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What Is Network Attached Storage (NAS) and How Does It Work?

Networked Attached Storage (NAS) is a dedicated file storage system that allows multiple users and devices on the local area network (LAN) to access data from a centralized storage area on the network. Users can access NAS using a standard ethernet connection via a router or a network switch.

NAS is an easy-to-use storage system with high storage capacity and low costs. Network-attached storage systems are flexible and scalable, allowing you to add additional storage when necessary.

What is NAS used for?

Network-attached storage typically handles unstructured data, such as documents, video and audio files, medical images, and text files.

Before NAS technology was available, organizations had to build, configure, and manage multiple file servers. NAS appliances allow you to expand storage capacity by adding more or larger capacity disks and can also be clustered together to scale out storage.

NAS enables users to collaborate and share data more effectively. When connected to a wireless router, it can facilitate remote access for distributed teams to access files from any location and on any authorized device.

A NAS can act as a private cloud, allowing data to be accessed remotely on the network or over the internet, through cloud interfaces. Network-attached storage also provides benefits similar to the public cloud, including speed and lower costs, but with more control over your storage.

Why is it called NAS?

Network-attached storage (NAS) is so-called because it connects to and is accessed through a network, not directly from a user’s computer. NAS devices come with a processor and operating system, as well as applications for managing access to files. Devices do not carry a keyboard or display, but are configured and managed through a web-based interface on a connected machine.

NAS devices can be connected to a local business or home network using an ethernet cable or a Wi-Fi-enabled network to allow authorized users to connect remotely.

How does a NAS work?

A NAS solution stores data as files and can be used as a replacement for traditional file servers. NAS can be made up of multiple networked NAS devices, and can be attached to a local area network (LAN) or an ethernet network with an assigned IP address.

NAS has a single hardware device known as a ‘box’ or ‘head’, which is assigned an IP address and can run on any platform or operating system. It consists of a network interface card (NIC), a storage controller, a drive bay for two to five drives, and a power supply. The box acts as a single interface between the NAS and the computer clients.

Capacity can be increased by attaching several drives to the system and authorizing clients to connect to the NAS head, which appears as a single storage entity.

What are the components of NAS?

NAS devices have several components that allow them to be used in a variety of ways:

  • Hardware: NAS comprises dedicated hardware that can be referred to as a NAS box, unit, server, or head. The hardware acts as a server containing 2-5 storage drives, a CPU, and memory.
  • Networking: NAS devices are connected to a computer or other device through the network using an ethernet cable or Wi-Fi. Devices can also come with USB ports to connect the NAS to other devices and for charging, backing up, or transferring data to and from the NAS device.
  • Processor: NAS devices contain a CPU that is used for computing intelligence and power to manage the file system, read/write operations, run applications, process multimedia files, manage multiple users, and integrate with the cloud.
  • Software: Preconfigured software is installed on the NAS hardware and runs using an operating system that manages the NAS device and handles data storage and file-sharing requests. Applications will vary depending on the features of the NAS box.

What protocols does NAS use?

NAS uses TCP/IP for communication between devices over the network and file-based protocols such as NFS, SM/CIFS, and AFP:

  • NFS: Network File System, commonly used on UNIX and Linux systems, is vendor-agnostic and works on any hardware, network architecture, or operating system.
  • SMB: Server Message Block is typically used on Microsoft Windows and is also known as Microsoft SMB protocol.
  • AFP: The Apple Filing Protocol is proprietary for Apple macOS devices.

Is NAS a good backup option?

NAS devices with two or more hard disk drives can be configured for Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) for redundancy and greater availability. Using RAID, you can create data redundancy by storing exact copies of data on two or more hard drives that act as a failover if one hard drive dies.

Keep in mind that data loss can occur if the device is lost or all of the hard drives fail. A NAS device should never be the sole backup solution because they are vulnerable to device failure, natural disasters, and human error.

NAS vendors often partner with cloud storage providers to create flexible redundant backup solutions for NAS systems to prevent data loss.

What are the benefits of using NAS?

NAS offers several advantages to organizations, including greater scalability, accessibility, and performance. Here are some of the benefits of using network-accessed storage:

  • Scalability: With NAS, increasing storage capacity is just a matter of adding more hard drives or hard drives with greater capacity. Organizations can add new storage without shutting down the network or replacing or upgrading existing servers.
  • Performance: Since it’s connected to the LAN, NAS can store and serve files more quickly. Removing the file serving responsibilities from other networked devices can also contribute to increased performance.
  • Ease of Use: NAS devices require very little installation and configuration beyond simple scripts. NAS solutions also require less administrative overhead than a UNIX or NT file server.
  • Greater Accessibility: Storage is centralized, and all networked devices can access the NAS. Users running different types of machines and operating systems can share files and collaborate from multiple offices or mobile locations.
  • Extensibility: You can download applications to the NAS box to extend functionality and add features for security, backup and disaster recovery, knowledge bases, etc.

What are the Disadvantages of NAS?

That said, NAS also has a few disadvantages:

  • On-Site Data Backup: Since NAS is physically on-site, it’s more susceptible to data loss from natural disasters or device theft.
  • Increased LAN Traffic: Heavy use of the NAS can cause congestion on the shared LAN, affecting other users. This makes NAS unsuitable for applications that transfer large amounts of data.
  • Storage Management: NAS is shared storage, meaning that system administrators must enforce storage quotas to avoid some users using too much storage at the expense of others.

When should you use NAS?

Common use cases for NAS include:

  • File Storage and Sharing: Many small, medium-sized, and enterprise remote offices use NAS to centralize and share files. Multiple file servers can be merged onto a single NAS device for greater simplicity and easier management.
  • Active Archives: A high-capacity NAS can replace large tape libraries to create searchable and accessible active archives.
  • Big Data: NAS can store large unstructured data, such as video files, documents, and IoT data, and can be scaled out and used for processing large files, ETL (extract, transform, load) processing, and analytics.
  • Virtualization: NAS is a popular choice for new or small virtualization environments when a business does not already have a Storage Area Network (SAN).

How much does NAS cost?

A NAS device is relatively affordable compared to other storage solutions. NAS products come in several varieties designed for large enterprises, small businesses, and home offices, though costs will vary depending on the features and storage capacity you need.

Prices for NAS range from around $500 for a single drive configuration to thousands of dollars for disk arrays with hot-swappable drives and more high-end features for storage management.

Choose Pure Storage FlashBlade® for File Storage

Network Accessed Storage is a suitable option for organizations that want to store and share large amounts of data in a distributed network. But legacy NAS solutions based on HDDs are costly and slow. Modern NAS systems use faster flash storage in all-flash configurations or alongside HDD.

Pure FlashBlade® is a scale-out NAS solution that allows you to simplify and consolidate data storage in modern storage infrastructure. FlashBlade offers both file and object storage and delivers native all-flash performance. New blades can be added to increase capacity and performance without disrupting the network.

Choose Pure FlashBlade for:

  • Scalability: Increase capacity and performance with each blade.
  • Performance: Up to 15 GB/s bandwidth with 15 blades in a single chassis.
  • Connectivity: Up to 16 100Gb/s Ethernet ports per FlashBlade system.
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