How to Choose the Right NAS Device for Your Business

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Selecting the best enterprise network attached storage (NAS) requires an understanding of the different types of storage available and the array of factors that differentiate them. Not all systems will be well-suited to your company’s needs—some favor capacity, some focus on performance, and others excel with large amounts of data but can be expensive for lighter loads.

A simple NAS device ideal for an SMB or small remote office will not meet the needs of larger file sharing environments as well as an enterprise device designed for the workloads. This article is a detailed guide to selecting the right network attached storage solution for your organization.

Understanding Enterprise NAS

Enterprise NAS devices are quite different from consumer alternatives. The key features that distinguish them are scalability, centralized management, and comprehensive data protection.


There are two types of NAS scaling architectures: scale up and scale out. Scale up means adding additional drives to an existing system, or expanding vertically. The system’s controllers define the array’s maximum amount of CPU and memory, which limits the number and capacity of added drives. This is true in both single and dual controller systems, since most dual controllers are active/passive configurations instead of active/active—but some large systems can accommodate massive amounts of storage.

Scale out storage is a distributed NAS architecture that scales using clusters—essentially, expanding horizontally. Each new node adds both performance and capacity to the distributed system. Scale-out NAS supports heavy concurrent ingest workloads, blending capacity, performance, and simplicity to provision storage.

By scaling within a single cluster, memory and network resources are optimized across operations. Scale out makes it easy to add and configure new hardware as needed. When one system is full, just add another.


To qualify as enterprise-class, NAS systems should provide a centralized management interface that allows users to configure new drives and nodes, set policies, and assign logical partitions. Most vendors include native deduplication and compression as ways to make better use of available capacity.

Global namespaces further simplify file management for massively scalable systems by allowing multiple nodes to operate across different locations that can be managed as a single system. This technology logically expands single filesystems from single-digit petabytes to dozens of petabytes, and sometimes billions of files.

Both scale-out and scale-up NAS systems scale easily with hot-swappable drives and automatic RAID rebuilding. Some NAS vendors also ship NAS gateways for transparent tiering to the cloud.

Data Protection

Weaknesses in NAS and storage area networking (SAN) storage systems as well as backup software are often exploited by hackers as the first point of entry into the enterprise. Data protection has become a key facet of enterprise storage. Enterprise NAS often includes native data protection features like replication, snapshots, and the ability to store backup images in RAID. More recently, NAS systems include ransomware protections such as software that detects potential ransomware intrusions or spots the early signs of a ransomware attack.

In addition, enterprise NAS systems come with a wealth of features—including integrated backup software—to safeguard files. But many NAS administrators continue to use existing backup software for traditional backup and recovery on-premises or to remote sites.

How to Choose the Right NAS Device for your Business 

The best NAS device depends upon the specific needs of the enterprise. For some organizations, the ideal system is the fastest. For others, it might be a platform that packs the most storage capacity into the smallest amount of space. For others still, it might come down to the cost per gigabyte, availability, or security.

When selecting the best NAS, enterprises will need to evaluate a number of factors. Here are the most essential.


How much data do you need to store? Consider current and future needs, how easily the solution can scale, and the estimated lifetime for the hardware. Pay attention to the cost per TB of the storage you plan to purchase.


How much throughput do you need and how much latency can you tolerate? The answer will determine whether you choose NAS with hard disk drives (HDDs) or fast flash solid state drives (SSDs). Applications like HD video, machine learning, and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) require the performance offered by flash-based NAS devices with a lot of on-board cache and memory. By contrast, if you just need a file server for a branch office, an inexpensive HDD-based NAS device will be more than adequate.


What will you be using your NAS for? Some vendors offer devices specifically tailored to certain needs like big data analytics or VDI. Such tailored systems may offer advantages over more generic hardware. Check with vendors for reference customers in your vertical market that use prospective hardware for a similar use case.

Physical Space

Some NAS solutions squeeze an incredible amount of storage into a very small form factor. This can save on real estate-related costs, but may increase cooling needs and make management more challenging. Many NAS devices are rack-mounted, which tend to save on space, but standalone NAS filers might be more suited to some office locations.

Networking Considerations

Unlike SAN devices, which set up a separate storage network, NAS devices become part of your regular network. That means you’ll need to make sure the hardware you select offers the right kinds of ports and supports the networking protocols used in your environment.

Reliability and Availability

Some NAS storage incorporates features like RAID and component redundancy to improve data availability. Automatic synchronization, disaster recovery, and automatic failover are also included in some products.

Deduplication and Compression

Many NAS devices provide capabilities that reduce the amount of space consumed by stored data. When calculating total costs, take these capabilities into consideration. If a device can compress data so that it takes up half as much space as it normally would, that shifts the cost per gigabyte equation.


High-end NAS storage often features built-in encryption capabilities to protect data at rest. Other systems provide ransomware protection and additional security capabilities.

Operating System and Software

Some NAS appliances require the use of a particular operating system, while others allow the user to choose Windows, Linux, or other options—some vendors have developed their own storage operating systems. Using an OS that is familiar to your staff may help you keep costs low.

On the other hand, proprietary NAS operating systems may offer more flexibility and manageability. This is one area where trying before you buy can be helpful.

