For prosumers and SMBs, using dedicated network attached storage (NAS) devices combines the ease of use of cloud storage services with the convenience and speed of an on-premise solution. Choosing a NAS device requires a moderate amount of research, as there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and most vendors have multiple SKUs with largely overlapping feature sets. Likewise, the software powering these devices is often (at least in part) proprietary, and certain features may be restricted to certain SKUs.
From the vendor perspective, various considerations should be kept in mind about how the devices are being used. Products from QNAP use a disk-on-module to store and run the NAS OS, which allows drives to spin down when there is no disk activity. By contrast, Synology products store the OS on the storage drives, which requires disks to spin up for OS operations (logging, etc.) that are not directly related to data transfer. QNAP and Synology devices are multi-platform and are mostly managed from a web interface, though tools for Windows, OS X, and Linux do exist. Drobo products can't be used with computers running Linux, as the management software operates only on Windows and OS X.
SEE: Comparison chart: NAS devices (Tech Pro Research)
The amount of storage needed is also an important factor when considering what model of NAS to purchase. Presently, traditional hard disk drives are available in capacities up to 14TB, which would allow for 42TB capacity in a 4-disk RAID 5 configuration (prior to filesystem creation). Depending on the volume of work being produced and type of data being used, this may not be adequate. A photographer with a 24.5 MP camera, shooting 1,000 12-bit RAW images per day would take just over three years (assuming no holidays) to fill this system. In this case, a four-bay NAS device might be adequate. For shooting videos, a device with a higher number of bays is advisable.
With mass file storage use cases, caching a disk array in a NAS with a solid state drive is likely unnecessary, as there is little perceivable performance benefit when working with large binary blobs. Conversely, for systems running virtual machines, Docker containers, or with multiple users accessing their files from the network, using a solid state drive can dramatically improve read/write times.
SEE: An enterprise storage dictionary for non-experts (TechRepublic)
If these preconfigured, turnkey solutions appear too constricting, it is possible to build your own NAS device using commodity computing hardware. The popular FreeNAS OS offers a FreeBSD-based storage solution with a plug-in architecture to enable the use of third-party software. It uses the OpenZFS file system by default, which is a fork developed by a team that includes some of the original ZFS developers from the Solaris project.
What factors and features are most important in choosing a NAS device? Share your thoughts and advice with fellow TechRepublic members.
James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.