Although many enterprises are working hard to virtualize and replace their legacy network hardware, a large number of companies still rely on their on-premises tools, particularly in the realm of data storage and file management. Network attached storage (NAS) is one type of on-premises storage that many companies invest in because of its ease of use and implementation. According to a study by Mordor Intelligence, the NAS market is expected to grow from a $21.55 billion value in 2020 to $62.77 billion by 2026.
But NAS hardware would be nothing without its operating system, the NAS software that makes data storage and file sharing possible. Whether you’ve already subscribed to the NAS model and are looking for a new software solution or you’re looking for an easy way to scale your storage capabilities on-premises, read on to learn about some of the top NAS software companies and solutions on the market today.
Top Solutions for Network Attached Storage
- What is NAS?
- What is NAS Software?
- Enterprise Benefits of NAS Software
- Important NAS Software Features
- Top Vendors and Solutions for NAS Software
- Who Needs NAS Software?
NAS, also known as network attached storage, is on-premises data storage hardware. Although it can and is often used for personal and home network setups, NAS plays a big role in on-premises data management for enterprise networks as well. In partnership with NAS software and other data storage locations on the network, NAS hardware acts as a source for data retrieval and file sharing within the data center. Because of its specialized focus on data management and sharing, NAS is often compared to a specialized file server, or a server that focuses on the single task of file sharing while bypassing other server responsibilities.
NAS software is the operational software embedded in NAS hardware, enabling actions like file and data sharing on the network from that central point. It handles network requests for two primary functions: data storage and data sharing. Clients on the network are able to access and make requests of NAS via data transfer protocols, but from the user perspective, anyone on a client device can seamlessly access NAS data resources.
NAS vs. SAN
NAS offers similar functionalities to the storage area network (SAN), one of the most commonly used types of network storage for business-critical applications. Both NAS and SAN are types of centralized storage management that focus solely on sharing data with hosts and clients on the network. However, NAS is based only on an ethernet connection, while SAN relies on ethernet and fibre connectivity to improve latency times. SAN better fits organizations that require higher performance and low latency for their data management needs, but NAS is typically more affordable, and easier to set up and manage in the long run.
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NAS offers many key advantages to enterprise networks, especially those that want scalable storage with a low learning curve:
Added data security
NAS typically includes built-in security features, adding an additional layer of security for your data. Some important security and disaster recovery features offered by NAS include data snapshots and backups, encryption, and data replication.
Unlike many other storage setups, NAS allows users to tack on storage solutions without needing to change their network architecture for installation and setup. The overall design and functionality of a NAS system are simple and focused on data movement, so even if problems arise over time, it’s easier to pinpoint and resolve the issue because of its simple structure.
With a number of free and open source solutions on the market, NAS is one of the most affordable solutions for enterprise-level storage management. Although some organizations may want or need the add-ons that come with paid NAS solutions, most NAS products accrue little to no additional cost after initial setup.
Scalability and accessibility
The structure of NAS storage makes it work a lot like a private cloud, though solely focused on data management and sharing. The cloud-like setup makes NAS incredibly flexible and scalable, allowing users to share data, collaborate on projects, and maintain remote access to data from that central location.
More on Network Security: Best Network Security Software & Tools
NAS software typically only offers a few simple functionalities as it relates to data storage, retrieval, and management. However, some other security and data quality features are typically included by default:
- Data snapshots take digital pictures of your data at a certain point in time, ensuring that if your systems experience a data breach or other types of data loss, a previous version is available for retrieval.
- Data backups are more robust versions of data snapshots, not only taking an image of the data at a certain point, but backing up all relevant versions and historical instances of that data.
- Data replication makes it possible to pull data snapshots and backups into use if the source data goes offline for any reason. With data replication, the NAS can create a copy based on what the snapshot data illustrates.
- Automated tiering is often included in NAS setups, allowing overflow data or data of different priority levels to be shifted to the cloud, edge, and other storage environments.
- RAID controllers are the hardware or software programs used to manage drives within NAS so that they all work as a unit.
More on Snapshots, Backups, and Replication: Data Storage Backups vs. Snapshots and Replication
TrueNAS CORE, previously known as FreeNAS, is one of the longest-standing and most popular free, open source NAS solutions available for enterprise users, with several million downloads since it started in 2005. This NAS solution goes beyond the basics that many other tools offer, including its OpenZFS file system, the choice between thick and thin provisioning, and other highly customizable features that are best handled by an experienced sysadmin or power user. Since it is the most popular solution on the market, TrueNAS also offers several partnerships and integrations with cloud storage providers, media servers, and automation servers, making it a strong holistic solution for users who are already experienced with storage design and management.
- Self-healing OpenZFS File System for data safeguarding
- Built-in RAID protection and volume manager
- Unlimited snapshots and clones
- Data compression, thick provisioning, and thin provisioning
- LDAP & Active Directory integrations available
Top Pro: TrueNAS offers virtualization, as well as flexible operations and permissions, through its Jails feature.
Top Con: Some users have experienced bugs with the beta version of the latest TrueNAS CORE version.
Many users recognize NetApp for their data management solutions on the cloud, but their scale-out NAS powered by the ONTAP ecosystem provides an on-premises data storage connection that is ideal for hybrid cloud and multicloud users in particular. Because of its strong cloud foundation, NetApp’s NAS solution is one of the strongest contenders on this list for AIOps and other automated office operations that require strong data management.
- Public cloud, data center, and edge access to data with integrated caching capabilities
- Automatic tiering for cold data to public or private cloud locations
- AIOps automation of proactive care for NetApp environments
- Volume and in-transit levels of encryption, secure file purging
- Capacity and predictable low latency for high-metadata workloads
Top Pro: NetApp offers several native security and data protection features, and many integrations that round out their data security offerings.
