To explain it in the most basic of terms, a rackmount network-attached storage (NAS) device is simply a device that is used, via network connection, to store and serve files between a group of client computers or devices. Relying on an array of hard drives, which typically utilize some level of RAID storage, a rackmount NAS is capable of being installed into a large-scale server rack or cabinet in order to save space. While each rackmount NAS boasts features unique to the individual manufacturer, there are a number of traits that are commonly seen in rackmount NAS devices of today.
While a rackmount NAS does rely on an operating system to function, most of the functionality featured in operating systems such as Windows, Mac or Linux simply aren't necessary to the operation of the NAS. As such, most rackmount NAS devices rely on a highly specific, barebones operating system. Many rely on the open source NAS OS known as FreeNAS, which is essentially a barebones edition of the popular FreeBSD OS, which itself is an offshoot of previous Unix-based systems.
While most common computer users are familiar with the standard file systems of NTFS and perhaps even FAT32, typical rackmount NAS devices do not use either of these file systems. Some systems that are commonly used in rackmount NAS devices of today include the Unix-oriented NFS, Microsoft's Server Message Block / Common Internet File System (SMB / CIFS), Apple's AFP and, finally, NCP, which is commonly seen in OES and Novell NetWare installations.
Most rackmount NAS devices can also be used strictly as a backup server. Depending on the exact configuration of the rackmount NAS, users may be able to schedule automatic backups that collate data from multiple PCs or systems. As such, rackmount NAS devices make a great addition to any disaster recovery plan in the 21st century.
While the storage capacity of any given rackmount NAS can vary tremendously, typical capacities range from 4 TB all the way up to 384 TB within a single device. Given the current pace at which hard drive capacities are increasing, however, these numbers will only increase in the future.
Consumer-Grade NAS Devices
While NAS setups were typically reserved for large corporations, academic institutions and research firms, the growing need for data storage on personal home computers has eased the NAS' transition from strictly an enterprise environment and into the consumer's hands. While consumer NAS devices are typically not rackmounted, as few consumers have the need for a complete server rack setup in their own house, many viable NAS solutions exist for home computer users who want to bolster the storage or protection of their files.
Popular NAS Manufacturers
There are a number of manufacturers who produce their own NAS systems, including both rackmount and non-rackmount devices. Some of the most popular and prolific manufacturers of NAS devices today include Intel, IBM, HP, Dell, Cisco Systems, Oracle, Western Digital, Seagate / Maxtor, Linksys, Netgear, Iomega, Asus, LG Electronics, NetApp and many more.
Introduction to Rackmount Network Attached Storage
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