A network attached storage (NAS) system can be a great solution for the storage needs of a small to midsized business (SMB).
Since managing storage is not the main business of most SMBs, they want to minimize the efforts and costs of doing that. To ease the burden of managing their storage capacity needs, many SMBs turn to NAS systems for the following reasons:
- Simple installation. Usually the installation of a NAS system requires setting an IP address, establishing a file system and providing access controls.
- Easy administration. Day-to-day monitoring and managing the NAS system is usually not required.
- Cost-effectiveness. Because there are so many providers of NAS systems, the price of NAS systems is usually fairly low.
The major considerations for selecting a NAS system are:
- Capacity. What is the capacity demand for the SMB, not only currently, but for the next three to five years?
- Usage environment. This can be a complex issue based on the applications that being run. The first consideration is which operating systems are being run on the servers that will use the storage. If all the servers run Windows, the NAS product needs to offer the CIFS protocol used by Windows and the use of Active Directory for security controls. If some brand of Unix is used, then NFS support and LDAP controls must be part of the product. If there is a mixture and files are to be shared between the different systems, that support will be needed in the NAS system.
- Installation and administration. Examine the installation and administration claims by the vendor to see if the NAS system will minimize the amount of administrative effort you want.
- Availability. A highly available NAS system will require a dual controller (or dual node) system, in which failure of one controller can be overcome by the other controller taking over access. A dual-controller system costs more and entails additional administrative tasks.
- Price. Not only is product cost based on capacity and controller(s), but some vendors charge extra for the same software features included by other vendors.
- Performance. For the few SMB environments with demanding performance requirements, the performance characteristics of the NAS systems under consideration should be understood. There are some product benchmarks available at www.specbench.org.
- RAID protection. Does the attached storage have RAID protection? For an SMB, the basic function of RAID protection is usually the main consideration.
- Backup. How the data on the NAS system will be protected by backup to tape or another storage system needs to be determined. This factor is often overlooked.
Bringing a NAS into an SMB environment really may be as simple as setting the IP address. But addressing the security needs to be considered as well. An uninterruptible power system (UPS) is also recommended for the NAS system.
An SMB may also want to consider the following functionalitieis:
- Is the NAS system capable of making a point-in-time copy (snapshot, checkpoint, etc.) and does that capability require an extra charge?
- Is a remote copy for protection required? Some of the NAS systems have a feature (usually for an extra charge) to make a copy of the data to a remote system for disaster protection.
- Does the NAS system have an integrated anti-virus and quota management capability?
- Some applications may ultimately require block level I/O rather than the file level I/O provided with the NFS and CIFS protocols on NAS. Some NAS systems may also function as an iSCSI target to support block I/O for those applications.
This is a relatively short list of items to research in making a NAS selection. Doing your homework will pay off.
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Randy Kerns is an independent storage consultant. In the past, he served as vice president of strategy and planning for storage at Sun Microsystems Inc., and covers storage and storage management software including SAN and NAS analysis.