Network-attached storage, or NAS, has long been the industrial method for on-premises data storage. Organization networks, including authorized personnel and pertinent customers, use NAS servers as the central point for storing and retrieving data.
NAS servers are specialized computers built to hold one or more storage drives and constructed in a logical, redundant method known as RAID configuration. Adopting NAS technology can mean increased service of files to faster data access and easy configuration.
Customers and personnel alike expect uninterrupted access to data in today’s internet-based world. For NAS servers and the actors who manage their performance, outages and exhaustive runtimes can damage customer relationships and can be even more deadly if persistent.
Unlike most servers which contain powerful hardware and an OS capable of multitasking, NAS operating systems are typically lightweight and embedded in the hardware. While other servers can manage thousands of requests, NAS software only sends and receives two requests: store data and share files.
General servers are almost always more expensive than NAS units because NAS only requires initial purchase and setup. After that, the NAS is the organization’s responsibility to manage with the benefit of no additional costs from the NAS vendor. NAS devices are much smaller than typical server modules for spatial considerations, but this doesn’t mean scaling doesn’t have its problems.
Network-attached storage devices sit in between a swath of network storage and a network switch, facilitating access to clients. The data transfer protocols enable clients to share and retrieve data from the NAS, where organization users can seamlessly interact with the NAS’s resources. In contemporary terms, a NAS is like having a private cloud in the office, and likewise, most cloud storage resembles a NAS framework.
NAS Operating System
As noted, NAS systems are generally lightweight and built for minimal file-related tasks. Still, NAS operating systems typically contain a handful of essential applications, including business applications, multimedia serving, productivity tools, collaboration applications, private/public cloud integration, web servers, and software development.
Preserve data volumes with NAS
SMB and enterprise NAS software contain a set of crucial security features for protecting your data, including snapshot, backup, replication, and encryption services.
Data Saving Snapshots
Also known as versioning, snapshots actively take a digital picture of your data, and in the case of data loss or failure, you can always return to the germane snapshot point in time. What makes snapshots different from full backups is that the only information saved is the last snapshot changes, so the amount of actual space taken is minimal.
Still Important: Backups
Backups, by comparison, are crucial to the digital economy and offer an entire user, department, or even organization’s data a complete copy of their data. Regular backups are essential, but saving each full system copy can be an elephant amount of duplicative data for extended periods. In this instance, snapshots are the perfect in-between, consuming little space and allowing multiple reversion versions.
Replication and Encryption
Replication is a solution that holds an updated backup ready to go live if the source cluster goes offline. In conjunction with the storage-saving snapshot feature, replication offers organizations the ability to pull up the most recent snapshot or seamlessly replicate the snapshot into a new file system. NAS systems also offer included encryption features for full-disk software encryption and self-encrypting drives (SED).
Manage file storage with NAS
Networked attached storage has long been the framework for file-level storage, or unstructured data storage, in a hierarchical fashion made up of files and folders. As your ultimate file manager, NAS systems can:
- Share storage location for users and groups accessible via LAN
- Hold local storage for archival data, compliance, and retention
- Assist databases, applications, and physical or virtual servers with data storage
- Allocate hot and cold tier data between on-premises and cloud file storage
Ease use with NAS web interface
Like so many other technologies, NAS is becoming more accessible and user-friendly with each update. When accessing the NAS system’s dashboard, users can manage their NAS with ease, from setting configurations to user policies.
Scale storage with NAS
A newer development in NAS technology is its growing functionality in regards to scalability. The need for scaling comes when either NAS devices have reached their logical or real storage capacity (usually in terabytes) or performance limits. More recently, NAS has undergone a shift from a scale-up to a scale-out method of increasing capacity or performance.
Scale-Up vs. Scale-Out Storage
NAS devices traditionally used a scale-up storage architecture, including a set of controllers and the number of shelves and drives needed for data storage. If you need more storage, simply add additional shelves and drives. Looking forward, Gartner expects 80% of enterprise data will be stored in the newer method of scaling NAS known as scale-out.
Scale-out storage is gaining popularity for its cost, time, and performance optimization abilities relative to scale-up. The scale-out architecture comprises servers that establish a clustered storage array and provide files over the network. Unlike scale-up storage, as the scale-out framework’s capacity increases, meaning more storage units are added, the NAS performance also increases. The dollar benefit of scale-out storage is also evident with organizations reporting reduced energy bills and IT management costs and more data center space.
NAS software use cases
Some of the most common use cases for NAS software include:
- Increasing storage for new department files
- Configuring protections for data backup, replication, snapshots, and encryption
- Accessing files while switching between devices
- Sharing and collaboration between clients
- Configure specialized internet settings for network
- Remote accessibility to NAS
Pros of NAS
- Convenient, in-network storage
- Fast and secure file sharing
- More lightweight vs. other servers
- No additional costs after setup
- No third party data managers
- Remote access to NAS’s cloud
Cons of NAS
- On-site data backup could be dangerous if location is prone to natural disasters
- Requires power and data redundancy
- Technical skills required for setup and maintenance
NAS Software Vendors
There are several free, reliable, open-source platforms for download for personal, at-home, and even small business use. For enterprise organizations, your best bet will be using one of the tried-and-true vendors.
Free NAS software
Storage of data and the problems attached to protecting and processing that data, from spreadsheets to family photos and more, are top of mind for many. The good news is that you don’t need a big budget or a pre-built NAS system. Integrating NAS into your personal computer or old systems can be easily accomplished using available, free platforms.
Top free or open-source storage platforms for NAS include FreeNAS, OpenMediaVault, Amahi, Rockstor, Openfiler, XigmaNAS, PetaSAN, ESOS, and CryptoNAS.
Enterprise NAS software
The global network-attached storage market was valued at $21.5 billion in 2020, with project growth of $62.8 billion in 2026. Data is at the center of the 21st century’s digital revolution, so it’s no surprise that organizations are deploying NAS technology and paying for the added features an enterprise NAS product can offer.
A few top enterprise NAS software providers include Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi, IBM, Dell EMC, NetApp, Synology, and Western Digital.
NAS Software: Scalable, Protected, and Connected
Network-attached storage software offers scalability, data protection, and near-instantaneous access to storage volumes that are business-critical. As organizations consider migrating to a cloud or hybrid infrastructure, physical and virtual NAS solutions can ensure you don’t miss a beat properly storing and sharing your data.