An Introduction to NAS Technology and How MSPs Can Sell Clients on Network Storage Devices


EMC's Digital Universe study, one of my favorite reports, estimates that the world’s data doubles every 1.2 years. On an individual level, that probably means the company with 1 terabyte of data today could have more than 32 terabytes within the next five years. The explosive growth of data has challenged IT to come up with more effective ways to tame and manage their data as it continues to mount. As a managed service provider, you can lend a hand by guiding organizations in the direction of NAS technology.

Simply Effective Storage

Network attached storage technology or NAS technology, practically sells itself on the merits of simplicity and efficiency. Similar to file servers, NAS devices are exclusively used for storing and sharing data across networked systems. But there are keen differences underneath the hood. NAS appliances typically come equipped with scaled-down operating systems designed to perform a few straightforward tasks. The lack of applications makes them far more secure and easier to manage as patching and tedious maintenance isn’t required outside of the occasional firmware update. By comparison, the flexibility of NAS systems is unmatched by file servers. A device can be used as a destination for backup data, or a workhorse that drives advanced applications like IP surveillance operations. The system is configured and managed from a web-based interface over Ethernet or Wi-Fi, where administrators can easily provide access to PCs, smartphones, and tablets as needed. In the event that more storage is required, additional NAS appliances can be added to the network in plug and play fashion. From serving files across the office network to housing legacy applications, NAS delivers. Sizing Up NAS Technology Options Once you have their attention, clients will likely want to know which NAS technology is best suited for their needs. There are several options and brands, but products in this category are generally segmented for three different levels of users.

1. Home-based NAS

NAS devices are regulary used by families for streaming music, photos, and movies from any computer in the household. Appliances in this class are cheap and therefore offer an afforable solution for businesses with simple storage needs. A good consumer-grade unit will allow you to easily store, share and backup files across the office, and improve system performance and availability with native support for RAID.

2. Mid-level NAS

Organizations with more complex storage requirements may be better suited with a mid-level solution geared for SMBs. The difference here is all in the resources. These NAS systems offer greater internal capacity for more storage as well as faster processors and RAM for better performance. They also tend to support more network protocols (NFS, CiFS, iSCSI, etc.), which makes life easier for administrators tasked with managing the system from afar.

3. Enterprise-grade NAS

Finally, you have enterprise-class systems that are ideal for companies sitting on mountains of data and those who can't afford to compromise on reliability. At this level, you can expect robust expansion capabilites and features such as redundant power supplies, which allow you to incorporate an additional power source in automated fashion if the original supply fails. Enterprise-grade systems also offer the highest Mean Time Between Failures or MTBF, a metric that speaks to the overall reliability of the hardware.

Narrowing NAS Options

While NAS is generally viewed as a small business storage solution, superior affordability, simplicity, and reliability make it an ideal solution for all. With that said, clients can benefit from knowing which factors need to considered in order to choose the right variation.

  • Business budget. The price tag on NAS appliances range from under $100 for consumer-friendly boxes to well over $1000 for business-class systems.
  • IT management resources. While administration is generally straightforward, complexity increases the more users, RAID arrays, and NAS appliances you plug into the network.
  • Usage needs. A NAS device will only support so many simultaneous users, so remind clients on the importance of choosing a unit that accommodates the number of people they see using the system at once.
  • Performance. Components such as expansion capacity, processing speed, and RAM must be considered to make sure you invest in a system that delivers the best possible performance for your storage requirements.

NAS is just one in numerous options in the high-volume storage universe. When it comes to simple, network-oriented solutions, it arguably makes the most sense. Advise your clients to see how it stacks up against competing technologies to determine what is the right fit for their storage needs.