As more and more documents were created digitally using Personal Computers, and employees needed way to share the digital documents between them, different approaches started to appear in serving that need: file server and Network-Attached Storage (NAS). In essence, the main difference is:

  • file server is multi-purpose computer hardware designated for sharing files
  • NAS is single-purpose computer hardware which can only be used for sharing files

So, how do these 2 technologies compare? The following table summarises the comparison of the 2 technologies, especially on the high-end side. For low-end side, the comparison will tilt more favorably toward file server than the following

Aspects File server NAS
Initial configuration RIS+wizard None
Remote management Remote desktop Web-based
Vulnerability to malicious acts
Security compliant with centralised setting
Space quota
Folder/file security delegation
Centralised access address
Search document content Indexing Service Enterprise search
View older version of documents VSC Snap shots
Off-line access in branch offices FRS Replication
Off-line access at home
Server role change
Replace defective disc while operating
Recovery after non-disc hardware failure Restore to new H/W Restore to new H/W
Initial investment $ $$

Initial configuration

Here, NAS shines, because it is ready for sharing files as soon as it is taken out of its box. Good system administrators should be able to minimise the time needed to set up server according to standardised base-line configuration by using Remote Installation Service (RIS). After that running the server role wizard should get the file server ready to start sharing files

Remote management

The web-based administration screen of NAS can be used to manage the unit remotely over slower connection speed or even from mobile devices. Remote desktop management of file server requires faster connection speed

Vulnerability to malicious acts

Since the Operating System of NAS is written to flash memory, it is harder to modify than in the case of file server where its Operating System is written to hard discs

Search document content

Newer file servers like Microsoft Windows Server provides the ability to not only search by document name, but also search by document content. NAS don’t provide this. However, it’s possible to add this capability to sites using NAS via additional software called enterprise search

Off-line access at home

Off line access at home
Sometimes it might be necessary to take some work home. Photo by len-k-a

From time to time, there will be company documents whose access need to be limited to  only one person, for example when it is still in draft stage. In this stage, it can be useful if that person can take the document on his mobile computer home, modify it at home, and have the changes automatically synchronised to the central storage when he comes to work the next day. Newer file servers like Microsoft Windows Server can provide such feature

Server role change

As business evolve and needs change, technological upgrade needs to be performed regularly every few years, including in the company data center. When such server consolidation activity is performed, a file server hardware can be redesignated to do other simpler tasks because its role is being taken over by better hardware. NAS, on the other hand, can only serve the same purpose for its life time, with increasingly outdated capabilities.

Initial investment

Make no mistake. To get the same service level from file server and NAS, you’ll end up spending more for NAS. That’s why good NAS comes with top-of-the-line CPU and customised UNIX Operating System. Please don’t compare a brand-new entry-level file server and brand-new entry-level NAS that comes with CPU designed for mobile devices tasked with doing all software RAID 5 calculation. In such case, the price difference will translate to performance difference

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