Warranty and Support

Some products come with a longer warranty than others, and some incorporate support into the total cost while others do not. Make sure the level of support offered meets your expectations.

Enterprise NAS Examples

Most leading storage vendors offer enterprise NAS systems, which means there are many NAS options from which to choose. Here’s a look at a few representative offerings from StorageCraft, Dell EMC, IBM, and NetApp—note that each system offers different capacity and performance options.

StorageCraft (Exablox) OneBlox 5210 This all-flash scale-out NAS works with both network file system and server message block (NFS/SMB) protocols and is optimized for virtual environments. Its scale out design can cope with anywhere from a few TB to hundreds of TB of raw flash, or many PBs of HDD storage. Data protection features include encryption.
Dell PowerScale F900 This high-capacity enterprise scale-out NAS includes built-in security. Designed for large, high performance workloads using non-volatile memory express (NVMe) and SSDs. It scales from 46-720 TB of raw capacity and includes 736 GB of ECC memory per node. It can be clustered up to 186 PB if desired. 
NetApp FAS9500 This device provides a mix of capacity and performance in a modular arrangement, offering a maximum raw capacity per HA pair of 14.7 PB. It combines scale out NAS with scale out SAN and can be clustered up to a raw capacity of 176 PB.
IBM Storage Scale Essentially IBM’s General Parallel File System (GPFS) with a new name, Spectrum Scale can scale out to over 16,000 nodes of unstructured data and is positioned to support compute clusters, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, and rapid backup and recovery.

Not All Enterprise NAS is Created Equal

A NAS system considered suitable for enterprise use may not be suitable for your organization—not all NAS is created equal. When researching enterprise NAS devices, understand these factors in your environment and how the systems you are considering will best fit with them.

Form factor

Know the space requirements of enterprise NAS, especially if you plan to scale it. An appliance can start out at 2U (rack units) and will need additional space if it scales to 4U. Distributed NAS clusters will need even more space.


Some enterprise NAS is manufactured with hybrid SSDs and HDDs, while many are all-flash. Understand the options around media performance, capacity, and cost. 


Most enterprise NAS systems come with RAID support. Higher-end systems will usually come with multiple choice RAID configuration options to suit performance, data protection, and capacity needs. RAID settings should automatically reconstruct themselves when you scale the NAS system. 

Automated Storage Tiering

NAS storage tiering refers to caching data for high-performance ingestion and/or automatically moving aging data to lower cost storage tiers. These tiers may be a nearline disk or tape library. Some enterprise NAS systems are fitted with a cloud gateway so the system can write aging data to cloud storage tiers.


Traditional NAS is not known for high performance, but the introduction of flash media and multi-core servers accelerates performance. Network speeds can also make or break NAS performance. When researching enterprise NAS, verify the number and type of available network adapter ports. Look for multiple ports and high-speed Fibre Channel (FC) or Ethernet support.


Enterprise NAS inherits network security including firewalls, anti-malware, Active Directory (AD) controlled credentials, and intrusion detection systems. Strongly consider encrypting data as well. Software encryption for SSDs and disk is available, but hardware encryption will be considerably faster. Look for NAS devices that come with native encryption for both HDDs and SSDs. Consider encryption with granular options that enable encryption on single files, folders, and  full volumes.

Enterprise NAS Usage Cases

Enterprise NAS usage is growing especially fast in environments that require high storage capacity and scalability. Typical environments include active archives, video surveillance, broadcast post-production, media asset management, video streaming, and medical archives. Here are some common examples:

  • Image serving. An auto marketing business offers cloud-based search and display services to auto dealers all over the world. Its dealer customers send millions of image files a day but streaming this massive amount of data to a cloud provider is time- and cost-prohibitive. The business runs a massively scaled enterprise NAS to store the images and uses cloud caching to point to the on-premises image files.
  • Raw data processing. A scientific research library ingests large amounts of raw data from scientific studies. It uses a high-performance/high-capacity enterprise NAS system to store the data in a single namespace. Researchers use the data to feed high-end analytics and research applications.
  • Business analytics. A business intelligence unit wants to analyze the last three years’ worth of key performance indicators (KPI) to produce an in-depth state-of-the-business report. In the past it could only do limited business intelligence, because data was stored in many different systems. With an enterprise NAS, KPI data is stored under a single namespace and available to analytics tools that specialize in unstructured data.

Bottom Line

NAS may not be the newest type of enterprise storage, but it has passed the test of time and continues to be a mainstay of enterprise storage environments. Over time, vendors have improved all aspects of their offerings, from performance and capacity to security. Enterprise NAS devices not only distinguish themselves over consumer devices by their specs, but over one another, competing for different corners of the enterprise market. Those considering NAS solutions should start with the application it will serve and weigh all the factors detailed in this guide.

Read Top 6 Network Attached Storage Security Trends to learn more about how enterprises are safeguarding their data kept in NAS solutions.

Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb is a contributing writer for Datamation, Enterprise Storage Forum, eSecurity Planet, Channel Insider, and eWeek. He has been reporting on all areas of IT for more than 25 years. He has a degree from the University of Strathclyde UK (USUK), and lives in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

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