NAS Appliances

Network attached storage is growing at a phenomenal rate thanks to the demands of compliance and email. Dave Mitchell takes a look at eight of the latest products for the mid-range market

One area of the networking market that is growing faster than any other is storage as user's demands are fuelling a data explosion of unprecedented proportions.

There are many factors driving this with applications such as e-mail, Intranets and databases prime examples but users are now expecting faster access to information for much longer periods. Despite the number of storage networking technologies now available the NAS (network attached storage) appliance still offers one of the easiest ways of increasing capacity without incurring high costs.

In this group test we invited eight vendors to provide an appliance suitable for the upper end of the SMB spectrum and mid-range markets. We set no price limits or hardware requirements and left it up to each one to deliver what it thought would be suitable for the target market.

The NAS philosophy starts with installation as the appliances must be simple to integrate into the network. They are essentially self-contained, headless systems that run their own OS so you just plug them into the network and manage them remotely. Once installed, the appliance appears on the network as another file server that can have directories that have been designated for sharing mapped on each workstation or server as a local drive.

To cut costs to the bone virtually all low-end NAS appliances run a Linux based kernel but at this level of the market Microsoft's Windows Storage Server 2003 is the dominant force and we have two systems here that are running the latest R2 version of this software. That's not to say Linux has no place here as the appliances from Boston, Adaptec and Ecobyte showing just what this OS can deliver.

Thanks to its excellent combination of price, capacity and performance, Serial ATA (SATA) is proving to be the disk interface of choice with Evesham and Ecobyte delivering a truly huge amount of storage at very competitive prices. However, as NEC demonstrates, SCSI is still a good choice if performance is the priority. Naturally, fault tolerance is critical so support for RAID is essential although from a performance perspective our tests show that a hardware controller will always be a better choice over software managed arrays.

The bottom line is it's up to the network administrator to keep up with this voracious demand and ensure there is enough storage to go around so read on to see which is the best NAS appliance solution for you.

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