The cloud is eating everything in its path. Or so we are told. Business critical applications like email, VOIP, CRM and others have largely migrated to the cloud. Not everyone is on board, but the trajectory is clear, and it includes a lot of cloud!
Storage is an entirely different beast. If your company needs to store and/or retrieve a few gigabytes of data each day, then cloud storage makes a lot of sense. Otherwise you’re better off maintaining a reliable local storage solution. Larger companies can dedicate substantial rack space to storage units. They not only utilize a lot of space, but are expensive and complex to manage. Smaller companies need simple, easy-to-deploy and manage solutions. The market for small storage enclosures has exploded to point that the number of products can be overwhelming. So this week I’d like to take a look at Network Attached Storage (NAS) solutions for small businesses and make a couple of recommendations.
What to Look For in a NAS
Storage Capacity: One development driving the popularity of small NAS solution is drive capacity. Today, you can purchase traditional platter drives with 10TB of capacity. Even speedy SSDs have reached 2TB capacity which is double what one could purchase about a year ago. In terms of capacity, you’ll want at least 8TB to 12TB for a department and 20TB to 40TB for a small business. If you need more than 40TB of storage, you’d be better off (cost-wise) with a rackmount solution rather than portable NAS device.
Connectivity: Most NAS boxes connect to your network via a wired gigabit connection to your router. Wired connections are still the best for performance and reliability. Some newer NAS models include built-in Wi-Fi, but they are not as popular. There’s no need to pay extra for Wi-Fi if you don’t need it.
Software: All NAS units run an operating system that’s usually a scaled down version of Unix or Linux. The best products make setup and installation a simple affair. A few years ago Drobo came along and made setup so easy that other vendors have followed their lead making NAS units much easier to configure. The best devices walk the user through the setup process which includes designating how the NAS will be used (file server, backup, etc), how many users will access the device along with various RAID options. I recommend using RAID 5, which is the default RAID on most turnkey devices today.
With or Without Disks: Many people purchase NAS units with the disks already installed. These turnkey products are popular with small businesses. You can also purchase NAS enclosures that include everything you need except the drives. These take a longer to setup, but give you more control on the type and capacity of drives that go into your box. Most people reading this will be comfortable installing a hard drive, and it’s really no different with a NAS. Many IT professionals like the idea of adding their own drives because it allows them to utilize drives they already own. At Puget Systems, Western Digital Caviar Red drives have been the most reliable platter drives we’ve sold for the past few years, if you do need to purchase drives.
Western Digital My Cloud DL4100 (24TB)
For just over $1500 you get a turnkey NAS with excellent small business features. The DL4100 is built like a vault and comes with four Western Digital RED NAS drives at 6TB each. These reliable drives give you 18TB in a pre-configured RAID 5 setup. To gain access to the full 24TB you’ll need to configure it in a RAID 0, but I do not recommend that. RAID 5 will protect your data in case one of the drives fail, and that’s more important to your business than an extra 6TB of storage. The DL4100 doesn’t take up much room either.
Other useful features include two gigabit Ethernet adapters along with two USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 port. The DL4100 supports a number of business related protocols like SNMP, iPv6 and DFS. You can even install another DL4100 at another location and setup an automatic backup over the internet or VPN. Or you can backup your data on the DL4100 to Amazon S3 cloud storage. This might seem like overkill if you’re already running a RAID 5 configuration, but it might make sense to move your most valuable data to the cloud just to be sure.
Western Digital also includes a helpful dashboard, password protection on shared folders, and monitoring of disk temperature and health. There are less expensive options, but few that are as easy and fast to deploy as the DL4100. It’s as turnkey as they come for a small business NAS. Western Digital also sells a disk-less version, but because it already includes very reliable Western Digital drives, I recommend the turnkey approach with the drives already installed for this model. Everything about the DL4100 works well together. Western Digital is knowns for making quality hard drives, but they did their homework here, and it shows.
Synology DiskStation DS 1515+
The DiskStation DS 1515+ is an excellent option for those who need up to 40TB of storage and/or want to add their own hard drives. Synology has gained a reputation for making some of the best small business NAS units on the market, and they offer a lot of options depending on your needs. DiskStation DS 1515+ will run you about $700 without drives.
The DiskStation isn’t nearly as turnkey as the Western Digital MyCloud, but it includes a number of advanced features that IT professionals will appreciate. The DiskStation supports RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, 10 or JBOD. Synology also allows you to mix drives with different capacities. This feature could come in handy if you already have a number of unused drives in your possession. It also includes four USB 3.0 ports and four Ethernet ports.
Setup and configuration is handled through a web browser which accesses the DiskStation Manager (DSM). Through the DSM, administrators can monitor NAS up-time, storage utilization along with CPU and RAM use. Like the Western Digital model, the DiskStation can backup to Amazon S3. It can also backup to Microsoft Azure, Box, and Dropbox. The DiskStation also gives you access to a number of apps through the Package Center that extend the utility of your DiskStation. Apps make it easy to turn your NAS into a mail or VPN server. But the DiskStation shines as a file and application server. It’s a solid product from a company known for making excellent NAS boxes.
The number of NAS products is overwhelming. I’ve had personal experience with both the Western Digital and Synology products and feel comfortable recommending them. I’m sure there are other products from QNAP, Buffalo, and Netgear that would also meet your needs. I just don’t have as much experience with them. Synology has built a stellar reputation over the years by building top-quality NAS units. They tend to cost a little more, but I’ve worked with many businesses that swear by them. They are a bit more complex to setup, but come loaded with features.
I’m a fan of companies that create focused and easy-to-use products, and Western Digital falls into this category with their NAS boxes. You might give up some advanced features, but most small businesses won’t miss them because they value turnkey solutions that just work. You really can’t go wrong with either choice.
As always, I advise you to equip your NAS with a state-of-the-art backup software, as well. The best backup software for a NAS that I’ve seen is ShadowProtect SPX from StorageCraft. Its snapshot technology that will allow quick recovery to same or dissimilar hardware. Better safe than sorry.