Commentary: Why Businesses Should Choose Network-Attached Storage

What is the solution for small-to-medium size businesses that require a simple, reliable and cost-effective way to manage their data? A network-attached storage system.

As the owner or operator of a small or medium-size business, you address unique challenges and concerns on a daily basis. In addition to being in charge of operations, you probably have a hand in everything from client service to human resources to accounting. These are traditional business functions that most of us are familiar with, so executing them isnt too great challenge, right? But what about information technology?

IT has grown tremendously in importance as a business function during the past decade, yet it is still the one that average businesspeople know least about. IT is often touted as an enterprise-level concept -- a sophisticated, expensive, high-tech business advantage that should be of concern only to Fortune 1000 companies. But its importance to small and medium-size businesses cannot be overstated. Every document your staff creates or receives, whether it is customer correspondence, an office memo, customer database or inventory log, must be safely stored and easily accessible at all times. Imagine not being able to retrieve your data. What would the impact be on overall productivity? Or picture losing that data entirely. The importance of implementing a network infrastructure that supports your business 24/7 becomes increasingly clear.

So youre smart enough to know that data, and the successful management of that data, is critical to the success of your business. But for those of us who dont have a technical background or specialized training, the task of building and maintaining a network infrastructure can seem rather daunting. Smaller companies cannot afford the luxury of outsourcing the task to IT specialists. So what is the solution for small-to-medium size businesses that require a simple, reliable and cost-effective way to manage their data? A network-attached storage (NAS) system. Whether you have five employees or 50, a NAS solution will keep your mission-critical data safe and enable your staff to share files quickly and reliably for maximum levels of productivity.

To understand the value of an NAS system, it is first important to understand what its designed to address: data storage. Data storage is probably the most ubiquitous concept in the world of technology. As a businessperson, you are directly or indirectly dealing with data storage everyday -- when youre accessing a file, running a software application, e-mailing a colleague or drafting a memo. As your business grows, so does the amount of data it generates. If theres not enough storage capacity to handle that data, then inevitably your network will slow, and consequently, lower your companys productivity. In the business world, seconds can tick by in what seems like hours, and time is money. Chances are that youve experienced the frustration that occurs while waiting for a file to open. Its also likely that youve run a variety of software applications as part of your business, and that youve experienced slowdowns with them as well.

These problems are probably occurring for two reasons: 1) You have a lot of data being shared from workstation to workstation; and 2) There is a lack of storage space on your server. By installing a NAS system, you can drastically increase the speed of your network so that you no longer experience the downtime, frustration and lost productivity and profitability that results from insufficient data storage. NAS systems are completely dedicated to storage, making them the best solution for improving the speed and functionality of your network. NAS relocates the storage onto an independent platform, effectively separating file sharing from application serving. Since applications and storage are no longer running on the same system, this frees up file server bandwidth and reduces overhead on application servers. The result? Applications are processed more quickly and efficiently, and your staff has fast and reliable access to data -- both to the benefit of your bottom line.

In addition to accessibility, NAS also offers high levels of reliability. Almost all NAS systems incorporate a feature called RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks). A system with RAID capability can protect and provide immediate access to data, despite a single disk failure or concurrent disk failures. Different levels of RAID offer different levels of protection. With RAID 0, data is striped across all physical drives to improve access times. With RAID 1, the second set of drives duplicates the information from the first set for maximum data protection. RAID 5 distributes data and parity across all drives and is capable of tolerating the loss of one drive, providing full drive integrity.

As a small or medium-size business owner, cross-platform file sharing is an area of particular importance to you. Your current infrastructure, like those of many businesses, may contain a mix of Linux, Mac, Novell NetWare, Unix, Windows or Windows NT platforms. Traditionally, sharing data across disparate platforms can be challenging and expensive. The good news is that with a NAS system, cross-platform sharing becomes quite simple. On the network, an NAS system can appear like a native file server to each of its various clients. That means files are saved on as well as retrieved from the NAS system in their native file formats. So you dont have to worry about converting your entire office to a single platform or losing your initial investment in your desktops, servers and workstations.

Another benefit of network-attached storage lies in its simplicity. NAS systems are incredibly easy to install. This is welcome news for todays small-to-medium size businesses, which have neither the budget nor the daily need for an IT manager. Technological enhancements to your network should not be difficult or require significant time or effort from your staff. Todays NAS systems are out of the box, plug and play. They are up and running in minutes -- about the same time it takes to program a VCR. Nor does installation require high levels of technical skill or a background in computer science. Any user, regardless of experience level, can create networked storage within five minutes and two mouse clicks. Not only are NAS systems easy to set up, but theyre also easy to use. Intuitive software programs guide you in managing your network and getting the most out of your NAS system. Again, they are designed with simplicity in mind.

Network-attached storage is an attractive option for small-to-medium size businesses due to its cost. For any business, it is important that dollars spent result in dollars earned. The proposed benefits of implementing a technology must be carefully evaluated to determine whether the investment will justify itself in the long run. Expanding servers is not a cost-effective way to increase storage capacity. Implementing a NAS system is. NAS, by virtue of being a single repository completely dedicated to storage, is clearly the smartest investment for ensuring the integrity, reliability, and accessibility of your data. For a few thousand dollars, todays NAS systems offer the same performance, reliability and feature sets that enterprises pay $10,000 or more for.

These factors present a strong case to small or medium-size businesses owners looking for a simple and cost-effective way to experience what todays global enterprises are benefiting from: sophisticated technology; fast, reliable network access; improved productivity; and the peace of mind that comes with knowing that mission-critical data is safe. No matter how you look at it, NAS systems are the best way for you to safeguard, manage and leverage the information that is the foundation of your business.

Genevieve Ortegon is director of marketing for FIA Storage Systems Group (

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