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Once you hear what a NAS appliance does, you might be tempted to think (as I did) what all the fuss might be about. But there are reasons for a NAS appliance, though a NAS isn’t for everybody.

Network Attached Storage is nothing more than a server with a pile of disks and a dozen different ways to access them. For most intents and purposes, the difference between a File Server of yesteryear and the Network Attached Storage of today is conceptually rather minimal.

NAS typically provides access to files via such methods as Windows shares, NFS, iSCSI, Appleshare and others.

So what does a NAS appliance provide that a NFS server does not? There are several benefits:

  • Special purpose. Since the system is solely for the purpose of serving up files for users, there is no need for any other facilities except those that deal with its specified purpose. Thus, a lot of potentially vulnerable or unreliable code can be removed, and the speed and reliability of the system can be increased. Some systems do not come with a general purpose operating system of any kind, but rather a specially designed operating system for serving files alone.
  • Extensive support. In many cases, since the system is specifically designed for serving up file storage, the innumerable variations of network storage protocols come supported out of the box.
  • Ease of use. With the system designed to serve one purpose – and to provide the customer with the best possible experience – the system is generally made much easier to configure and easier to use than having to configure the varying servers and protocols independently.

There are two different NAS products that are the heavy-weights in the free and open source arena: FreeNAS (freenas.org) and OpenFiler (openfiler.com).

The most obvious difference between these two is their base (and their associated licenses). The base for FreeNAS is FreeBSD, and like FreeBSD, is licensed using the BSD license. However, OpenFiler uses Linux as its base, and is likewise covered by the General Public License version 2.

This week, I’ll focus on FreeNAS with the assistance of a book entitled Learning FreeNAS by Gary Sims and published by Packt Publishing.

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