Storage is an essential component of any computer-driven work environment. The built-in hard disk, for example, is designed to hold data so that it is easily accessible when needed. However, this type of storage is usually insufficient and unreliable when you have a business with growing needs. For instance, you may have more people needing to share highly sensitive and centralized data. In this case, your business will be better off with network-attached storage (NAS).
A NAS is a type of file storage device connected to a computer network. It usually contains several drives designed to hold databases, system images, and backup files in a central location. The stored data is always available to multiple users, who can then access it at the same time. Network-attached storage has improved a lot over the years. It is now possible, for instance, for remote users to store and easily access centralized software and media files.
Disclaimer: This article was produced in conjunction with Seagate Technology. All of the products discussed in this article are popular and generally positively reviewed. Your usage of these devices may vary, especially when it comes to anything involving storage capacity, network speed, and read/write speed.
Why Do You Need Network Attached Storage?
Without network-attached storage, users have to share files via email, removable drives, or cloud-based platforms. All of these solutions pose a risk to the privacy and security of the data being shared. On top of that, it is cumbersome and often leads to duplication. For instance, a file needed for fieldwork might have to be uploaded at the office only to be downloaded again somewhere else. With NAS storage, you only need to log onto the network and select the file you wish to work on.
Because it runs independent of the network server, NAS allows users to access data uninterrupted even when the server goes down. It also enhances the speed of file sharing since it is only responsible for file storage and retrieval. Last, but certainly not least, it helps to free up your local servers storage space, leaving them to run more efficiently.
Modern units come with the ability to configure automated backups, which protects against crashes or power outages that may cause you to lose data. Some units even come with an alert feature that sends a warning message when there is an impending drive failure. These units allow you to swap the old disk for the new one without having to power down the system. This is an excellent feature – especially for large enterprise companies looking to store and maintain sensitive data. Most enterprise-grade units also have storage redundancy configurations, where one of the drives is used to create a fallback image of the data.
Network-attached storage increases scalability options and is so flexible that enterprises can easily manage user access. For example, some configurations allow IT to handle more than 100 users spanning across multiple locations. Moreover, it allows separate access levels to be created for different users.
- NAS provides a secure way for multiple users to access the same files simultaneously.
- They make it easy to store and backup data from multiple users.
- In the event of a hard disk failure, the redundancy function can aid in quick recovery.
- Network-attached storage alleviates storage and file retrieval work from the local devices.
- With automated backups, NAS devices lower your energy bill and lead to more efficient computing.
- NAS devices enable the creation of a private cloud, which enhances data security within the organization.
- It may require advanced computing skills, especially when there are different levels of access.
- Users must connect to the network if they want to access files.
- Similarly, network downtime will affect multiple users.
Types of Network Attached Storage Devices
The type of NAS device is usually dependent on the prescribed level of usage. As a result, they fall into three main categories:
- Consumer Level
- SMB (Small-Medium Business) Level
- Enterprise Storage
Usually, their prices will vary depending on features like storage capacity, number of bays, and a list of other extras such as connectivity and cloud storage.
Enterprise Network Attached Storage
Enterprise network storage models allow businesses to expand rapidly across multiple geographical areas. In this case, branch locations can remotely access data from a NAS device at headquarters. Many modern devices enable advanced encryption and compression, making them ideal for running massive data operations. Rack mounting is one of their most significant physical traits.
Consumer Network Attached Storage
Consumer network attached storage may be used to share files professionally or privately with friends and family. For instance, network attached storage for music creates personalized media server for private users. They can use it to backup and synchronize files or even edit images remotely. It can also create a private network between users and the print shop making it easy to edit photos and then send them for immediate printing.
Small Business Network Attached Storage
Small business NAS options are little more complicated than consumer. The setup of a small and medium-sized business usually consists of a couple of computer users, a shared printer, and an internet connection. Files can be shared across the network, but there is no clear system of storage and access. At its worst, backing up data becomes a difficult task since it resides in multiple locations. Even so, NAS creates a centralized storage point for all data and simplifies multiple functions, like remote access and data backup.
