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What is NAS (Network Attached Storage)?

The amount of traffic on the Internet is significantly rising, more than doubling every year as a result of the Internet's spectacular expansion and growing significance in our everyday lives. In these situations, the massive volume of digital data is recognized as the primary factor driving the increase in storage requirements, including capacity, performance, and quality of service. It has become more crucial to distribute data digitally since making it accessible to various users has become a new demand.

In the past, servers in businesses have performed this function by offering storage that can be accessed by other devices on a network, generally by file sharing, serving, or via a storage area network, while also offering other services. Network-attached storage (NAS) systems differ from standard servers in that they are designed particularly for and usually limited to file sharing. As a result, NAS systems have the advantage of being able to meet these requirements with less powerful hardware than would be required for a complete server because they were designed for only this purpose.

In this article, we will cover what Network Attached Storage is, how it works, NAS types, features and formats of NAS, transfer speed of NAS, and the distinctions between SAN and NAS.

What is NAS (Network Attached Storage)?

Network-attached storage (NAS) can be defined in several different ways. Most people concur that "NAS systems are specialized file servers that are set up, developed, or created expressly to share data across a network." Network Attached Storage (NAS) refers to preconfigured file servers. They are made up of one or more internal servers, preset disk capacity, and frequently a stripped-down or unique operating system.

There are two main types of NAS systems: Computer-based systems and embedded systems. Both types have benefits and drawbacks, which are often based on price, power consumption, expandability, size, and speed. However, these distinctions aren't always obvious in some situations because there are so many different NAS systems on the market. No matter how they differ, all NAS systems contain a CPU (central processing unit), some kind of network-shareable storage, a place to store the operating system, RAM (random access memory), and a network interface for communication. Another feature that is typically offered to both types is RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks), which combines or pools numerous storage disks in a variety of ways so that they appear to the operating system as a single unit.

A fully complete operating system is not necessary for Network Attached Storage systems because NAS systems are purpose-built and do not need to interact with operating systems that have too many features and functions. For faster, stable, and reliable operation of the system, operating systems specific to NAS systems are preferred instead of operating systems with complex features.

It is a practical method for transferring files or data across different computers; doing so offers users faster access to information as well as benefits from simpler administration, setup, and security. A NAS can be utilized at home, in large corporations, or at the office. In the house, NAS is typically used for multimedia storage (family photographs and movies) or to offer a central location for files from CCTV cameras, smart TVs, and other components. A NAS array is utilized in a business or office as a backup and disaster recovery device. It may be used as an email, multimedia, or database server for small enterprises.

How Does NAS (Network Attached Storage) Work?

In 1982, as the first personal computers hit the market, a few businesses came up with the concept of moving the file system onto a shared storage appliance to solve the problem of keeping all of the changes made by the using servers in sync with one another while making the data accessible to multiple users. This type of NAS could manage one user with write access to a file and numerous users with reading privileges, but multiple users could operate in the same directories at the same time since the file map was under the control of the NAS system. Another innovation was the concept of people having their own private places. There were limits; Ethernet was not an option for a few years. NAS has evolved into a popular storage option. They are now Ethernet-based and exist in a variety of capacities, ranging from two-drive desktop devices to rack-stacked business NAS.

Using NAS, devices on a network may access stored data more easily. Enterprises may take advantage of shared, single-point access with integrated security, monitoring, and fault tolerance features by installing specialist software on dedicated hardware. File-based protocols, which are among the simplest to use when compared to block or object storage, are used by NAS to connect with other devices.

Network Attached Storage

Figure 1. Network Attached Storage

The following components are used to create a NAS system:

  • Protocols: NAS systems must be able to connect with other computers on a network to deliver file sharing. The key to doing this is having support for the essential communication and networking protocols. Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) is a "protocol suite" - a collection of many protocols that share a common name. It was first created for the "Advanced Research Projects Agency" (DARPA) network of the US Department of Defense in the 1970s, and it is now the main protocol suite used for the Internet as well as many other networks. While TCP/IP is made up of many other protocols, it may be that the two from which it gets its name are its two most crucial ones. The internet protocol (IP) and the transmission control protocol (TCP) are the two main data transfer protocols that most networks use. Before sending data across an IP network, TCP aggregates the data into packets. Consider IP addresses as email addresses and TCP packets as compressed zip files. You might email your grandparents the trip pictures if they are not on social media and do not have access to your cloud. You may group those photographs into zip files and send them over in batches rather than emailing them individually. Similar to this, TCP packs files into packets before sending them across an IP network. The files that are exchanged between protocols can be formatted using various file systems. All NAS hardware and operating systems at the moment support SMB(Server Message Blocks)/CIFS(common internet file sharing), which is commonly used with Windows computers, and NFS(Network File Systems), which is typically used with Linux and Unix PCs. AFP, Apple's file-sharing protocol, and FTP, an Internet-based file-serving protocol, are supported by a large number of other programs as well.

