Network-attached storage (NAS) is a file-level computer data storage server connected to a computer network providing data access to a heterogeneous group of clients. NAS is specialized for serving files either by its hardware, software, or configuration. It is often manufactured as a computer appliance – a purpose-built specialized computer.[nb 1] NAS systems are networked appliances which contain one or more storage drives, often arranged into logical, redundant storage containers or RAID.
Network-attached storage removes the responsibility of file serving from other servers on the network. They typically provide access to files using network file sharing protocols such as NFS, SMB/CIFS, or AFP. As of 2010, NAS devices began gaining popularity as a convenient method of sharing files among multiple computers. Potential benefits of dedicated network-attached storage, compared to general-purpose servers also serving files, include faster data access, easier administration, and simple configuration.
The hard disk drives with “NAS” in their name are functionally similar to other drives but may have different firmware, vibration tolerance, or power dissipation to make them more suitable for use in RAID arrays, which are sometimes used in NAS implementations. For example, some NAS versions of drives support a command extension to allow extended error recovery to be disabled. In a non-RAID application, it may be important for a disk drive to go to great lengths to successfully read a problematic storage block, even if it takes several seconds. In an appropriately configured RAID array, a single bad block on a single drive can be recovered completely via the redundancy encoded across the RAID set. If a drive spends several seconds executing extensive retries it might cause the RAID controller to flag the drive as “down” whereas if it simply replied promptly that the block of data had a checksum error, the RAID controller would use the redundant data on the other drives to correct the error and continue without any problem. Such a “NAS” SATA hard disk drive can be used as an internal PC hard drive, without any problems or adjustments needed, as it simply supports additional options and may possibly be built to a higher quality standard (particularly if accompanied by a higher quoted MTBF figure and higher price) than a regular consumer drive.
A NAS unit is a computer connected to a network that provides only file-based data storage services to other devices on the network. Although it may technically be possible to run other software on a NAS unit, it is usually not designed to be a general-purpose server. For example, NAS units usually do not have a keyboard or display, and are controlled and configured over the network, often using a browser.
A full-featured operating system is not needed on a NAS device, so often a stripped-down operating system is used. For example, FreeNAS or NAS4Free, both open source NAS solutions designed for commodity PC hardware, are implemented as a stripped-down version of FreeBSD.
NAS systems contain one or more hard disk drives, often arranged into logical, redundant storage containers or RAID.
NAS uses file-based protocols such as NFS (popular on UNIX systems), SMB/CIFS (Server Message Block/Common Internet File System) (used with MS Windows systems), AFP (used with Apple Macintosh computers), or NCP (used with OES and Novell NetWare). NAS units rarely limit clients to a single protocol.
Open-source server implementations
Open-source NAS-oriented distributions of Linux and FreeBSD are available, including FreeNAS, NAS4Free, CryptoNAS, NASLite, Gluster, Openfiler, OpenMediaVault, EasyNAS, Rockstor and the Debian-based TurnKey File Server. These are designed to be easy to set up on commodity PC hardware, and are typically configured using a web browser.
They can run from a virtual machine, Live CD, bootable USB flash drive (Live USB), or from one of the mounted hard drives. They run Samba (an SMB daemon), NFS daemon, and FTP daemons which are freely available for those operating systems.
NexentaStor, built on the Nexenta Core Platform, is similar in that it is built on open source foundations; however, NexentaStor requires more memory than consumer-oriented open source NAS solutions and also contains most of the features of enterprise class NAS solutions, such as snapshots, management utilities, tiering services, mirroring, and end-to-end checksumming due, in part, to the use of ZFS.