Network-attached storage, commonly known as NAS, is a type of dedicated file storage device that is connected to a local area network and assigned an IP address. This allows multiple devices and users on the network to access and share the stored data simultaneously. NAS provides centralized data access and storage for organizations of all sizes.
Compared to other storage solutions like SAN and DAS, NAS offers many benefits that make it an attractive option for both home and business use. Here is an in-depth look at the key advantages of using NAS.
Centralized Storage and Access
One of the biggest benefits of NAS is that it provides centralized storage and access for all devices connected to the local network. The NAS appliance houses multiple hard drives containing file data that can be accessed by any authorized device on the network through a standard ethernet connection.
This eliminates the need to attach separate storage drives to individual computers and servers on the network. It also enables easier sharing of files across multiple devices. Users can access stored files from any computer by mapping a drive letter to the NAS share folder.
Centralized storage saves costs and effort associated with adding and managing storage on individual machines. New storage can be added to the NAS as needed without affecting other devices on the network.
Easier Data Sharing and Collaboration
By providing centralized access, NAS makes it simpler for multiple users to collaborate on projects and share files. Users can store their work files on the NAS so that the data is accessible by other authorized team members. This improves workflow and productivity.
NAS supports simultaneous file access from multiple devices. So multiple users can work on the same files at the same time. Features like version control and file locking allow collaborative editing of documents stored on the NAS.
Overall, NAS enables seamless data sharing and collaboration which is vital for businesses, workgroups, and even families with multiple connected devices at home.
Backups and Disaster Recovery
Another major benefit of NAS is simplified data backup and recovery. Centrally storing data on a NAS appliance allows automated backup of all your important files to be scheduled periodically. This ensures you have complete copies of your data protected in case of system crashes, cyber attacks like ransomware, or natural disasters.
Backups can be scheduled during off-peak hours to minimize impact on network performance. The NAS can even be set up to automatically mirror data to an offsite NAS for optimal protection against site disasters.
Restoring data from a NAS backup is a simple process that causes minimal downtime. This gives organizations and users great peace of mind along with time and cost savings.
Data Redundancy and Protection
NAS provides the ability to implement RAID (redundant array of independent disks) technology to safeguard your data against drive failures. RAID allows stored files to be replicated across multiple drives. So if one disk fails, your data stays protected on the other disks.
Common RAID levels like 1, 5, and 10 provide an excellent balance of redundancy and storage efficiency. NAS operating systems make it easy for home users to set up RAID. And advanced RAID options are available for power users and businesses seeking maximum protection.
Beyond RAID, modern NAS devices also often incorporate technologies like snapshot replication and virtualization to further strengthen protection against data loss scenarios.
Allows Mix of Drive Types
A key RAID advantage with NAS is the ability to mix drives of different sizes and types within a single protected volume. This allows you to start with lower capacity disks and gradually replace them with higher capacity ones as storage needs grow over time.
You can also potentially use a mix of fast SSDs and higher capacity traditional HDDs to optimize for performance and cost based on how critical different datasets are.
Deduplication and Compression
Data deduplication and compression built into NAS systems provide additional mechanisms to maximize available storage space. Deduplication removes redundant copies of files that have identical content. And compression shrinks the overall file size by encoding data more efficiently.
Both these features allow you to store more data without having to continually purchase and add new drives. The space savings add up significantly over time, especially when storing lots of duplicate content.
NAS offers excellent scalability to expand your available storage as needs change. Most NAS enclosures provide multiple drive bays and support adding additional storage bays. This allows extra drives to be added as storage requirements increase over time.
In many cases, the RAID configuration can be expanded by simply swapping out smaller drives for larger ones or adding more drives without reformatting existing disks. Higher capacity hard drives and SSDs released over time can also be incorporated to grow the array.
Some NAS systems also support clustering where multiple NAS devices can be linked together and managed as a single storage pool that scales to handle even the largest datasets.
An important aspect of NAS scalability is that storage capacity can typically be added without disrupting access to existing data. Live expansion allows new drives to be added or existing drives upgraded in a live production NAS with no downtime required.
This is a key advantage of NAS compared to storage area networks (SAN) where scaling typically requires taking the entire system offline during upgrades. Non-disruptive NAS upgrades prevent workflow interruptions as storage needs evolve.
File-Level Access and Management
NAS provides file-level access compared to block-level access with SAN devices. This makes it easier to organize and manage files on the NAS just like you would with regular folders on a computer.
Files can be dragged and dropped directly to the NAS shares from client devices. And advanced NAS operating systems allow fine-grained folder and user access permissions to be specified through a web interface.
File-level control improves efficiency and collaboration compared to block-level storage that requires IT administrators to manage allocation and access at the volume level.
Version Control and Snapshots
The file-level nature of NAS makes it straightforward to implement file versioning, snapshotting, and other features not commonly found on block storage. File versioning tracks changes to documents over time. And snapshots allow you to preserve the state of the entire NAS filesystem or specific shares at any given point.
These capabilities prevent accidental file modifications and deletions. And they provide extra protection against ransomware attacks that may encrypt or delete files on network shares.
