How to Choose the Right NAS System for Your Business

As prices fall and capacities soar, network attached storage systems are becoming an increasingly appealing option for small and mid-sized businesses. What factors should you consider when you begin to evaluate NAS systems for your own firm?

By Paul Mah
Wed, March 07, 2012

CIO — Driven by an insatiable thirst for more storage capacity, the capabilities of network attached storage (NAS) appliances have been improving by leaps and bounds. Their prices have also fallen substantially, with a basic two-bay NAS chassis available for as little as a couple of hundred dollars—a far cry from the thousands they used to cost. Their affordability represents a huge opportunity for small and mid-sized businesses (SMB), which now find it possible to host multiple terabytes of data on their network at a fraction of the cost of a traditional file server or storage area network (SAN).

So what should SMBs be on the lookout for when shopping for a NAS? We've put together a list of the most desirable features below, grouped into several broad categories. You may not need everything mentioned, though it is hoped that this will help you arrive at a decision about the right NAS for your organization.

NAS Hardware

When buying a new NAS systems, the first question will obviously be centered on the projected storage capacity that will be required, which is closely related to the number of supported hard disk drives (HDD). Note that some NAS options may be upgradable with an expansion chassis for additional drive bays. Also, be on the lookout for support of external storage devices using USB or eSATA ports, which may be useful as a temporary capacity fix, or for the purpose of performing a backup. (See "Data Backup and Synchronization" below.)

Do remember to ensure that the NAS is capable of supporting the largest capacity HDD currently available, which would be 3TB for a 3.5-inch SATA HDD at the time of writing. Some NAS appliances are compatible with both 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch form factors, though the latter may be of limited utility unless there are plans to deploy solid state drives (SSD). HDD should also be hot swappable for maximum flexibility, though today only the most basic models NAS do not support this feature.

In terms of network connectivity, the common denominator at the moment appears to be gigabit Ethernet, though dual gigabit Ethernet ports are increasingly common in mid-range NAS models. However, do not assume that link aggregation is automatic with units with dual Ethernet ports, as some work only in fail-over mode. Some NAS may also be upgradable to 10G Ethernet with an add-on card, which may be an important consideration if there are plans eventually to upgrade the core network to 10G networking.

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