Compatibility: NAS and Operating Systems
When choosing a network attached storage device, keep in mind the type of operating systems that you will connect to it. Theres not much to worry about if your small business uses only Windows PCs, because Windows support on NAS devices is pretty much universal -- even though most NAS devices dont actually run Windows, theyll look as if they do to a Windows PC that needs to access a shared network folder.
Native Mac support on NAS devices isnt universal, but its quite common (though not always turned on by default). When it comes to Linux, things tend to get a bit hit-and-miss; if you have any Linux systems youll want to check that a NAS device supports the specific distro and version youre using.
Control: Accessing Your NAS Data
Assuming that you dont want everyone at your small business to have unfettered access to data (and you probably dont), youll want to pay close attention to how a NAS device lets you control access to shared folders. Some entry-level products offer only very basic access control; for example, they may they allow shared folders to be broadly designated as read-only or read/write, but that wont cut it if you need the ability to control access for specific individuals.
To control access to data on a per-person basis, you need a network attached storage device that supports creating user accounts and passwords. Even better, it should let you organize them into groups as well, which makes administration easier when you have a lot of users.
If you do have a large number of users, a NAS device that can import account info from a file (instead of you having to manually creating accounts) can save a lot of time. And, if youre concerned about voracious users consuming all of your storage space, a NAS device that can enforce storage quotas is a good idea as well.
If you already have a general-purpose server on your network (e.g. Windows 2003/2008), choosing a NAS device with support for Active Directory integration will let you use your existing network accounts to permit or deny access to the NAS as well, saving you the trouble of maintaining separate accounts for each user.
Connectivity: Network and Remote Access
There are two different aspects of NAS connectivity youll want to consider -- the first is how the device physically connects to your network. Almost all NAS devices these days provide a Gigabit Ethernet (1000 Mb) connection, though a few may stick with a slower 100 Mbps Ethernet link.
Its becoming common for mid-range and higher NAS models to offer two and sometimes even four Ethernet ports that can be used simultaneously, which can help speed data transfers over the network and give the network connection a level of redundancy. Its worth noting that very few NAS devices offer built-in Wi-Fi (the Iomega iConnect mentioned is a notable exception) because wireless connections generally dont provide sufficient speed and reliability, particularly in those multiple-user scenarios.
The second aspect of NAS connectivity is remote access, and its crucial if youll need to access data from outside the confines of the office. Most NAS devices offer some form of remote access; some may provide it via the aforementioned FTP or HTTP but leave it up to you to do the configuration necessary to get those services running through your network firewall. In any event, FTP and HTTP arent great choices for remote access if youre concerned about security, because they dont encrypt either login usernames and passwords or the contents of files you access.
Many NAS devices now offer hosted remote access services, which provide access to your NAS device through a Web site maintained by the device manufacturer. This type of remote access not only eliminates the need to deal with firewall configuration, it also affords secure access to your data since the connection between you, the portal site and the NAS device is usually SSL-encrypted. The downside is that these hosted services arent always free; they frequently carry a monthly subscription fee (though theyre sometimes provided free of charge for the first year).
A Sampling of Network Attached Storage Options
The Buffalo TeraStation ES provides four hot-swappable drive bays and a pair of Gigabit Ethernet ports. Price: $1,160 (8TB)
Iomegas StorCenter ix2-200 is a compact two-drive unit available in capacities ranging from 1 TB to 4 TB. Price: $249 - $499
Netgears ReadyNAS Pro Business edition offers a half-dozen drive bays (for up to 12 TB of potential capacity) and supports user and group quotas. Price: $2,499
The four drive bays in QNAPs TS-410U Turbo NAS s low-profile rack-mountable chassis can accommodate 3.5- or 2.5-inch SATA drives. Price: $699 (no hard drives)
The BlackArmor NAS 220s twin hard drives provide hardware-based data encryption. Price: $330 (2 TB)
Joseph Moran is a veteran technology writer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7, from Friends of ED.
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