Network-attached storage (NAS) device purchasing for SMBs

When selecting a network-attached storage (NAS) device for a small to medium-sized business (SMB), several considerations must be taken into account, from capacity needs to price.

When selecting a network-attached storage (NAS) for a small to medium-sized business (SMB), what considerations must you take into account? The following decisions must be made:

  • Network-attached storage capacity: What is the capacity demand for the SMB, not only currently, but for the next three to five years?
  • Network-attached storage usage: What operating systems are being run on the servers that will use the storage? If they are all Windows, then the selection of a NAS product needs to focus on the CIFS protocol used by Windows and the use of Active Directory for security controls. If Unix of some type 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.
  • Network-attached storage availability: What are the availability requirements? For a NAS system, to be highly available will require a dual controller (or dual node) system where a failure of one controller can be overcome by the other controller taking over access. A dual controller system represents a more costly product and some additional administrative tasks.
  • Network-attached storage performance: Most SMB environments don't have demanding performance requirements, but, if there are, the performance characteristics of the NAS systems under consideration should be understood. There are some product benchmarks available at
  • Network-attached storage RAID protection: Does the attached storage have RAID protection? This is generally the case and while there may be differences, for the SMB, the basic function of RAID protection is usually the only consideration.
  • Network-attached storage data backup: Often overlooked, how the data on the NAS system will be protected by backup to tape or another storage system needs to be determined.
  • Network-attached storage price: How much the product costs has several factors. Not only is there the cost based on capacity and controller(s), but some vendors may charge extra for some software features while other vendors may include them -- which you'd have to figure into the final price you quote to the customer.
  • 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. Additionally, an uninterruptible power system (UPS) is good idea for the NAS system.

    Depending on the specific environment, an SMB may also want to look into other, more detailed functionalities and consider the following items:

  • 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.
  • Abou the author: 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.

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