How to: Choosing an SMB NAS

Your guide to choosing the best network-attached storage (NAS) your small or medium business

The network-attached storage (NAS) market is one of the most dynamic sectors of the IT market with compound annual growth rates set to surpass 20.7 per cent from 2010 to 2015.

Research firm Gartner said the NAS market registered a remarkable 36.2 per cent revenue increase in 2010.

This remarkable growth represents a shift from general purpose file servers to NAS systems.

This shift will impact direct-attached storage, and to a smaller degree, Fibre Channel storage area network (FC-SAN) attached storage.

With the focus on simplicity, file storage consolidation has gone beyond the enterprise environment to reach the small to medium business sector (SMB).

Gartner analyst Pushan Rinnen said the increased demand in file storage is due to the ever increasing volumes of digital content.

Mr Rinnen said other major growth drivers include storage architectural changes triggered by virtualisation, and continuing vendor innovation.

While a lot of SMBs are still using general purpose file/print servers because of familiarity with traditional systems, he said this is changing as the mid-market increasingly looks to NAS appliances.

On the vendor side, there has been a lot of innovation with the focus on deduplication, scalable file systems, automated tiering and automation of storage management.

To help SMB’s choose a NAS product, this feature outlines the market basics including the different product segments, technologies and providers.

What are NAS products?

NAS products are specialised file server/storage systems providing file-sharing services for computing systems (clients or servers) attached to a Local Area Network (LAN) or Storage Area Network (SAN). They use one or multiple file protocols, such as the NFS for the Unix/Linux environment and the CIFS for the Windows environment. They include a file system and frequently an Operating System (OS) streamlined for file serving.

Stand-alone NAS – These NAS products combine the server head with internal hard disk drives or direct-attached HDD storage arrays for usable storage. They are sold as an integrated NAS storage system. Unified storage supports both NAS and SAN access protocols. Interestingly, stand-alone NAS accounted for 90 per cent of the total NAS market in terms of revenue in 2010, according to Gartner.

NAS gateways – In contrast to stand-alone NAS, a NAS gateway is only the server head component of a stand-alone NAS device with no direct-attached usable storage. Its internal disk drives are used for OS image, not for actual data. Usable storage is provided by traditional SAN storage arrays via a SAN (either FC or iSCSI) switch.

Traditional NAS gateway vendors include EMC, NetApp, IBM and Hitachi Data Systems. There are a number of new vendors entering the market. For example, HP is working on NAS gateways for 3PAR while Symantec’s FileStore is a software solution that runs on x86 servers to function as NAS gateways. Dell has also announced its NAS plans for the EqualLogic line. Some NAS gateways, like those from NetApp, also function as a storage virtualization appliance with block-access protocols that are used to leverage more advanced functions than those available in selected back-end SAN storage.

Over the page: The NAS products on offer

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