from the server, and away you went.
At the low end of the NAS market, things are still that simple. But a lot cheaper.
A number of companies now offer NAS filers under $500 with a starting capacity of 500 GB to 1 terabyte (TB). These appliances feature the same sort of simple network setup and file-based architecture (and limited capabilities) that early NAS devices had. Some of these products are simple NAS filers; others can be configured as RAID arrays.
One product that has grabbed a lot of attention is MicroNet Technology's G Force Megadisk. For about $350, you get 1TB of NAS storage. You also get iTunes server software and BitTorrent functionality, which tells you the product is aimed at home users.
But then there's Iomega Corp.'s StorCenter Network 1TB, which lists for $389. The unit contains two 500 GB hard drives. Similar two-drive units can be configured for RAID 10, as well as RAID 1, RAID 0 and JBOD. Some can even be configured for RAID 5.
The driving force behind all this is a combination of low-priced SATA disks and increased storage requirements for small businesses and departments. SATA technology continues to drive the cost of 500 GB to 1 TB drives lower. According to the Yankee Group, in 2006 about 40% of U.S. companies with fewer than 100 employees were using NAS products.
These products are ideally suited to SMBs and home offices with simple Ethernet networks. But in larger companies, these NAS boxes are a hardware tech's dream and a storage administrator's headache. Most of them can be installed in a simple Ethernet network or desktop in minutes with built-in software and minimum configuration. (Iomega even has a wireless version). However, the products' management capabilities are minimal as well. Considering that most of the vendors in this market concentrate on the low end of the market, this isn't surprising, but it complicates life for storage administrators in larger organizations.
While these low-priced NAS applicances definitely have a market, and probably a bright future, storage administrators need to look carefully at manageability issues before adding them to their company's approved list. Pay particular attention to the ability to manage them with your existing enterprise storage management tools.
About the author: Rick Cook specializes in writing about issues related to storage and storage management.