The amount of data that businesses produce continues to grow at an almost exponential rate. IBM estimates that 2.5 quintillion (that's one with 18 noughts after it or one billion, billion) bytes of data are created every day. So it's not surprise that storing masses of information is now a top priority within businesses, especially as the data that businesses collect can be their most precious asset.

Data storage has also rapidly developed to the point where your business has a number of choices with how it approaches its data storage needs. One clear avenue to follow is to use NAS or Network Attached Storage, as these platforms can offer a highly flexible system that can grow with your business, as it expands its data storage needs.

Not all businesses will benefit from NAS storage, so it's vital to assess your enterprises needs before making an investment. The key questions you should ask include:

  • How much data does your business need to store now and how much will this likely expand to over the next two years? - It's more cost effective to build into your NAS system a level of expandability, as adding more NAS storage after a short time can lead to data management issues. A good rule of thumb is to build into your initial NAS set up about 20 per cent of additional capacity. It may also be worth investing in a NAS system that is clusterable, which means more NAS drives can be added to ease the data workload on the entire system.
  • How your business' existing IT systems approach its data storage is the next question. How your business currently stores its data may or may not be NAS compatible. It's vital to match your existing data storage system to the right NAS, as not all storage systems support all NAS devices.
  • The network your business uses is the next component of your proposed NAS system to consider. Your existing LAN (Local Area Network) will have to handle substantially more data when a NAS is attached. How much additional bandwidth your business needs depends on how close it currently is to the maximum capacity of the network. Typically a gigabit Ethernet network will be needed to support NAS storage.
  • Data backups are of course vital to have in place. Most NAS drives will have automatic data backup built in, but check that these can be scheduled and support the data backup regime your business wants to use such as backups to additional drives, or to a cloud based service.

Moving to a NAS based data storage system should be approached methodically, as a number of components need to work together. Balancing the storage capacity your business needs now and in the near future with the bandwidth of your company's network is important to gain the most efficiency from a NAS system.

InfoWorld advises: "An up-to-date NAS system should efficiently handle all the different types of data that are essential to your business; it should optimise storage across your critical applications, databases and servers, compressing files and deduplicating data; it should be easy to use and manage; and it should grow with your company. A NAS system with these characteristics will perform faster, more economically, more reliably and with sufficient capacity for a long period of time."

NAS and the cloud

No discussion of data storage would be complete without considering the implication of the cloud. Most businesses understand NAS storage as physical devices that are attached to the networks in their offices. However, as the cloud has gained in acceptance, NAS storage has become the latest to use SaaS or Storage as a Service where the NAS storage is a remote device your business accesses over the Internet.

Cloud based NAS storage offers the following advantages:

  • As the cloud NAS is remote from your business, it can be infinitely expanded by your data storage service provider.
  • The data that is stored on the cloud-based NAS can be access from any device that has an Internet connection.
  • Data backups can be instantaneous, as a cloud-based backup service can also be used for maximum efficiency.
  • Security in the cloud has been a concern, but as the services on offer include data encryption, using a cloud-based NAS is just as secure as having the NAS drive in your office.

There is one clear issue with cloud-based NAS systems that is the speed of the Internet connection being used. For a cloud NAS to operate efficiently, bandwidth must be available that can handle the movement of what can be large amounts of data to and from your business' computers.

Ease of use via an interface that can be accessed by all users will make data management efficient. And when considering the cloud, look closely at how a hybrid NAS system could work for your business, as often, some data storage will always need localised storage, with other data sets lending themselves to cloud-based services.

Clearly for businesses moving their data storage from locally attached storage devices to centralised services that uses a high speed Ethernet network is the way forward with data storage. Planning is critical to ensure the right NAS platform is purchased and not only fulfils your business' current needs, but its needs into the near future.