The Flexibility of Network Attached Storage (NAS)
Original Article Date: 2005-04-22
You might of heard of NAS - it's the latest acronym in corporate networking that
is being plastered all over the web and magazine-ads. But what exactly is it?
You are quite likely to know that NAS stands for Network
Attached Storage, and that basically tells you what it's about.
NAS allows you to "plug" massive storage directly into your network, allowing
great flexibility in accessing or adding storage that can be used across your
Traditional Network Storage Architectures
Traditional networks only allowed data to be stored
directly onto network servers. For instance, if you were running a web server,
an e-mail server and an internal / departmental file server on your network,
each of these servers would be responsible for providing its own
The problem with this architecture is that it's inflexible.
Should one of these servers outgrow its storage capacity, you'd have to
start getting into expensive and complicated hard drive upgrades. And
sometimes, the limitations of the server's physical size would prevent
meaningful upgrades, and so in these cases you'd have to replace the entire
This model also suffers from potential inefficiency. Whilst on
one hand you might not have foreseen the dramatic increase in space needed on
your e-mail server, you might equally have over-estimated the storage required
by the web server, which is now using only a third of the drive space
originally intended for it.
The solution to these problems is separating server space from storage space.
NAS - Separating Server Processing from Storage
Network Attached Storage is, logically speaking, attached directly to the
network. So you don't have to associate or attach it to, or go through one of
your servers to obtain storage over the network. In essence, the network
storage has become modularized, providing enormous
flexibility in how your plan or grow your storage requirements.
By de-coupling your network storage from your servers, you free them up to do
exactly what they were intended for. Web servers are there to process and
handle requests from internet visitors. E-mail servers process internal and
internet-based e-mails. These servers are essentially processors,
not storage bins! Of course, each needs to store web and e-mail content , but
these can be stored on modular storage attached to the network.
In that way, as the processing demands of each server change and grow over time,
upgrades to CPUs, RAM or entire systems can be made independently
to demands placed on them in regard to storage.
The upshot of this is reduced TCO (total cost of ownership)
and, of course, reduced headaches for your IT administrator in planning out
But what's inside a NAS Box?
A NAS box is regarded as a Network Appliance (such as a
hardware firewall, router or spam-filter), in that it plugs into your network
and almost immediately begins performing a function. In the case of NAS, this
is exposing a small or large number of hard-drives to the network as one or
more useable storage volumes.
Essentially, the NAS appliance is an entry-level server, utilising a low-cost
Pentium®4 CPU, which performs the basic I/O operations needed. A
relatively inexpensive P4 motherboard, equipped with one or more gigabit
LAN ports provides overall physical connectivity with the network,
and with the RAID controller which acts as one or more logical
The beauty in NAS appliances is in the operating system. An OS
that only needs to handle disk operations is very simple, and in the case
of Open-E® NAS, which we use on our NAS
appliances, can be fitted onto flash-memory which plugs into the IDE slot of
Having the OS on a dependable flash memory module allows
the user to configure their storage using 100% of all physical drives in the
box. Not all NAS solutions are as elegant as this, however, as some NAS
operating systems need to be stored on some portion of the hard drives, and
protected from failure using RAID1 - it gets complex.
Setting up NAS in minutes
NAS appliances such as those incorporating Open-E® can be configured in
minutes to provide terabytes of storage. A typical sequence, after
receiving your NAS Appliance from us would be:
Locally set up the RAID Controller (in the controller card's BIOS) to expose
one or more logical disk volumes.
Connect your NAS appliance to your network.
Access the NAS appliance configuration utility using a web browser from any
machine on your network.
Configure your drive shares, user privileges, tape back-up schedules etc. from
the NAS interface.
Start using your NAS as one or more network drives!
NAS Solutions from Electronics Nexus
Electronics Nexus offers a range of customizable
NAS Appliances starting at $2,199. The main differences between the six
different solutions we offer are maximum storage size and
whether they come with Serial ATA or SCSI drives.
All NAS Appliances come with hot-swappable drive bays, 2 gigabit LAN ports,
a RAID controller and the Open-E® NAS Operating System on a
flash-memory card that plugs into one of the IDE slots.
If you think you might have a need for flexible storage that can grow
independently of your existing server needs, feel free to give us a call. I'll
be happy to answer any of your questions, or to help you choose which appliance
is the right solution for your needs!
Chief Systems Engineer