  • Hardware: The hardware for Network Attached Storage is sometimes referred to as a NAS box or NAS head. In essence, the server is set up with storage devices, CPUs, and random-access memory (RAM) like conventional servers. To fulfill the needs of a specific purpose, a NAS device may be configured with additional RAM and with different kinds of disks and capacities. However, the software is the primary area where NAS and general-purpose server storage differ.

  • Software: There are several different NAS operating systems. Technically, any operating system that supports remote administration and can be configured with file shares may be used for this, but "NAS operating systems" are particularly configured for this in that they often just operate the services and protocols required to provide network file sharing. NAS devices usually run customized versions of Linux or another embedded operating system. The term "RTOS" (Real-Time Operating System) is also used to describe some of these operating systems. Although some regular operating systems function in the same way, RTOSs are different from them in that they are made to react to inputs and events within a specific time frame. This is crucial for network devices and other systems since delays might result in timeouts and failures. Furthermore, some businesses create their own proprietary operating systems, some of which are based on Linux or FreeBSD.

What are the Different Types of NAS (Network Attached Storage)?

We can divide NAS services into three categories in terms of drive size requirements: drive support, capacity, and scalability.

  1. High-end NAS: Organizations that need to store enormous amounts of file data, particularly virtual machine (VM) snapshots, dominate the high-end segment of the market. Enterprise devices offer clustering and quick access features. The clustering idea overcomes problems with conventional NAS. On many NAS systems, a distributed file system is active simultaneously. No matter which physical node a file is located on, this method gives access to every file in the cluster. NAS systems are more frequently employed as primary storage in businesses than SAN systems are. Deduplication, compression, and several cloning and snapshot tools are among the complex software capabilities of the corporate NAS system, a high-end solution.
  2. Midmarket NAS: Users who do not need multiple NAS clusters but need more disk size and scalability than home users fall within this range.
  3. Low-end NAS: Low-end NAS systems are typically utilized as department-based shared storage pools and as client-based personal backups for PCs where each client is given a disk allocation. Each reserved allocation can be accessed with a personal username and password. It can be shared with the usernames of other people on the network, or it can be open to everyone by specifying a password-free area. The low end is targeted at consumers at home and small companies that need nearby shared storage. Currently, this sector is moving toward a cloud services paradigm.

What is the Purpose of NAS (Network Attached Storage)?

In situations with plenty of data, NAS is valuable for more than just providing client PCs with generic centralized storage. By offering storage services, NAS may help make complex systems easier to use and less expensive, such as tolerable email and web server systems. The consumer sector, where there is a lot of multimedia data, is a potential rising market for NAS.

NAS is designed to make it easier for people to work together and exchange data. Distributed teams who operate in several time zones or require remote access might benefit from it. Distributed employees may access files from any desktop or mobile device with a network connection thanks to the NAS's wireless router connectivity. As the basis for a private or personal cloud, businesses frequently deploy a NAS system. Searchable and accessible active archives, big data analytics, and creating a virtual workplace hosting a personal cloud service, etc. are also other useful purposes for network-attached storage.

What are the Formats of NAS (Network Attached Storage)?

Storage controllers and storage devices (or storage arrays) communicate with one another over a storage protocol. The parameters of their communication are established by these protocols. Typically, there are two types of storage protocols:

  • File-oriented protocols and
  • Block-oriented protocols.

File-based protocols define how a client communicates with a file server or network-attached storage (NAS). Storage disks, whether HDDs or SSDs, are only dummy physical devices. These devices rely on high-level software to govern their formatting, block addressing, security permissions, file names, and file directories. All of these tasks are handled by a file system using file-oriented protocols. There are other specialized formats for NAS communication protocols. Here it is listed below:

  • Server Message Block/Common Internet File System (SMB/CIFS): A standard protocol called CIFS is one of two that the Microsoft Windows operating system uses to offer an application protocol interface (API) for handling files and enabling remote administration features. The technology is known as Server Message Block (SMB), created by IBM in 1984, and is the source of CIFS. File-oriented requests (open, read, write, and close files) can be sent from a client to a file server using the network protocol that was specified by SMB. Microsoft released CIFS for the first time in 1996. SMB was ultimately replaced by CIFS under Windows operating systems with the introduction of Windows 2K. CIFS can run directly on TCP or Windows sockets, although it is often implemented in a NetBIOS environment.
  • Network File System (NFS): Sun Microsystems, now known as Oracle/Sun, created the NFS protocol in 1980. Once again, Sun Microsystems allows individuals to utilize NFS, another file-oriented protocol, in the UNIX environment without having to pay any royalties. Sun expanded the protocol's PC market compatibility in 1986, enabling file sharing based on PC-NFS. The NFS operates using a very simple methodology. The data abstraction approach is known as external data representation (XDR) and Remote Procedure Call (RPC) is used in all versions of NFS for file sharing. In the initial versions of NFS, such as v1 and v2, a stateless network connection between a client and a server was provided through UDP. Neither a data packet sorting facility nor a guarantee of packet delivery is available with UDP. All UDP does is simply stream packets from one network device to another. The protocol may now operate with both UDP and TCP for packet delivery with version 3. And lastly, NFS v4 employs a TCP stateful protocol and includes security-related features.
  • Apple Filing Protocol (AFP): The Apple Filing Protocol (AFP), a network sharing standard owned by Apple, is nearly exclusively utilized with Macintosh computers. It was first designed to operate over a serial line using its AppleTalk network protocol, but it currently utilizes TCP/IP via an Ethernet connection. Like other file-sharing protocols, AFP has undergone several modifications throughout the years that have improved its security and dependability, file-sharing capabilities, file ownership, and access rights. Many NAS devices, especially low-cost ones, do not fully support this protocol because it is a proprietary protocol that is largely used with Macintosh computers, however, this may change as the use of Macintosh computers rises.

