Traditional NAS vs Scale Out NAS For Enterprise Storage?

MARCH 9TH, 2017
Do you follow the storage market? If so then you probably know that scale out Network Attached Storage (NAS) is currently all the rage. And for good reason. Businesses are racking up files in droves and with unstructured data making up such a large portion, many are seeking refuge in more easily scalable storage solutions. According to Gartner, 80 percent of enterprise data will be stored in scale out systems by 2021. Traditional systems are steadily on their way out. Things aren't looking good for the old guard, but are we writing off traditional network-attached storage prematurely? Perhaps.

What's up With Scale Up NAS

The beauty of traditional NAS is simplicity. This type of storage infrastructure is based on the scale up concept, which generally refers to adding resources such as RAM and CPU to existing hardware. Most configurations are comprised of a single device that can be easily deployed, provide quick access to data, and expand capacity when necessary. Devices in this category can hold several hundred terabytes, making traditional NAS a worthwhile solution for small to mid-sized businesses with robust storage needs.
You can always add more RAM and processing cores. But how much you can add depends on the amount of resources that the NAS device is able to handle. Even in fail-over environments, capacity and performance is limited to the physical capabilities of the hardware. So what do you do? You buy more hardware to support your needs, which sounds like a good idea until you end up with a case of “server sprawl”. Things get more complicated when you've got dozens or possibly hundreds of devices on your hands. All these devices must be administered independently. They take up floor space, suck up loads of power, and just make storage management a drag.

Scale Out NAS Architecture: A Flexible and Transparent Storage Solution

Scale out network attached storage (NAS) architecture is a logical alternative to the scale-up dilemma that plagues traditional storage environments. Physical limitations are obliterated with scale out NAS thanks to the freedom to upgrade both capacity and performance. This parallel file system can literally scale files by the billions. This solution seamlessly handles ginormous amounts of data. At the same time, it eliminates the need for expensive additions and saves precious data center space. This is a tremendous luxury. One scale-out NAS quality that doesn't get mentioned nearly enough is visibility that enables each connected node to see all the files stored across the cluster. This transparency proves advantageous in three specific ways:
  1. If a server maxes out its disk space, you can obtain additional capacity by adding an another node. That node  is visible to all existing devices without creating additional storage pools.
  2. Dynamic resource allocations enables you to add capacity and performance without adding management challenges. You can manage the cluster as one unified storage system.
  3. If a node fails, the load can be distributed across the cluster to prevent downtime.
The visibility aspect truly comes through in the clutch when you're experiencing rapid data growth. Once upon a time, accommodating growth meant transferring all your data over to bigger capacity hardware. In a scale-out scenario, visibility between devices means new capacity can be added without moving a single bit of data. This horizontal approach makes it possible to scale your storage system by multiple terabytes and stay ahead of that rapid growth curve with minimal effort.Read More: File vs. Block vs. Object Storage

The Cost Factor ($$$)

In the past, organizations made a habit of buying storage devices with much greater capacity than required at the time. The idea was to make sure they had ample space to expand in the future. Unfortunately this approach resulted in wasted capacity when those expansion needs proved to be less than expected. HDDs and SSDs account for a significant amount of storage hardware expenses. The investment in storage arrays is something you should try to maximize at all costs. Scale out NAS is generally thought to be more expensive to deploy than a traditional system. But the value it offers makes it a potentially cost effective storage option. In fact, the initial investment can be less than you may have thought for the simple fact that there is no need to think long-term expansion. Instead, you can simply add new capacity as your storage needs increase. Sweet on-demand flexibility. When factoring in reduced IT management costs, data center space requirements, and energy bills, it becomes clear to see how scale out NAS can deliver a bigger bang for your buck.Read More: How Much Does Storage Really Cost?

Scalability Concerns

There's a lot to like about a flexible storage architecture with virtually limitless scaling potential. But both systems have pros and cons. In traditional environments, the limits of the system and the resulting server sprawl and management challenges can make for a nightmarish situation. In the case of scale out storage, it's usually the licensing fees associated with incorporating proprietary hardware and software that gives organizations pause about moving forward with deployment. Network-attached storage can be the key to taming the unstructured data that has exploded across enterprise IT systems. The challenge is figuring out whether a traditional or scale out style system is the definitive answer to the storage conundrum. You make the call.