At a time when price management is at a premium, networked-attached storage (NAS) is a low-cost option for file management and storage.

For many businesses, price is the ultimate starting point when it comes to picking a product and guides all decisions made thereafter. As a result, NAS may

be the ideal solution for small businesses.

“”A straight NAS appliance is probably in small businesses as opposed to any other location because it’s just a very, very low cost. It’s very easy to install,”” says Ron Johnson, storage analyst with The Evaluator Group, based in Greenwood Village, Col.

The fact that NAS can be run over an IP network means it can be installed and maintained quite easily. That can be a boon to small businesses that may not have the IT staff to dedicate to managing a storage network exclusively.

“”NAS really runs on the same protocols that your LAN and WAN run on, and that’s what your investment has been in, and that’s what your expertise is

in. Sometimes it’s more cost-efficient to go with NAS,”” says Toronto-based IDC Canada Ltd. analyst Alan Freedman.

“”The good thing with NAS is, anybody can install it,”” adds Johnson. “”Stick the plug in the wall and assign an IP address and go on your merry way. It’s fantastic for a small business or a remote location, or sharing of files. NAS was developed to share files; that’s the great advantage to it.””

Before purchasing a NAS appliance, it’s important to consider how your storage needs will change over time. Some NAS offerings are better able to scale than others, and this ability is, not surprisingly, price-dependent.

Steve Kenniston with the Enterprise Storage Group in

Milford, Mass., says that a lower-end NAS product has the ability to scale reasonably well and “”can accommodate a lot of capacity for really small shops … up to 1TB in one box.””

For businesses that expect their storage requirements to grow beyond that, it’s time to look further up-market at a Windows-powered device available from OEMs.

John Webster with the Data Mobility Group in Nashua, N.H., notes that many OEMs such as IBM and HP are leaving the Windows-powered storage market — since the products are becoming a cheap commodity play — and are looking at alternatives like Linux or Unix.

“”I think the reason is that Microsoft has become perhaps too successful in signing up OEM partners,”” he says.

A NAS-powered solution may be relatively affordable, particularly at the low end, but there are some drawbacks such as performance limits and security shortcomings.

“”Security is a major, major factor when doing anything over an IP network, and people are very, very sensitive to that, particularly enterprise users. When you find NAS in the enterprise, it’s usually in a read-only environment,”” says Johnson.

He says there are options available to increase the performance of a NAS appliance, such as NAS-based on DAFS (direct access file system), which is only available from Network Appliance, widely regarded as the industry leader in NAS.

Of course, NAS doesn’t have to always be a standalone purchase. If a company has invested in Fibre Channel as protocol for storage (as opposed to IP), it may want to look at a mixed or federated SAN/NAS environment, says Freedman. Companies can purchase combo products from a single vendor or single channel partner. “”It really just depends on your comfort level,”” he says.

Analysts agree it’s important to consider not only your current needs but those you anticipate in the future when buying storage. NAS is able to handle mission-critical applications like databases, but has limits on scalability. It’s ideal for a file and print environment, but may pose some security compromises on the low end.

“”Everything you would look for in a high-availability file server you’d want in a high availability NAS device,”” says Webster. “”In other words, fail-over capability, redundancy in the processors, an alternate path to disk on the back end.””

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