How to Choose Network Attached Storage
Given that different users will have varying needs, the most important features will depend on the planned usage. When running a large enterprise, for example, the storage capacity and speed of file sharing becomes the most important features to look for.
Diskless Form Factor
The form factor describes the shape, size, or physical characteristics of a computing device. It affects the design of hardware components that go into the larger unit. For NAS storage devices, form factor usually comes in two variations: rack-mount, and tower type cases. Choosing between these two options should be straightforward. For example, rack cases would be suitable for enterprise networks since they have an expandable capacity. Tower type casing is better for consumers or small-to-medium businesses.
When choosing your network-attached storage, you must consider the number of drives it can hold. Some may only have one disk bay, while others may have as many as 16 slots. The RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) system is a good indicator of the supported storage capacity. Conventionally, NAS devices are configured to support RAID technology, which allows multiple hard drives to fit into a single storage. For example, devices that hold two disks typically support RAID 0 or RAID 1 (this is not the case for all NAS devices).
Those that hold four bays or higher can support RAID 6 and RAID 10 configurations. In a typical 2-drive unit, one of the disks holds a mirror image of the main drive. This protects you from data loss in case the main drive fails. A 3-drive NAS increases storage capacity and offers better redundancy. A 4-drive unit has an even better capacity, but it will need more space for redundancy.
The main functions of a NAS unit are data storage and file access. Even with that, you need a powerful processor to help it run efficiently. Like conventional computers, the devices vary in terms of the processor models and their number of cores. Speed is essential when you have more people connecting to the network. If we are dealing with a small office, processor choice could be insignificant, since the number of connections is so small.
Additionally, the overall performance of the unit can be affected by the amount of RAM (Random Access Memory). Typically, a computer with more RAM can allow several programs to run concurrently without affecting the speed. You can pick your NAS based on the expected number of simultaneous connections. As a rule of thumb, 1GB RAM should be matched to every terabyte (TB) of storage.
Some models come with built-in Wi-Fi functionality. In this case, you can configure an access point through which other devices can connect. Such functions can allow client devices to download and stream multimedia formats in addition to editing large files. Wi-Fi access eliminates the need for Ethernet cables and routers, whose wiring can create a mess. Such devices can also serve as a signal booster for the existing network.
Ease of Use
A complex system requires a dedicated IT professional to oversee it. When you have limited resources, however, you will need a solution that can run with little maintenance. It is always wise to choose a NAS that can be set up in a short time, with minimal labor. For enterprise solutions, higher labor and administrative costs will be insignificant when compared with the benefits brought about by the system.
A good system should allow for a quick recovery from downtime. Besides the ability to run round the clock, large enterprise units should be able to withstand the increased usage. You should also consider aspects like fault tolerance and error recovery options.
One of the main reasons for choosing network-attached storage is to protect your sensitive data from unauthorized access. When you allow remote access for users, you need assurances that such information will not get into the wrong hands. Consequently, many NAS devices come with advanced encryption options.
What Can You Use a NAS For?
Buying a NAS is an investment and something that will last for years. If you are considering a NAS, make sure that you know how and why you need it so that you buy the right one.
Videography is demanding and without proper file storage and organization, finishing projects in a timely manner becomes very difficult. Before you know it, you will have too many drives to count and no idea where footage is or what drive it is on. If you are a videographer, then you need proper storage. NAS servers were almost built for videographers. They are flexible, reliable, easy to use, and offer plenty of storage for hours of footage. Your files will be available from anywhere and, most importantly, many NAS systems contain Thunderbolt 3 which is faster than a network connection giving you the ability to directly edit footage and archive it painlessly.
Data Storage & Security
If you are an IT manager or someone who manages IT infrastructure, you are probably always monitoring the usage of confidential information or data. Today, everyone is concerned about privacy and cyber-security. With a NAS as your storage solution, you have the ability to centralize files, monitor usage, and control users’ access thus ensuring that everything remains secure and confidential.
If you are someone who is aware that storing information on the cloud has risks and are looking for alternatives, then you need a NAS. A NAS server can operate as your private, personal cloud. Many offer the same or similar features as popular cloud services like GoogleDrive, OneDrive, etc. but, without many of the cyber-security risks.
