Help – I Need NAS!

Filed in by Cara Nichols | June 17, 2010 4:00 pm

by Cliff Turner

Because of the increased use of video, audio, multiple encodings and digital pictures (just to name a few), storage needs are growing exponentially. For example, I have a Nikon d90 and three small children. Couple that with the fact that digital film is free; that makes me trigger-happy. When I take action shots I switch to continuous shooting mode – after all, it’s free, right?  Each picture is 1MB and I can take around 3000 shots in a day. That’s 3GB. Now if I take pictures for a couple of days, that adds up to 9GB of data – potentially 100GB a year.

Those photos are irreplaceable so I want them on protected storage – just like any company would protect invaluable data: two copies on premise and a copy stored off site. So the question, then, is how do I accomplish this on a single family budget and meet all of my diverse needs? The funny thing is, storage needs and decisions for individual users run parallel to storage needs of enterprise organizations, just on a much larger scale (obviously). But we’ll get to that in a bit.

There are few approaches you can take when building a Network Attached Storage (NAS):

Let’s take a closer look.

DIY/Home-built: There are a number of hardware platforms out there, from a low-power Atom board to a Frankenstein collection of used parts that you have in “inventory.” Any number of OS choices can work here – Ubuntu, Windows, or a dedicated storage distro.  A common example of the latter is Openfiler. Cost: $-$$$. Power usage: small to large.

Pre-built NAS Appliance: These devices range from single drive to multi-drive NAS. Some manufactures include QNAP, IOMEGA, Synology, and Thecus. In the enterprise world the leader is NetApp. It’s proprietary hardware with a custom Linux install and a web configuration interface. You can buy them with or without drives, just plug it into your network, configure some basic settings and start dropping files on it. Most pre-builts also come with other features like DNLA music, iTunes, iSCSI, web, email, photo galleries and blogs. One thing to watch out for it to make sure the manufacturer regularly updates the firmware for bug fixes and new features. Cost: $$-$$$$. Power usage: small to medium.

(Note: This is the route I have travelled. In my previous life I was a hardcore Windows system admin.  Today I don’t want to fix stuff when I come home or on the weekends; I just want it to work. I’ve used a Synology 207+ for over a year.  It has two drives in a RAID 1 – there are my two copies on site. I also have an external eSATA drive that I copy the entire content to once a week. Then I take the drive to work and leave it locked in a drawer.  Works great and they continue to enhance the firmware.)

Use the Cloud: There are a large number of software programs you can install on a workstation that use a Cloud Files backend.  Some notable examples are Jungle Disk, Cloud Drive, Cyberduck and There are also some hybrid options like Pogoplug or CTERA, or you can check out some of the Rackspace Cloud Files Partners. Cost: $$-$$$$. Power usage: none to medium.

Back to the Enterprise

So one of the big questions is when these approaches are not good for the enterprise. If they work the same, provide the same level of statistical reliability, why not use them? Can these work in the enterprise?  What’s the difference?  The tech media has talked much in the last few years about the consumerism of IT and how it is driving adoption in the enterprise, so you may in fact be one of those enterprises utilizing one of these approaches.

So what are you doing to store (and protect) your digital life – either at home or as an enterprise?

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