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Ted on Tech: NAS Doesn't Have to Be Difficult, Expensive or Scary

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Even if youíre a sole practitioner with no additional staff, one or both of two things is inevitable. The first is that at some point youíre going to run out of disk space. The second is that if you donít run out of disk space first, at least one of your hard drives or disk controllers is going to suffer a failure, sometimes catastrophic.

This isnít a column on back-up. If you donít already know the danger of not having multiple secure copies of files that are mission critical to your practice and your clientsí businesses, my reminding you isnít going to provide an epiphany.

What I would like to remind you is that there are several ways to address the ongoing problem of the need for expanding amounts of storage. One is obviously the cloud, and thatís a conversation best left to a post of its own. This post will concentrate on adding storage on-site.

If you feel comfortable poking around the gizzards of your PC, you can pretty much always plug another hard drive in with a SATA cable to the motherboard and a power connector from the power supply. If you donít know what Iím talking about, this probably isnít the path to take.

You can also just plug in an external USB drive. They come in capacities up to several terabytes. The problem with this approach is that your PC has to be powered up and on the network for other network users to access it.

Network Attached Storage, or NAS as itís commonly referred to, lets you add significant amounts of additional storage to the network as a whole, not necessarily to a particular user (though the administration utility that comes with most NAS units lets you assign specific users rights to particular applications or data.

NAS units generally can accommodate multiple drives, and for most users, multiple drives should be incorporated in a RAID configuration to protect data stored on the NAS. We have a number of NAS devices on our network, and all contain four drives configured in RAID 6, which uses two of the four as parity drives. A lot of this mumbo-jumbo was discussed in my last blog post, but RAID 5 and RAID 6 provide the array with the ability to be rebuilt if a drive fails. With RAID 5, the NAS can lose one drive and still maintain all of the data. RAID 6 reduced the amount of useable space on the NAS, but you could have two drives fail simultaneously and still not lose files.

The two newest NAS we have on our network point out the major differences between offerings. One NAS is a small cube from D-Link, the ShareCenter DNS-345. This can accommodate between one and four drives, and I populated ours with two 2TB and two 1.5TB Seagate hard drives. During the setup, you are allowed to specify if you want RAID, and if so, what level. I specified RAID 5, and wound up with just under 5TB available to the network. D-Linkís setup even lets you map the NAS with a drive letter. The DNS-345 sells for about $420 without drives.

The second new NAS on our network is from Seagateótheir STDN16000100 Business Storage 4-Bay Rack Mount NAS. This is a 1U (about 1 ĺ inches high) device designed to fit into a standard 19-inch wide server rack. Ours is loaded with four 4TB drives, and at $2,300, is over a thousand dollars more expensive than the D-Link loaded with four of the same NAS quality 4TB drives used in the rack mount.

There are a few things that make one unit more appropriate than the other for certain uses. One is the administrative software and utilities. Seagateís are somewhat more comprehensive, and because access to the Rack Mount NAS is strictly controlled, thatís important for the deviceís use. The overall NAS input and output speed is also faster than many of the NAS drives Iíve tested, though I donít have enough users on our network for it to make a big difference.† The fact that we have a server rack is also a consideration. The Seagate was easily mounted, and both power and a cable patch bay are right there.

The D-Link, on the other hand, is going to be used more as our own cloud and a replacement for Dropbox. Weíre setting up the network firewall so that itís sandboxedóisolated from the rest of the network. That way, I can grant access to users I might not want to provide a less restrictive gateway into the rest of the network.

One of the real selling points, at least for me, is something Seagate is fairly quiet aboutóits Data Recovery Service. Seagateís is, if not the best in the business, then one of the best. Itís not free, and there are various pricing models, but I like Seagateís ability to provide service on all of the data storage levelsófrom the NAS, to the drives, to the utilities, and to data recovery. †

Iím sometimes a bit hesitant to include prices with my recommendationsóthey arenít meant as reviews. Keep in mind that both of the NAS devices I talk about here are sold as business units. You can get consumer-grade NAS models for a lot less money. But NAS drives usually hold mission-critical files and applications, so this is one area where I wouldnít skimp on cost.

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