MSPs: Does Your Small Business Client Need a Server or a NAS?

MSPs: Does Your Small Business Client Need a Server or a NAS?

October 8

In the (relatively) old days, choosing between a server and a NAS (Network Attached Storage) was straightforward. If you needed storage, you chose a NAS. If you needed to run applications and processes, you chose a server.

The lines are blurring, however. You can buy a NAS like Western Digital’s Sentinel Series, which comes with an Intel Atom processor, Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials, two power supplies, and a host of other features that will double as a basic server. Or you may choose to repurpose an older file server, toss a few hard drives into it, and turn it into a solid NAS device.

Given the overlap, how do you go about advising your small business clients the better choice for their needs? I spoke with StorageCraft technical marketing manager Steve Snyder, and he said it comes down to two key considerations: function and budget.

Limited Budget, Minimal Functionality? NAS (mostly)

If your client is on a shoestring budget and just needs basic storage for the office, a NAS is typically the cheapest alternative. For example, the base price for a Synology DiskStation NAS currently is about $160, not including hard drives. Moreover, you don’t have to pay additional licensing fees for an OS because you don’t need one.

High Budget, High Functionality? Server

If you have a (most likely mythical) client that needs support for applications, virtualization, or other features, a server will be the best option. But you probably knew that. The biggest concern here comes down to scalability. If the business is small and doesn’t expect major growth, such as a family medical practice or a flower shop, a tower server may be the more sensible choice. If the business expects to grow, then a rack server makes more sense because you can add additional CPU, memory, and storage.

Limited Budget, High Functionality? It depends

More and more NAS devices, such as the aforementioned WD Sentinel, offer the capabilities of a small computer and can handle many basic tasks. In fact, Steve said you could use a NAS to run StorageCraft’s ImageManager software:

It handles storage, but it does such a great job of it that it has the capacity to do other things as well. It may make more sense to have ImageManager right on the NAS device where you’re storing your backup images because that NAS is intelligent enough it consolidate those images and replicate them to another location without having to use all those resources in a production server system.

In many cases, however, your SMB client may still need the power and functionality you can only get from a server. For example, a medical practice that handles large files like X-rays, makes VoIP calls, and needs additional layers of security to comply with HIPAA regulations will need a server to effectively run its IT. Given the number of SMBs that fall under the “high functionality, limited budget” category, however, you may want to suggest they consider some combination of NAS storage, in-house file server, and offsite hosting and services that you can supply at a lower cost than they could afford on their own.

For more information on hardware vendors, check out StorageCraft’s list of alliance partners.