Foundations of Network Storage, Lesson Two: NAS

In lesson 2 of 5, we'll delve into considerations surrounding network attached storage (NAS).

Foundations of Network Storage: Lesson 2 of 5.

In this lesson, we will explore network attached storage (NAS): how to decide if NAS is best for your organization, your choices regarding NAS, and what you need to support it.

Network Attached Storage (NAS)

Network Attached Storage (NAS) systems connect directly to your network, but that do not generally provide block level communication with the host, making them unsuitable for most database and Exchange applications. A NAS system is really a very large file server running its own operating system and providing direct access to users. That is, users can directly access the files on the NAS device just like they access files on a file server. Each whole file is transferred between the NAS device and the requesting client.

NAS terminology

  • NAS head: This is the part of the NAS to which clients connect. Behind the NAS head may lay hundreds or thousands of gigabytes of available storage, but clients need to access this space via the NAS head.
  • NFS: NFS (Network File System) is one of the communications protocols usually supported by NAS heads for communication with network clients, particular those of the UNIX or Linux flavor, although NFS clients are available for just about any operating systems these days.
  • CIFS (the protocol formerly known as SMB [Server Message Block]): CIFS (Common Internet File System), the protocol primarily responsible for file sharing communication with Windows (and Linux-based Samba) servers is another commonly supported protocol in most NAS heads. CIFS/SMB is used for communication with the NAS head by most Windows clients. Both NFS and CIFS use TCP/IP for their underlying communication.
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Hardware and software needed to support NAS systems

One beauty of NAS systems is simplicity. If you have an existing Ethernet (Fast or Gigabit are the best choices here) network you can almost literally just pop a NAS head and storage on your network and be on your way. In short, the only equipment you need to support a NAS system in your environment is an Ethernet connection to the NAS head. For additional reliability, you might want to configure your NAS hardware with multiple connections, but at the end of the day, just typical Ethernet switch ports are all you need for a NAS system to work.

On the software side, you might need an NFS client on your Windows computers, or an SMB client (such as Samba) on your Linux computers to access the NAS system. However, this is only true if you're trying to access a NAS device that does not include support for your client operating system.

For more on NAS, including free downloads, see page two.

NAS resources

White Papers

  • White Paper: File Fragmentation, SANs, NAS and RAID
    Does fragmentation affect SANs, NAS, and RAID? Many people think it doesn't—but that perception is incorrect. This white paper from Diskeeper Corporation explains the technical issues concerning fragmentation, SANs, NAS, and RAID.
  • White Paper: Selecting the Right NAS Appliance for Your Workgroup LAN
    This article discusses the benefits of NAS and what to look for when researching an NAS appliance for your network.
  • NAS Gateways: The Evolution of New Datacenter Solutions
    While Network Attached Storage (NAS) has long been recognized as a cost-effective approach for fulfilling low-end storage requirements, its appropriateness for large enterprise and datacenter environments has been debated. However, recent developments in NAS technologies have altered the landscape of these solutions, extending their capabilities and flexibility while preserving their cost-effectiveness. As a result, some NAS solutions can play key roles for the highest-end enterprise storage users.

NAS Vendors

Course list

  • Lesson 1: SAN
  • Lesson 2: NAS
  • Lesson 3: Fibre channel/iSCSI
  • Lesson 4: Backup
  • Lesson 5: What's next?

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