What Is a NAS Diagram and Why Do I Need One?

What Is a NAS Diagram and Why Do I Need One?

A network attached storage (NAS) diagram is a piece of documentation that visually depicts the way your storage devices interface with the various components of your network. 

Though NAS appliances are more prevalent in the consumer space, they’re commonly used in small and medium-sized businesses. Some large companies use local NAS appliances at smaller satellite offices and warehouses. For setups like these, a NAS diagram can keep you organized and help you better manage your NAS devices. In this article, we’ll discuss why you should diagram your NAS setup.

What type of storage drives should I use for a NAS?

A crucial component of any NAS is the storage drive. Because of how important this component is, NAS devices typically use enterprise-grade storage drives, but why is that? To answer this question, let’s take a look at the two types of storage drives available for a NAS: solid-state drives (SSD) and hard-disk drives (HDD). 

Enterprise Hard-Disk Drives

Mechanical HDDs utilize rotating platters to store data. A mechanical head, similar to the needle of a record player, moves back and forth across those platters to read and write data. Because this operation is mechanical, it's susceptible to specific external influences. 

Network attached storage devices pack hard drives closely together. That means things like temperature and vibration are amplified when they impact NAS drive performance. There are various strategies to work around these inherent environmental effects, though.

First, hard drive manufacturers will build mechanical hard drives specifically designed for these types of environments. These drives can handle things like vibrations much better than consumer-grade drives. 

Second, NAS devices can be built or installed in an environment that reduces these external stresses. 

Enterprise Solid-State Drives

SSDs or flash drives are faster than HDDs and don’t require any moving parts. Instead, flash memory stores bits of information as voltage states within flash memory cells. As a result, SSDs can store more information in smaller form factors with faster read/write speeds than their HDD counterparts. 

This performance does come at a premium and a shorter lifespan of the transistors within the cell, though. As a result, SSDs are traditionally used for high-performance workloads while HDDs are used for long-term backups and archives. 

Flash technology is evolving, however. As we get better at building more reliable flash memory, enterprise all-flash NAS solutions have workarounds to help the technology cope with their demanding workloads. 

Built-in temperature resilience and data reduction techniques on the controller side can help prolong the lifespan of NAND cells. Designing NAS devices to make upgrading SSDs easier without downtime or disruption can also combat the lifespan issues inherent in NAND technology. 

NAS diagrams can help you keep track of your storage devices

So, why is this crucial for NAS diagrams? Once NAS devices are installed, with luck, they’re seldom touched. That means a technician may not have to touch or think about a NAS for months or even years. During that time, technicians may forget how the NAS was deployed. Or personnel may leave. NAS diagrams explain why decisions were made regarding NAS deployment, and more importantly, detail what kinds of drives are used in the NAS. You need to know that information in the event of a drive failure. That way, a matching drive can be purchased to replace a failing storage device, and if a matching drive can't be found, an equivalent can be purchased instead. 

What Can a NAS Do?

NAS appliances are so much more than network attached storage units today. Instead, they act as miniservers. Though some low-grade consumer NAS devices are strictly network attached storage devices, many come with the ability to host things like Docker containers and virtual machines. They also include additional features like being able to use iSCSI. 

For the reasons above, NAS devices need to be treated like miniservers. Therefore, you need documentation for your NAS configuration. For example, NAS diagrams share things like the virtualized infrastructure of your NAS, user accounts, permissions, and share configurations.

NAS devices can be complicated. For instance, if a NAS is performing double duty to host a website, it’ll likely be hosting a web server (typically Apache or Nginx), a database engine like MySQL, a stack like Node, and a reverse proxy, too. 

Depending on the size of the organization, a NAS may run quite a few other applications as well, including:

  • Hosting a Visual Studio Code environment for software development
  • Hosting a local GIT repo, a web server
  • Hosting a Node.JS cluster
  • Hosting a SQL database
  • Hosting a Mongo database
  • Powering a Windows VM for remote work
  • Acting as a backup device
  • Hosting a private cloud storage option for customers

This scenario isn’t uncommon either.  Since network attached storage units have additional power and plenty of storage capacity, it makes sense, from a business perspective, to utilize that NAS for more than just storing files.

Why You Should Diagram Your NAS Setup

In the event that something happens to your NAS—or even if it needs a hardware or software update—technicians will need to know how it was originally set up. How will they know the configurations for the virtualized web server years after it was deployed?

This is why you should diagram a NAS setup. A NAS diagram will explain traffic ingestion from your ISP through the router past the reverse proxy and into the appropriate services. The NAS diagrams will also explain what software was being used and why. 

Another reason to diagram a NAS setup is that IT techs come and go. It's the nature of the industry. This is so common that IT techs have universal processes to transfer ownership of power of IT services between each other. Part of that transfer includes documentation because good IT techs want to help ensure there will be a smooth transition and their replacement has what they need to know about the IT environment. 

How to Diagram Your NAS Setup

It's not challenging to create diagrams of a NAS setup. There are a lot of good tools available specifically for this function.

One of the best tools is draw.io, which is an excellent, free diagramming tool. It can be used for software development, project management, and IT infrastructure. It has predefined tools and workflows for these use cases. 

Best of all, draw.io integrates with other SaaS products like Google Docs and OneDrive. There are also self-hosted versions of draw.io as well. 

Recap

There are many reasons why you need to diagram your NAS setup. These reasons include:

  • Being able to replace drives and other components with the same or similar devices in the event of a failure.
  • Diagramming complicated NAS setups for troubleshooting and upgrades down the road.
  • Creating documentation for your IT environment, especially to transition power to new IT techs.

Creating diagrams for your NAS setup is easy with draw.io. This free application can be used through a web browser or self-hosted. It has functions explicitly for creating diagrams for IT infrastructure.

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