Cloud-Integrated File Shares
Modern NAS solutions also often provide cloud-integrated file shares that keep data synchronized between on-premises NAS and public cloud storage. This facilitates secure cloud collaboration while maintaining full NAS functionality and local performance for on-site users.
While SANs excel at block-level throughput, NAS continues to evolve with performance features that rival SAN for many workloads:
- All-flash NAS leverages lightning-fast SSDs instead of HDDs for maximum speed.
- Read/write caching accelerates I/O performance.
- Link aggregation and 10/25/40/100 GbE connectivity enable high throughput.
- Tiered storage optimization places data on SSD or HDD tiers based on usage patterns.
For home users, even basic NAS devices provide much faster network file access and sharing compared to external USB hard drives.
And with each new generation, NAS solutions add the latest hardware and software innovations to provide enterprise-class performance for the most demanding business applications.
Lower Latency than Public Cloud
An on-premises NAS accessed over a local high-speed LAN provides significantly lower latency than public cloud storage accessed over the internet. This makes NAS ideal for handling large media files and other datasets where lag would disrupt the user experience.
Caching Accelerates Common Access Patterns
Intelligent caching algorithms built into NAS operating systems accelerate repetitive file accesses by retaining frequently accessed data in ultra-fast memory. This speeds up many common workflows like repeatedly editing office documents.
Advanced Data Protection and Security
NAS provides powerful data protection and security capabilities:
- Encrypted network connections prevent unauthorized access.
- Disk and bit-level encryption safeguard data if drives are stolen.
- Access control lists (ACLs) enable fine-grained share and file permissions.
- File auditing tracks detailed user activity.
Robust backup and redundancy features protect against data loss from drive failures, disasters, human errors, and malware attacks. Mirroring to offsite NAS provides an air gap against malicious activity spreading through the network.
Integration with AD and LDAP
Enterprise NAS integrates with Active Directory, LDAP and other identity stores to ease user provisioning and access controls based on existing credentials. Centralized user authentication improves security and convenience while eliminating duplicated credentials.
Immutable Snapshots Guard Against Ransomware
NAS snapshot capabilities allow point-in-time immutable snapshots to be created. These cannot be altered by users or malware. Snapshots capture the state from before an attack or accidental change occurred, enabling quick restoration of files.
Version Control Tracks File Changes
Tracking file version histories allows accidental or malicious file changes to be identified and reversed. IT can even monitor for suspicious mass file versioning that may indicate a ransomware attack in progress.
Lower Cost than SAN
For shared storage, NAS is generally more affordable than SAN in terms of both upfront and ongoing costs. Reasons include:
- NAS uses lower cost Ethernet networking instead of Fibre Channel SAN switches.
- Managing file shares is simpler than managing LUNs and volumes on SAN.
- No specialized IT skills needed to implement and operate NAS.
- NAS is highly scalable allowing gradual storage growth.
With advanced data reduction technologies, more data can be stored on lower cost disks compared to SAN. Overall, the operational simplicity and shared infrastructure model of NAS leads to reduced TCO.
Shared Infrastructure Saves Costs
The ability to consolidate storage onto shared NAS appliances reduces costs by preventing stranded excess capacity on individual servers. SAN configurations also enable shared storage but at a higher hardware cost.
Leverages Existing Network Infrastructure
NAS makes use of your existing Ethernet network switches and wiring. This avoids the need to deploy specialized Fibre Channel SAN infrastructure which requires Fibre Channel switches, HBAs, and cabling.
Ease of Setup and Management
NAS solutions are designed for easy setup and management by IT generalists without storage specialist expertise. This simplifies operations and reduces reliance on outside consultants and vendors.
Modern web and app-based management interfaces streamline common tasks like adding shares, creating backups, monitoring disk usage, managing access control lists, and reviewing logs.
Wizards and recommendation engines guide you through initial configuration and optimization during deployment. And many NAS devices offer phone and email support options to troubleshoot issues.
Extensive Monitoring and Alerting
Advanced monitoring and alerting capabilities keep administrators informed of disk failures, connectivity issues, irregular traffic patterns and other events that could impact availability and performance.
Alert notifications can be sent via email, SMS or mobile push notifications, enabling rapid response to mitigate disruptions.
Cloud-Based Monitoring and Analytics
Some enterprise NAS solutions even aggregate monitoring data from multiple NAS installations into a cloud service portal. This enables viewing storage health statistics and identifying issues affecting globally distributed storage environments from a unified dashboard.
Common NAS Use Cases
Here are some of the most popular use cases and deployment scenarios for NAS within small businesses and large enterprises:
|Use Case||Typical NAS Features|
|File serving and shared storage for local workgroups||
|Storing and processing Big Data||
|Remote office/branch office (ROBO) storage consolidation||
|Media production storage and collaboration||
To summarize, NAS brings a wide array of advantages compared to alternative storage architectures:
- Centralized storage and file sharing
- Built-in data protection via RAID
- High scalability and upgradeability
- File-level access, snapshots and versioning
- High performance potential
- Robust data security capabilities
- Lower cost compared to SAN
- Easy to manage even for non-specialists
For these reasons, NAS continues to proliferate across organizations of all sizes looking for a feature-rich and cost-effective dedicated storage solution. NAS enables convenient file sharing and protection within workgroups, offices, and globally distributed enterprises.