What is Scale Out Storage: A Comprehensive Guide

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Scale out storage is an architectural term used for the expansion of network attached storage (NAS)—every time you add a physical NAS device to the network, you are “scaling out” storage capacity. It’s important to distinguish between incrementing cloud storage and incrementing physical storage on your own network. Scale out storage specifically refers to the latter.

Why choose to add physical storage devices rather than adding more cloud storage? Scaling out internal networks gives enterprises more direct management and control over their data, storage, privacy, and security. It also might be advantageous to position a physical storage device near the edge of an enterprise—for example, in a remote manufacturing plant or sales office.

This article explains how scale out storage works and explores the benefits for organizations that implement it as an approach to data storage.

How Does Scale Out Storage Work?

Each NAS device added to the network contains an array of drives controlled by resident software. The NAS device becomes a node that communicates directly with the network, which means it can be remotely managed by IT and readily accessed by authorized end users located anywhere.

Individual disks within a NAS device can be configured to store synchronously written redundant data, making failovers easy to perform in the event that one of the disks fails, minimizing system downtime.

Scale out NAS storage can be used for all types of data, including block-, file-, or object-based. NAS devices can contain either hard disk drives (HDDs) or solid state drives (SSDs) and can store up to petabytes of data. 

Benefits of Scale Out Storage

Enterprises used to rely on large internal storage arrays contained in a single box. These often provided far more storage than needed, and as a result, many companies were overpaying for storage. Scale out NAS devices helped eliminate this problem—NAS makes it possible to incrementally add more storage to an internal network as needed.

Scale out network attached storage also helps organizations with governance. For example, an enterprise might keep proprietary corporate data it doesn’t want stored on a public cloud on scaled out NAS instead to keep it from being compromised or stolen. All sensitive data stays within business walls.

Internet of Things (IoT) and other edge-based devices can send data directly to local network attached storage located nearby, where the data is being generated, reducing data communications costs for cloud storage and allowing the data to be centrally managed.

What is the Importance of Scale Out NAS Storage?

More and more organizations are choosing scale out NAS over other storage options as it is relatively affordable, scalable, and offers more localized control. Here are eight other factors driving the increased popularity of the solution.

  • Edge computing—More IT is moving to the edges thanks to robotics and IoT in manufacturing, an increase in IoT-centered field operations, and more remote offices and employees; these run more efficiently with localized storage and no need to transport data in real time to the central data center or the cloud.
  • Reduced latency—Scale out NAS devices located near the centers of enterprise data activity can reduce the amount of latency encountered when data is routed over to the data center or to clouds. 
  • Communications costs—Localizing data storage at enterprise edges and systematically planning when that data will be sent to a central data center or cloud can save on communications costs. Data uploads can be done at non-peak data transport times—or may not need to be done at all.
  • Scalability—Each individual NAS device can store a range of data from several terabytes up to multiple petabytes, letting enterprises scale to their needs.
  • Security, privacy, and IP—By creating a private cloud with scale out NAS, companies maintain direct control over the security, governance, and privacy of their data and proprietary intellectual property (IP).
  • Unified management—NAS boxes are highly interoperable and can be managed as a collective, monolithic storage group by a central network administrator who can monitor and execute all NAS activity through a single pane of glass.
  • Automatic backups—As part of an enterprise failover strategy, scale out NAS can be configured for automatic backups and failover if there is a system or data problem, enabling corporate systems to run seamlessly without service interruptions.
  • Easy setup—NAS devices are easily configured through a web interface.

Scale Out vs. Scale Up Storage

Scale out storage expands storage horizontally across many different network attached storage devices, or nodes, distributed along an internal enterprise network. In contrast, scale up storage expands storage capacity vertically by adding more HDDs or SSDs to a single storage appliance. Most companies use a combination of both scale out and scale up storage.

Learn more about Scale Out vs. Scale Up Storage.

Bottom Line

Scale out network attached storage is growing in popularity as a network storage deployment option for several reasons. As companies introduce more IoT and expand remote operations, it doesn’t always make sense to support real time communications to central data centers or clouds given the storage and processing-intensive needs of remote operations centers—or the expense of real-time data communications.

By deploying scale out storage at internal locations, companies can also better safeguard their data, systems, and intellectual property. Finally, scale out NAS storage is easy to install and maintain, and it is cost effective, which means it’s likely to continue playing a major role in enterprise network deployments in the foreseeable future.

Read 5 Types of Enterprise Data Storage to learn more about the different ways businesses store and manage their data.

Mary Shacklett
Mary Shacklett
Mary E. Shacklett is a contributing writer to Enterprise Storage Forum and Datamation. She's also president of Transworld Data, and as an IT consultant and analyst has covered every aspect of IT with more than 1,000 published articles. She has a B.S. degree in Comparative Literature and Education from the University of Wisconsin, an M.A. degree in American Studies from the University of Southern California, and a JD degree from William Howard Taft University in Orange County, CA. In her spare time, Mary writes fiction, plays jazz, and manages a 75-acre forest.

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