Top Con: Upgrades and jobs processing are sometimes disruptive to other network functionality.
XigmaNAS is an open source, BSD-based NAS solution that prides itself on providing users with updates and improvements over time, not just at the time of deployment. The XigmaNAS team focuses on providing regular upgrades and updates based on community feedback, which means that bug fixes, new features, and component upgrades are a part of their regular scope of work. Perhaps even more significantly, XigmaNAS’s open source setup and their developer team have created the software to be highly compatible with most protocols, portable hardware, and other operating systems on the market.
- Sharing available across Windows, Apple, and UNIX-like systems
- Can be installed on compact flash or hard disk, or booted from a live location for configuration storage
- Open Source Storage NAS distribution based on FreeBSD
- Disk encryption, email reporting, and RAID features
- Operational on CIFS/SMB (Samba), Active Directory Domain Controller (Samba), FTP, NFS, TFTP, AFP, RSYNC, Unison, iSCSI (initiator and target), HAST, CARP, Bridge, UPnP, and BitTorrent protocols
Top Pro: Users complement the software’s compatibility with a wide variety of USB drives and other portable hardware.
Top Con: The latest version of XigmaNAS takes an extended period of time to become available for some computer systems as they’re released, such as Raspberry Pi 4.
Hitachi’s NAS platform provides many of the same core features as other NAS solutions on this list, but many of its additional features are designed to aid in virtualization and cloud migration projects. Some of the key differentiators in Hitachi’s product include cluster rolling upgrades, EVS failover offerings, advanced cloud integration, intelligent tiering, policy-based data migration. With their blend of cloud and on-premises focus, Hitachi and their NAS platform offer a great solution for organizations that are only dipping their toes into the cloud or who are committed to maintaining key applications and data on-premises for the long run.
- Support for global-active device metro clustering
- Automated deduplication with high user visibility
- Synchronous disaster recovery feature
- Unified point of data access via Namespace
- Policy-driven migration tools for cloud migrations
Top Pro: Migration and deployment are simplified via Hitachi’s cluster rolling upgrades and EVS failover offerings.
Top Con: Some users find the user interface and overall layout of the platform to be somewhat dated.
Rockstor is an open source NAS solution that works with both Linux and BTRFS, also offering the flexibility to power a combination of NAS and cloud storage sources. This open source project is one of the most UX/UI-centered NAS solutions on the market, offering a helpful web UI for open source development. Users are able to resize volumes, schedule snapshots and scrubs, replicate shares, and conduct other data management operations from the central web UI. Although some users feel that the BTRFS and Linux focus might make it challenging for first-time users and non-developers to work with this NAS product, Rockstor provides several resources as a guide, such as their Wiki, issue tracker, and online forum.
- Linux BTRFS NAS software appliance
- Maintenance performed by Rockstor Web-UI
- Support for NFS, Samba, AFP, and SFTP protocols by default
- Open source software with community-driven support and development
- CentOS 7 or openSUSE development available
Top Pro: This solution offers a large library of plugins or “Rock-ons” that can be containerized via Docker.
Top Con: Rockstor is run on the BTRFS file system, which is newer and less tested than most other file system options.
Synology’s DiskStation Manager is a modular NAS solution that focuses most heavily on data protection and security. They offer their security features and other applications through Synology packages, allowing for a lightweight structure in which users can granularly manage everything from multimedia to virtualization to user management. Synology also provides a wide array of self-service solutions on its website, providing users with selector and calculator tools, an online community and beta programs, and a knowledge center.
- Centralized platform for file and multimedia management
- Private collaborative workspace tools available for teams
- Virtualization with the direct deployment of VMs and containers
- Centralized monitoring and configuration
- Directory services for user management
Top Pro: Synology provides a wide variety of security features, such as granular permissions and multifactor authentication (MFA).
Top Con: Remote access, especially mobile access, is considered somewhat difficult.
OpenMediaVault is an open source, Linux-based NAS solution that is most frequently used in home office and small office settings. However, enterprises can scale the project to meet their needs through third-party plugins integrated into the base system and the OMV-Extras repository. Like many other NAS solutions, OpenMediaVault offers file sharing, storage monitoring, and disk management to users, though it offers bare-bones versions of these features to make it easier to set up and use at home. Although its features may be limited, OpenMediaVault’s open source flexibility and Debian-based setup with documentation make it simple for users of varying experiences to manage this solution.
- Offers services like SSH, (S)FTP, SMB/CIFS, DAAP media server, RSync, and BitTorrent client
- Modular framework with plugin availability
- Debian package management for system updates
- Email notifications and file sharing
- Link aggregation available
Top Pro: The OpenMediaVault project offers a strong support community with extensive documentation.
Top Con: Because OpenMediaVault focuses on small and home office use cases, it falls behind other NAS solutions in user interface updates and file sharing options.
Data storage is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Every enterprise network requires storage support for different use cases based on different budgets and varying levels of internal expertise. NAS storage may not work well for organizations that require ultra-low latency and quick results when retrieving or sharing data. However, it is a competitive solution in the following scenarios:
- An enterprise is looking for data storage that is easy to configure and set up. A “set-it-and-forget-it” approach is their ideal form of network storage.
- An enterprise wants the remote access and flexible benefits of the cloud, but they’re not ready to commit to a public or private cloud migration yet.
- An enterprise wants to avoid third-party management and ongoing fees when it comes to storage management. They want something that they can manage for themselves at little to no cost.
Network attached storage is a viable solution for many corporate networks, especially when used in combination with other storage strategies for more time-sensitive data processing needs. When researching the ideal NAS solution for your organization, be sure to talk to potential vendors about how you can optimize NAS and connect it to other core applications for optimized data management and access.