By Mike Talon

Network-attached storage (NAS), which has traditionally been a key player in the large enterprise data storage space, is becoming more and more prevalent in the small business world. As the price of these devices decreases and the variety of devices available at different price points increases, more and more small businesses are finding themselves able to afford NAS.

NAS devices often offer applications and tools designed specifically for disaster recovery, including (but not limited to) replication software, enhanced backup tools, enhanced disk configuration tools, and various versioning and snapshot capabilities. Because of these built-in abilities, NAS devices are quickly becoming a great way to incorporate new disaster recovery concepts into an organization.

When it comes to selecting the appropriate type and size of NAS device for your organization, the most important thing to remember is the purpose of the NAS device design. Specifically, NAS devices act as large-scale file servers.

NAS devices typically don’t run any applications that aren’t specific to serving files to end users. For example, in many cases, you can run antivirus tools directly on a NAS device that houses offline SQL databases, but you can’t install Microsoft SQL Server itself on the NAS device.

While this limits what NAS devices can accomplish, it makes the process of selecting a NAS device that’s right for your company a great deal simpler. To get started, determine how much space you require for the existing user files on the file servers, and add additional storage space for growth in the short- and long-term.

Many companies find that adding about 50 percent disk space above current needs provides a reasonable amount of room for growth without spending an unnecessary amount of the budget on unused space.

After you’ve figured out how much space you need, you can then determine which type of NAS device best fits your organization. Smaller organizations only require self-contained NAS devices that have relatively smaller amounts of usable disk space and don’t require a storage area network (SAN) in order to function properly.

NAS devices that connect directly to SANs allow for nearly unlimited storage potential, but they come with a higher price tag because of the SAN itself. For the most part, you can decide which option is best for your business by determining exactly how much disk space you’re going to need to house your files.

You also need to choose a NAS vendor. Keep in mind that many vendors use proprietary operating systems. While vendors offer a large selection of tools, a great number of off-the-shelf software isn’t compatible with these proprietary OSs.

Other vendors offer NAS devices based on the Windows Storage Server (WSS) operating system. These NAS devices employ a variant of the Windows 2003 operating system and let you install most file-based system tools that would run on any other Windows server.

NAS devices offer the ability to implement successful disaster recovery technologies into file server systems to businesses of all sizes; at the same time, they allow for consolidation of these systems and better end-user performance. Selecting the correct NAS device for your particular environment can be a relatively painless process, and the benefits of the NAS device can far outweigh the limited amounts of required planning and implementation.

Mike Talon is an IT consultant and freelance journalist who has worked for both traditional businesses and dot-com startups.