Should I use a NAS or server?
Having extra, wirelessly accessible storage is attractive for everyone from homes to corporations, but there is a learning curve in picking the right equipment. For homes and small businesses in particular, choosing between a NAS or server can be a tough decision.
NASes are easy to use, but aren’t very expandable. Servers require more technical knowledge, but are way more modular. Let’s break down exactly why someone might choose one over the other.
Pros and cons of a NAS?
Network Attached Storage (NAS) is a data storage server that distributes information to computers on a network. Most often, these are packaged up as a pre-built piece of computing equipment, though they can be built.
An entry level NAS is almost always cheaper than an entry level server that has the same amount of storage. This is because a NAS isn’t good for much other than storing and accessing data.
For instance, a $200 NAS you might find at Best Buy will likely have a single core processor with a low clock speed and 1 to 2 GB of RAM. If your NAS is priced at $200, has 4 drive bays and does not come with any hard drives, it will cost an additional $200 to have an array of 4 1TB hard drives.
After the NAS and hard drives are purchased, the setup process is extremely easy. Companies like Synology create their own software to guide users through the setup process. In total, users only need to plug in the power cable, ethernet and then follow instructions.
Unfortunately, a NAS can never be as redundant as a network with various servers and storage arrays. Although a NAS will have a storage array, there typically aren’t as many bays as one might find in a server’s storage array. Repairs are also a bit more difficult to make on a NAS.
Pros and cons of a server?
A server is basically a computer with hardware components that are designed to maintain 100 percent uptime. There are also some traits of server components that are better suited for fast networking, managing a large amount of storage and being compatible with more RAM.
An entry level server might only have one 1TB hard drive and four available drive bays. If the main goal is to store 4-16 TB and access it wherever, a NAS is clearly more cost effective. Every new server on the market will have more powerful internal components than a NAS.
Compared to the $400 NAS setup mentioned above, a bottom tier server with the same amount of storage will end up costing around $200 more. That $200 goes goes towards a higher clocked processor, potentially 4 times as much RAM, video output, the ability to smoothly run Windows and tons of upgrade-ability.
Processing power is particularly important for media servers that need to trans-code media to different formats that will be compatible with all of your devices. Additionally, storage arrays inside of or attached to servers will be recognized as a local disk rather than a shared network drive.
Now, in order to fully utilize redundancy potential in servers, you will need multiple servers and a storage array, which together will cost at minimum over $1000. Since we’re comparing NASes and servers, and not NASes and storage area networks (SAN) this comparison will assume that you are considering a server over a NAS for power and flexibility reasons.
At the same time, purchasing a server takes you a quarter of the way to building a SAN, which some might look at as a long term plan. If you ever plan to build out a redundant network in your home or office, using a server as a NAS will offer more expandability in the future.
Where are NASes or servers best suited?
If you are looking for a home media solution and don’t aspire to build a higher scale redundant network, NASes are an easy choice Though, depending on what type of media is being consumed, it’s important to do research on which NAS is best suited for you.
As a small business, deciding between a NAS or server is more speculative. Redundancy is much more important even in a non-technical small business. If your business grows, so will your networking needs.
It also depends on what you sell. If you are starting a YouTube channel, having access to large amounts of fast and redundant storage will be more important even at a smaller scale. On the other hand, keeping track of sales from your Etsy store can be done through the cloud, or kept on a NAS if it is more cost effective over time.
Anything larger than a home or small business likely already has a SAN. If they don’t, then they should.
Storing servers and NASes
Whether you end up with a NAS or server, both look great when stored in a rack with the rest of your IT equipment. We have shelves that are perfectly sized for NASes or tower servers and rails for rackmount servers. If you’d like some help figuring out how to organize everything, feel free to contact us.