Monday, August 27, 2012

When to Replace Servers with Network Attached Storage

SOHO’s (Small Office/Home Offices) traditionally either had client-server or peer-to-peer networking in place to serve office needs.  Client server, the more expensive option, have the benefit of centrally managed network resources.  While peer-to-peer, though less costly and easy to setup, become difficult to manage as the network grows.

With low cost NAS (Network Attached Storage) devices, many SOHO’s can bypass using a centrally managed server and use a simpler configuration for storing data.  Deciding when to use a NAS or when to use a server depends on the office needs.

When to use NAS

NAS devices are a cost effective and simple way to manage user storage.  There are several different NAS manufacturers and models to choose from.  Each model will also have different features, like the number of USB ports, upgradability and printer support.  Network services provided by the NAS, like FTP (File Transfer Protocol), Windows Shares, Workgroups and NFS (Network File Sharing) protocol also vary.

It is best to use a NAS device with a client that has a limited number of users and groups.  Some NAS devices limit the number of users and don’t have the fine grained ACL’s (Access Control Lists) that servers have.  Setting up complex user and group permissions are better suited to server operating systems.

A NAS device is also a good option if the client doesn’t require networked based applications that utilize database servers.  Using a NAS device will also limit the number of print queues available.  Some devices include USB ports for sharing printers, which means the printer will need to have a USB port, which excludes some older parallel or network printers.  A combination of NAS and peer-to-peer networking can overcome the shared printer limitations.

Some NAS manufacturers include client backup software.  However, similar to peer-to-peer networking, clients will need to be managed independently and are not centrally managed.  If the client has multiple users, management can become complex and time consuming.  The NAS device itself will also need to be backed up.  NAS devices can include some sort of RAID (Redundant Arrays of Independent Disks), either RAID 1, 5 or even JBOD (Just a Bunch of Disks), the device itself, since it is the primary data repository, will need to be backed up to either an external USB drive, another NAS device or the cloud.

When to use a Server

Server operating systems, either Windows Server or Linux, are designed for multiple users, fine grained file and folder access, print queues and server based applications.  With all of these features comes complexity and required knowledge.  The benefits however are best suited for larger clients or more complex network configurations.

Servers allow central user and group management, which becomes easier to manage with higher numbers of users.  Several print queues can be setup and access restrictions set on the print queues.  For example, an office may have a monochrome laser printer and a color laser printer.  Due to the higher cost of color laser printer consumables, it is possible to limit who has access to the more expensive to use printer.

Servers also support applications, not only database server applications, but applications like a centrally managed anti-virus or centrally managed backup software for both the server and clients.  Backups can be centrally made to tape, NAS devices or the cloud.  Centrally managed login scripts that map shared folders and printers are also a feature of server operating systems.

There are many more features to both NAS devices and servers.  NAS devices are excellent server replacements for smaller, less complex network configurations.  They are also a low cost alternative to older expensive to run servers.  However, the consultant needs to weigh the benefits and downsides of using a NAS device before implementation or server replacement.

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