Success in today's e-business landscape is all about speed. Companies must learn how to define new sales opportunities faster, answer customer queries quicker and reduce the time it takes to bring new products to market if they expect to gain an advantage over their rivals.
Achieving these goals requires a high-speed mechanism for filing and retrieving vital business data. Enter Network-Attached Storage (NAS), which moves storage out from behind the server and puts it directly on the transport network. These specialized storage devices have many benefits to offer over file server systems and can provide businesses with an easy-to-deploy solution for resolving cross platform issues and speeding access to stored files.
"The NAS concept has been around a long time," says Phil Sargeant, Gartner Australia's vice-president for storage. "When NAS was first introduced it was a file server used for sharing files between lots of users. Generally it is viewed as a cheaper way to deploy storage. As it matured, it has been used for databases."
Simply put, NAS is a server dedicated to file sharing, a way for companies to add storage without deploying more servers. One of the most cost-effective storage solutions, NAS is often deployed by companies looking to take the burden off heavily-used servers and assist with business continuity.
"NAS is a way of adding storage without disturbing or modifying existing server infrastructure," says Demetri Christodoulou, Adaptec regional manager Australia, New Zealand and South Asia. "No one wants to mess with the expensive back-end products," Christodoulou says.
"Companies that look at NAS have existing services for their business and want to add more storage - they don't want more servers or SANs, they want more storage, archives and backups. They want to get into systems without interfering with the back line. NAS is an add-on, not an interference to the network. NAS does not need to be fast - you just plug in NAS and integrate it with existing server - it takes all the security and commands from existing server structure."
Christodoulou says NAS take-up is on the rise, especially among growing enterprises, "It is a very easy migration - they can add storage on the fly. They are now also using NAS for disaster recovery and EDR (Enterprise Data Replication) to allow replication from one site to the other."
Greg Wyman, consultant with StorageCraft, says one of the key reasons NAS adoption is growing is the technology's ability to reduce or eliminate most of the problems associated with traditional tape backup, such as lengthy backup windows, the complexity and cost of traditional tape software, and reliability.
"NAS is ideal as an image repository or backup repository regimen for disk to disk backup," Wyman says. "Traditional tape backup systems are struggling to meet today's business needs. Using NAS as a component in your backup and recovery strategy helps to substantially ease the complexity and improve performance, and reduce the total cost of ownership of a backup solution, making it more affordable. NAS are plug and play, they are very simple to install and implement and very easy to use."
NAS can also help eliminate backup problems in remote locations. A company could put a small NAS equipped with disk-to-disk backup software at a remote site and replicate the data over the WAN to head office. Once the data reaches the central depository it can be archived onto tape at the company's leisure.
NAS backup file restoration also makes life easier for IT administrators. The time it takes to restore files is reduced to only minutes with a disk-to-disk system, compared to 2-6 hours using traditional tape backup.
"Traditionally, if a Windows server crashes it takes 4-8 hours to rebuild the server and get it back into a working state because it is a very complex and tedious process," Wyman says.
"There are now solutions in the industry that are able to perform live real-time imaging of servers to create a reliable fast roll-back of the System Volume, which enables a server to be rebuilt from 100 percent dead to 100 percent operational typically in under 10 minutes. NAS is an ideal repository for those images."
According Graham Penn, IDC associate vice president for storage in the Asia Pacific region, it is important that companies understand the type of storage they require before they purchase any hardware.
"You have to understand what you are trying to do before you rush out and buy the device - you must know what your objective is, what applications you have, the nature of the data, how long you are going to keep it," Penn says. "You generally use SAN for block level data and NAS for files. You can get a storage system that is either one or both. The industry has moved on from the debate in 1999-2000. SAN and NAS are now parallel, not mutually exclusive."
"You can have a mixture," agrees Gartner's Sargeant. "The key is understanding your requirements and then mapping the technologies to those requirements."