If you are a professional photographer then you know you are always creating new content. Having a system that stores, organizes, and archives all this content is a must. Image files consume a lot of storage space and laptops or even a bulky PC with terabytes of storage is just not the best long-term solution. Before you know it, you are buying external drives to compensate for the lack of storage. In order to upload or download files, external drives typically have to be connected to your computer and as someone who constantly shooting, either in a studio or on-location, you do not need another piece of equipment to carry. Also, as a professional, you need more than just image storage. You probably require 24/7 access to important business documents like contracts or shot lists. Keeping track of all these files and ensuring they are stored safely is exhausting and takes away from your creativity. You need a storage solution that makes production easy and rapidly stores information in an organized fashion. With NAS, image files are quickly saved and accessible from just about anywhere. NAS servers are flexible giving you the power to store just about any file type. You get immediate access to your information and can seamlessly interface with clients or other professionals.
Programming & Development
If you are a programmer or developer, then you are probably use to an agile project formatted workflow. Team environments like this are intensive and fast pace. They require seamless communication and constant collaboration otherwise, projects will stall and lose progress. NAS is perfect for these situations because it allows users to easily share files with each other without needing to save multiple version. Also, everyone does not need to be in the same physical location. NAS makes files accessible from anywhere to any authorized user. You can simplify workflow, eliminate work duplication, improve collaboration, and increase productivity.
Popular Diskless Network Attached Storage
When you are shopping for a diskless NAS unit, you need to also consider what hard drives you should buy. There are many hard drives out there, but the Seagate Ironwolf series is perfect for any network storage solution. They have the read/write speed you need and come in a variety of storage capacities (see below). These drives are designed for NAS solutions and as such stand above the competition.
1. QNAP 3-Bay 64-bit NAS with Built-in 10G Network
The QNAP 3-bay NAS can easily cater a secure RAID 5 array with three disks for optimized storage capacity and protection against one disk failing. It also features one built-in 10 GbE SFP+ port for accelerating massive file sharing and intensive data transfer.
2. Drobo 5 Bay Network Attached Storage
Known for high-degree of storage space it offers, Drobo’s 5-bay NAS is yet another exceptional unit in a tower form factor. It comes equipped with up to 64TB of storage space supported, multiple RAID configurations to safeguard your data, and allows users to easily enjoy enhanced remote access to all their information.
3. NETGEAR ReadyNAS 424 4-bay Network Attached Storage (Diskless)
The Ready NAS 424 is a high-performing storage unit suited for small business and creative professionals. It comes equipped with four disk bays supporting up to 40TB of storage. Powered by a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, it allows for the connection of simultaneous users and remote access capability. Businesses can enjoy up to five levels of data protection, automated backups options, and quick disaster recovery. Additionally, NETGEAR provides a remote monitoring app and dedicated cloud support.
4. Asustor AS6404T, 4-Bay NAS (Diskless)
The Asustor AS6404T is a comprehensive 4 bay NAS equipped with an Intel Celeron (Apollo Lake) quad-core processor for powerful output. The enhanced CPU and GPU provide comprehensive performance upgrades as does the 8GB expandable dual-channel memory. It is an economical NAS solution that is perfect for business, home, or personal use.
5. Synology 2 Bay NAS DiskStation DS218+ (Diskless)
The DS218+ is a compact NAS unit targeting the home user. It features a dual-core processing unit integrated with AES-NI encryption technology. It comes with two hard drive slots and a trio of USB 3.0 ports for attaching external storage. It is easy to use and comes with a variety of add-ons for advanced file sharing and 4K video transcoding. The tower unit supports up to 113 MB/s of encrypted reading and 112 MB/s of encrypted writing.
Future Prospects of NAS
Traditionally, network-attached storage used to be reserved for the business market. However, recent developments suggest a growing interest in network attached storage for home users. As more SMB’s expand across the global network, they will experience a growing need for efficient data management. NAS devices will help them to scale up rapidly while securing their data and innovations from unauthorized parties. Usage among consumer markets and home-based businesses will increase, with a decent device going for less than $1,000.