File storage capabilities
In terms of file-storage capabilities, you may expect the prominent NAS brands all to support major file-transfer protocols such as CIFS, NFS, AFP (Mac OS) and even FTP. More advanced NAS will also support iSCSI for block-level storage over the local area network. The ability to perform thin provisioning is a related capability that facilitates the creation of volumes larger than the available physical space, and is of use when deploying a block-level storage volume. Finally, if a NAS can communicate with an uninterruptible power supply, it can significantly reduce the risk of disk corruption by facilitating a safe shutdown in the event of an extended power outage.
Non-core NAS capabilities
To stand out in this highly competitive field, NAS makers have started incorporating a litany of non-core capabilities into their storage appliances. These range from basic features such as the ability to send out an email notification upon certain system events to higher-end capabilities such as native Time Machine support.
Other common non-core capabilities include network services not related to storage, such as support for a print server, NTP server and Syslog server. Some vendors even offer mobile apps for the remote monitoring of the NAS from a smartphone or tablet, which may include the ability to tweak certain simple parameters. While these kinds of additional features are always good to have, be careful not to let them distract from the key criteria necessary for your SMB.
Security and user management
Some higher-end NAS models may incorporate the capability to encrypt hard disk drive data. Encryption is a definite plus, especially if the systems are to be deployed in locations such as branch offices where it is difficult or impossible to secure the NAS. It is important to note, however, that unless a NAS incorporates dedicated encryption hardware, enabling encryption invariably has a huge negative impact on the write performance of the NAS. Moreover, the use of encryption may also slow down the time required to rebuild a failed HDD.
User management, which pertains to the ease in which user accounts are managed, and usually extends to the creation of groups, is a feature closely related to security. Mid-sized businesses will probably require support for Active Directory or LDAP, while SOHOs and small businesses may be satisfied with more rudimentary controls. Because clunky or buggy user management tools can be a deal breaker for large organizations, it may be prudent to request an evaluation unit in such scenarios. In the process, be sure to check for the maximum number of user accounts or shared folders that are supported and verify that they are adequate to meet the needs of your SMB.
Data backup and synchronization
To address the need for backups, some NAS products may come with the capability to perform a data backup onto an external storage medium or over the network. The most basic approach is through an external storage drive connected via USB or eSATA. For organizations that generate low volumes of highly critical data, batch jobs can be used make regular backups of these data as a safeguard against accidental deletion orÂif a ruggedized hard disk drive such as the ioSafe SoloPRO External is usedÂfrom a localized disaster such as a fire or a flood.