Network Attached Storage (NAS) normally refers to a system or appliance that is used for storing files (vs. raw blocks of data) in a central location, and of course is accessible via a network, so that other computer systems can store and retrieve the files.
A key characteristic of a NAS system is that it is a “slimmed-down” computer system that is dedicated to doing the job of handling files. Inside the system is the specialized operating system (OS) and storage devices (hard disks) to hold the data. The system usually supports multiple networking protocols so that different computers attached to the network can use the NAS box.
NAS is not to be confused SAN (Storage Area Network), although a NAS appliance could be attached to a SAN on the back end for storing the data, instead of using internal hard disks. In this configuration, the server that is performing the NAS function may be referred to as a “NAS Head”.
Advantages: One of the main benefits of using NAS is that files can be shared easily between multiple computers on the network. Many NAS servers will also have large amounts of storage in a RAID configuration so that the possibility of losing data is reduced. Performance of serving files can also be increased because the file system is included in the NAS server and the specialized nature of its operating system.
Disadvantages: Because a Network Attached Storage device is often used by many computers on a network, it can be overwhelmed by everyone trying to access the device at the same time. This could be caused by limited network bandwidth, and the processing power within the device. Some solutions to these issues would be more processing power within the NAS device, and adding more network adapters. The network itself could also be upgraded or changed to allow greater bandwidth.
Another disadvantage is that the NAS device could become a single point of failure, especially if it becomes a central data storage unit within an organization. Solutions to this issue would be to distribute important files across multiple units, and to schedule and run regular remote backup routines on these machines.
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