Network-attached storage FAQ

Though network-attached storage (NAS) offers a number of benefits, it also presents some challenges. Ashish Nadkarni, Principal Consultant with GlassHouse Technologies Inc., discusses the pros and cons of using NAS in an SMB environment and offers some best practices. His answers are also available as an MP3 download.

Though network-attached storage (NAS) offers a number of benefits, it also presents some challenges. Ashish Nadkarni, Principal Consultant with GlassHouse Technologies Inc., discusses the pros and cons of using NAS in an SMB environment and offers some best practices. His answers are also available below as an MP3 download.

Check out the NAS FAQ podcast here.

Table of contents:

>>Why should I encrypt tape?
>>Is NAS the best storage option for SMBs?
>>Which NAS vendors are in the SMB market?
>>Best practices for selecting a NAS system
>>What is clustered NAS and what are its benefits?
>>Can virtual NAS solutions fit in an SMB environment?
>>Tips for consolidating NAS boxes

What are the benefits of NAS for SMBs?

The key benefit is the ability to consolidate structured and unstructured data into a file-sharing environment that utilizes the existing IP infrastructure. Since NAS clients rarely require any additional hardware to access data, the initial investment is contained to the NAS array itself.

What you find is that most NAS environments are self contained and do not require any additional software for basic functionality.

Is NAS a better storage option for SMBs than a SAN or a mixed solution?

Absolutely, it is a much better option. NAS can leverage your existing IP infrastructure and very rarely requires any additional hardware or software for access. It easily integrates with corporate security and authentication domains such as Radius, Active Directory and LDAP, making it a very attractive option for SMBs.

With NAS prices declining, which vendors are positioning their offerings to fit the SMB market?

What you'll find is that most major vendors such as EMC, NetApp, Hitachi Data Systems and even HP have recognized the importance of having some sort of NAS offering in the SMB space. Most now offer lower cost or tiered solutions for these markets.

Additionally, several startups have come up that offer NAS solutions for the SMB markets with different options around lower cost disks. Additionally, networked storage vendors such as Netgear and Cisco now offer NAS solutions for the SMB space as well.

Are there any best practices for selecting a NAS system in an SMB environment?

Cost is the primary driver for the SMB space. Other things to consider are to determine if the product is viable in the market, the serviceability and the ease of use, including the implementation and configuration.

Another thing to look for would be the environmental footprint, such as power and heat, and even the rackability of that product. Other key factors to examine would be backup and recovery, the ability to internally tier storage and, of course, scalability.

What is clustered NAS and what are its benefits?

Clustered NAS is typically defined as a concurrent multi-node access to and servicing of data. This is usually accomplished by implementing some kind of distributed or clustered file system that allows any node to serve data regardless of where it's located or who actually owns it.

In a traditional NAS environment, the filer head actually owns that data and that is typically what serves it -- very much like a server-based file-serving environment. If the server or head goes down, you can typically have a passive or a standby node pick it up and serve that same storage.

Traditionally, NAS has suffered from a scalability issue at the higher end and the inability to service multiple concurrent connections. Clustered NAS overcomes these limitations by dynamically distributing client connections to multiple heads. The key thing with clustered NAS is again cost, which will need to be considered in the SMB space.

Do you believe virtual NAS solutions can fit in an SMB environment?

Virtual NAS solutions do fit into an SMB NAS environment, as long as you can find the benefit of consolidating various SAN islands into a single solution. In a typical SMB environment, there is a potential to have data strewn all over the place in the form of ad hoc file-serving environments. User data can stay resident on employee desktop and laptops, exposing it to the risk of getting lost or exposing it to unauthorized individuals.

So by consolidating it in the form of virtualization, it allows your company to get rid of such SAN islands and ad hoc file-serving environments and, more importantly, enforce a common policy for security, data protection and access.

NAS virtualization is one of the ways you can bring about this consolation. The other option to consolidating NAS is to invest in a scalable environment and then migrate everything to this new environment.

Virtualization has been around for awhile. It hasn't gained or lost any popularity per se. Most vendors are now offering virtualization as a function in their products, so it's something that you don't have to buy extra to install it.

Can you provide any tips for consolidating NAS boxes?

Some of the things to look at would be to examine your data types and to consolidate it based on the different types of data stored on your file-sharing environments. The other thing to look at would be how this data is accessed and what are some of the data access profiles.

For example, is this accessed on a daily basis, accessed once in a while or accessed in an ad hoc manner? So classifying data in a loose sense would allow you to consolidate it based on its profile.

The other thing to do is to take a stock of how this data is accessed. Is it accessed on a single network in a corporate office or is it accessed by remote connections? If they're remote connections, look at how having a file-sharing environment in a single home office can benefit remote offices.

Lastly, look at how much you are willing to invest in a single NAS solution that is a one-size-fits-all approach. It might just turn out that consolidation is an expensive option if you're going to invest all of it in one shot.

You may look at a tiered solution or a pay-as-you-go solution, which will allow you to start small, and as you start migrating stuff to the new environment you can grow. That way you're not making a huge initial investment and you have a chance to try it before you invest.

Ashish Nadkarni is the Principal Consultant with GlassHouse Technologies Inc.

This was first published in October 2008

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