How to pick NAS for any business

Network-attached storage can simplify your business's data management requirements

Network-attached storage (NAS) can make your business easier to run and more efficient in multiple ways.

NAS boxes started out as simple ethernet-connected file servers for workgroup storage and backup on a local network. The aim was to lessen the burden on the main server by offloading file duties. NAS appliances remain easy to operate, but their roles and capabilities have expanded immensely.

A major factor in the blossoming of NAS is remote access. Even consumer-grade NAS boxes now allow convenient access to files from the Internet. The better boxes come with dedicated graphical Web interfaces that make remote connection, management, and file access a breeze for any user. In addition, network-attached storage can serve images, music, and video to PCs and digital media adapters.

Vendors such as Synology and QNAP even offer perquisites such as Website serving and camera surveillance. Synology's DiskStation Manager 3.0 has a full, Linux-like, windowed interface within a browser. The dumb black box is indeed a thing of the past, as is the "workgroups only" tagline.

Let's take a look at some scenarios for NAS use, scaled to businesses of various sizes.

Small or Single-Person Office

When most people think of a small-office/home-office (SOHO) situation, they think of a couple of PCs, a multifunction printer or two, and perhaps a wireless, peer-to-peer network. While such a setup is certainly viable, it's far from optimal for sharing and accessing files. Data is scattered about, and accessing it from outside the local network requires a VPN or remote control. Backing up is a chore at best.

A NAS box puts all of the important data in one accessible, easy-to-back-up location and saves energy by allowing you to turn off your PCs. Forgot to bring an important presentation with you? No problem: Just log in to the NAS box and grab it.

Conversely, you can back up anything you're working on off-site by logging in and uploading the files to the NAS box, which will automatically back them up with the rest of the data. Most NAS boxes provide onboard backup utilities and USB ports for attaching drives.

If you value the sharing and access more than the storage, consider a hybrid device such as PogoPlug Biz that uses local USB storage you may already own and provides an online portal. The unit can also mirror itself to another PogoPlug Biz anywhere in the world. (Without that feature, I wouldn't recommend it for business use, as it offers no storage redundancy locally.)

Wide-Area Workgroup

If you collaborate with coworkers in far-flung locations, you'll find that a NAS box's easy wide-area connectivity makes it a great way to consolidate and centralize your efforts.Like any other administered network-storage resource, your NAS will permit users to access only the contents you approve. You may create private and shared folders, and most NAS boxes let you allocate space to users and folders as you wish.

Suppose that you have three programmers working on one project and two others collaborating on another, and suppose that each programmer is working on a solo project as well. They're all located in different countries, and you want to be able to inspect and combine their code each night.

To handle this work arrangement, simply create folders for each project, give the programmers access to particular folders as needed, and give yourself access to all of the folders. The programmers may log on via FTP, HTTP, SFTP, HTTPS, or WebDAV (whichever is appropriate and supported) and upload their day's efforts to the appropriate folders.

No static IP or domain? No problem. Sign up with a service such as DynDNS.org, create a proxy domain, and point it to your NAS box. Most NAS boxes will periodically contact the DNS service to keep the account alive, without requiring your intervention.

To Protect and Serve

Many smaller businesses use their main server for storing shared databases, but employing a full server for this task is massive overkill and imposes high initial and ongoing costs. Even if you already have a server, you can introduce a NAS box to take over the database serving so that the main server can concentrate on handling DHCP, maintaining the domain and users, serving applications, and dealing with other small-business network tasks.

A NAS box is perfect for housing practically any database your business relies on. It's self-sufficient, it's redundant, and it doesn't spend a lot of time doing other things. There are some potential pitfalls, however. Some programs, such as older versions of ACT, insist that their database reside on a local PC. Newer versions of QuickBooks require that you install a traffic cop program when multiple users are involved. You may still employ a NAS box for these programs, but you'll need one that uses Windows Home Server for its operating system. Even then, it's hardly dead simple.

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Jon L. Jacobi

PC World (US online)
Topics: management, network-attached storage, network attached storage, Networking, storage, Network management, nas
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