What are the Features of NAS (Network Attached Storage)?

NAS (Network Attached Storage) has features that provide three main areas:

  • Easier Management: In terms of management simplification, NAS often contains specific GUIs (graphical user interfaces) and CLIs (command-line interfaces) that make managing file systems, network connections, and advanced features very simple. Multiple general-purpose file servers are sometimes combined into a single NAS, significantly lowering the number of administration points in a system. Hardware upgrades are typically easy and relatively scalable while patching and programming updates may often be carried out without bringing the system offline.
  • Better Performance: In terms of performance, NAS servers offer Plug & Play file systems, which means you can connect, power up, and use them right away. In contrast to a general operating system, all functionalities that are not required for file serving can be removed. NAS may thrive due to minimal installation and maintenance expenses, relieving system administrators of the responsibility. Scalability is a key feature of NAS servers. For example, the system administrator can configure a separate NAS server for each project or department. Large websites may be easily expanded in this manner. Is your email file system full? No issue,.You just add another NAS server to your Ethernet for the next 5000 users.
  • Higher Data Availability: In terms of data availability, It can be increased by NAS since data access is not dependent on a server; even if the server goes down, users can still access data on the NAS. NAS can boost performance since file serving is handled by the NAS rather than a server that is also responsible for other operations.

What is the Transfer Speed of NAS (Network Attached Storage)?

Let's first clarify the numbers. The majority of home users have standard 100 Mbps ethernet, which is available. This is equivalent to 12.5 MBps or megabytes per second. The fastest a file may be sent over your home network is 12.5 MBps if you don't have a gigabit router, switch, and network cards on your PCs and NAS. Furthermore, practically, it is impossible to achieve that theoretical limit. You'll probably get values somewhere between 4 and 8 MBps. If your computer, router, and receiving device have an ethernet card that can reach gigabit speeds, your maximum transfer rate on the NAS will jump to 125 megabytes per second, which is much better. If the Ethernet card speeds you have reach 10 gigabits or above, your transfer speed will increase accordingly.

For example:

The maximum transmission rate for a typical 802.11g WLAN running at 54 megabits per second is 6.75 megabytes per second. 1 terabyte will be transmitted in 1.8 days. If you upgrade to a 10 gigabit LAN and have a dedicated disk array, you'll receive 1250 megabytes per second, and a 1 terabyte transfer will take roughly 14 minutes.

Your network's kind of ethernet has an impact on network transfer speed, but it's not the only one. Your ultimate transfer speed between two devices will also depend on a few additional things. It depends on the hard drive speed, motherboard bus speed, network cable types( CAT 5/6/7), RAID configuration, and network ports on the device.

What is the Difference Between NAS and SAN?

Some of the differences between NAS and SAN can be listed as;

  • A NAS device provides file access to clients it connects to through file access protocols (mainly CIFS and NFS) across Ethernet and TCP/IP. A SAN device is a block access device that connects to its clients using Fibre Channel and a block data access protocol such as SCSI (Small Computer System Interface).
  • The two storage architectures handle data in two distinct ways: Block data is processed by SAN while file-based data is processed by NAS.
  • NAS is directly connected to an Ethernet network by plugging a cable into an Ethernet switch. NFS, SMB/CIFS, and HTTP are just a few of the protocols that NAS may employ to connect to servers. On the SAN side, servers use the SCSI protocol to interface with SAN disk drive hardware.
  • NAS is commonly seen in homes and small or medium-sized enterprises. On the other hand, SAN is commonly utilized in professional and corporate settings.
  • Due to the slower file system layer, NAS often has lower throughput and higher latency, however, high-speed networks can offset these performance drawbacks. When it comes to situations that require high-speed traffic, SANs perform better.
  • Generally speaking, NAS is less expensive to buy and operate than SAN, even though a high-end NAS will cost more than an entry-level SAN.