IntegratorToolbox: NAS servers offer quick storage fix

The lowdown

What is it? A network-attached storage server is dedicated to storage and file sharing. It is attached directly to the network. It serves up files to multiple clients using different operating systems.

When do you need one? When your general purpose servers can't keep up with the heavy network loads of daily file exchanges.

When don't you need one? You don't need an NAS server for occasional file sharing, or when your general-purpose server can handle file transfers without bogging down the network.

Must know info? NAS servers are highly scalable. The best of them offer hot-swappable components and fast input-output processing. For file serving, they deliver better performance at less cost than general-purpose servers do.

Network Appliances' NetApp F87 Filer comes with up to 576G of storage.

The scenario is familiar to network administrators: Your network file servers are running out of storage space, and you can't think of any more quick fixes for the problem.

Deleting files, installing extra hard drives or buying another server aren't always the best solution. Here's another option: network-attached storage.

NAS servers are single-purpose appliances dedicated to serving files. They connect directly to the network and are more cost-effective than PC servers. Most of the products listed in this roundup are suited for workgroup and small-department use.

NAS servers are built as file servers. They do away with nonessential components such as mice, monitors and keyboards. The specialized operating systems used by NAS servers are generally embedded into the server, so they don't require licensing fees.

They are easy to install and administer, and offer better price per performance than general purpose servers, making NAS servers ideally suited for Internet and intranet operations, e-commerce, Web filer needs, departmental data servers and virtually any distributed file or data sharing applications, according to NAS manufacturer Emerging Systems Inc.

This roundup includes several fairly low-end products, including Advanced Media Services Inc.'s 480G Dakota RAID 400 and American Megatrends Inc.'s 480G StorTrends 1312. They might be easily paired in a small network or added to another vendor's product line to provide more overall storage.

More typically, the servers we feature here range in capacity from several hundred gigabytes to seven or more terabytes, such as Hewlett-Packard Co.'s StorageWorks NAS b2000 and IBM Corp.'s TotalStorage NAS 200 Model 25T.

In any case, investigate each vendor's NAS product line thoroughly before making a purchase.

J.B. Miles of Pahoa, Hawaii, writes about communications and computers. E-mail him at jbmiles@hawaii.rr.com.

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