NAS Devices or Servers: Which is Right for Your Business?

Data storage has long been a critical component of computing infrastructure that IT professionals must weigh carefully in terms of its management, accessibility, and flexibility.  With technology making continued leaps and bounds in media formats and storage development and advancement, all modern businesses have to carefully architect solutions designed for the amount of data their respective companies store and utilize to support and enable critical day to day business functions and long-term data integrity and business continuity.  While there are a multitude of available storage options on the market, the focus here will be on the differences of network-attached storage (NAS) devices and servers, their benefits, and some details to help you decide which solution is best suited for your unique application.

What are NAS devices?

NAS devices are a form of dedicated file storage that communicates over a network permitting for data storage and its retrieval from a centralized location to be accessed by authorized clients. NAS devices can technically be categorized as a type of file server.  They have quickly become a convenient option for small and enterprise businesses alike because of their efficiency, low cost, and scalability for expansion or growth.  While external hard drives are convenient and easily implemented and utilized as reliable storage, the majority of them are restricted to access via a direct USB connection.  This limitation is not feasible for multi-client applications or enterprise level IT architectures where a high volume of users requires simultaneous file access or data storage, hence the popularity of their NAS device counterparts that are better suited for these environments. NAS devices also include their own manufacturer integrated operating system aiding in various backup and recovery services and even offering specialized functions such as operating as an email server using their branded software suites.  Available in multiple form factors, capacities, and storage configurations, NAS devices also require less power than actual storage servers, promoting energy saving costs.  With some models providing their own cloud-based service access, there are options for remote file accessibility as well.  Some variations capable of hosting application services, but there are often limitations as to the types of programs and processes they are able to operate, thereby limiting software options. NAS devices often employ one or more storage drives that can be configured into redundant arrays of independent disks or RAID, a form of data virtualization that provides a redundant data storage option and improved fault tolerance.  These devices also support a multitude of file protocols such as CIFS/SMB, FTP, NFS, AFS, HTTP, and SFTP making them versatile in their storage and accessibility.

What are the main differences between NAS devices and servers?

Outside of the basic storage function both NAS devices and servers provide along with specialized functions NAS device manufacturers offer with their products that servers will easily be able to perform, there are few similarities between the two.  A server is generally a high powered computer that is controlled by an operating system, most commonly a variation of Windows or Linux, serving as a centralized storage site for management of data files for clients over a network, much like a NAS device.  However, NAS devices are dedicated to executing tasks of data management, accessibility, and backup redundancy while servers are able to handle the same responsibilities, and also perform other roles required within an organization as well. For an infrastructure that requires additional functionality such as centralized shared applications (e.g. shared desktops), website hosting, or creation of image backups to a local server, NAS devices are not able to handle these workloads while an actual server fits the bill quite well.  Since servers do not have the same software limitations as their NAS storage counterparts, they provide much more flexibility for businesses to customize and develop a solution best suited for their needs.  Because these are true servers, they are available with the full gamut of modern computing features such as:
  • improved processing power
  • lighting fast transfer rates
  • large storage capacities and flash storage options
  • expansion compatibility for growth or increased performance
  • integrated RAID controllers for redundancy all with industry standardized server parts or add-ons
NAS devices are largely limited to capacity upgrades for increased storage level by the addition of drives or cluster configurations of multiple devices, but this is dependent upon the expansion limitations built into the unit’s design. While servers are generally more robust than NAS devices, they also require more configuration and maintenance.  Since more services are being performed by servers, this increases the propensity for unexpected or unwanted errors such as missing files or file corruption if proper precautions are not taken to configure and install software and hardware.  The simplistic nature of NAS device operation alleviates some of these worries.

Cost and specification differences

The price range of the most popular or most common NAS devices can be found from just under $100 and upwards around $1000 depending on the needs of an application, with the more expensive models on average providing 8GB of RAM, a quad-core processor, 10GB of storage capacity, and read/write speeds of 65MBps. Since servers offer an enhanced performance by way of faster processors, increased storage capacity with flash memory options, and high-end throughput rates, the cost is increased for these added benefits. Premio’s recent launch of next-generation server storage powered by Intel’s® latest Xeon® Scalable Processors, codenamed Skylake (more detail provided here) in our Flachestream flash storage server product line provides a whopping 112Gbps throughput and a 36 port 12GB SAS expander option able to meet even the most taxing storage needs of an application.  Server operating systems also increase their cost as some require the purchase of a server license and/or client access licenses to grant users access to the server’s data.    

What option is best suited for your business?

Analyzing the processing and storage needed for day-to-day business operations, along with accounting for future growth or unplanned resource necessity, is critical when shopping for storage options.  Understanding the quantity of clients accessing data, the type of files or media that will be utilized and/or stored, and the speed and latency at which this information needs to be accessed are important variables that must be accounted for when deciding which solution best meets the needs of a business. A client operating a small home business accounting firm with 5-10 users that will mainly use less demanding file types such as documents and spreadsheets may be best suited for a NAS device as that plays to its strengths of simple installation, low maintenance, ease of accessibility, and cost.  On the other side spectrum, a manufacturing organization looking to create or improve centralized storage with 100+ clients accessing large media files for image review and editing, the need for virtualization support, shared applications, along with backup options and redundancy will be best suited to find a server to meet their needs.  Overall, quantifying your business necessities will be the first step in deciding which route best serves as the optimal solution for productivity, performance, and cost-effectiveness. Premio is known worldwide for our design, production, and distribution of storage products with innovative computing strategies and solutions for multiple industries. Our company specializes in the analysis of server and platform selections with a concentration on high-end storage options.  Premio’s Customer Care Team (CCT) can offer a variety of solutions dedicated to customer service and quality assurance by having a customer-centered mindset. Please contact us today to begin developing a solution that meets the dynamic business demands of your specialized application.