If you agree that the proliferation of rich media and other bandwidth hogs isn’t making the IT department’s job any easier, then engineer Jim Lange of WFTS-TV has news for you: network-attached storage (NAS)  can help.
Until recently, reporters at the ABC affiliate station in Tampa, Fla., were storing data on videotape — a usually reliable but often cumbersome storage medium. As part of its move to high-definition video, WFTS implemented a Western Digital ShareSpace NAS  in December 2009.
One of Lange’s key requirements when planning the transition was having a single mount point for the entire organization. “We wanted to reduce the number of drive letters,” he explains, “and solve our users’ problem of not knowing which drives contained what data.”
Today, the station uses a virtualized NAS system indexed by Final Cut Server , Apple’s video production workflow and editing tool. The primary benefit of the arrangement, Lange says, is that users don’t need to know which NAS appliance is hosting the file they want to access; producers and reporters can quickly search and retrieve video without worrying about its physical location.
To date, WFTS-TV has used about a third of its NAS system’s 6-terabyte capacity, and Lange figures he’ll need to invest in another system in a year or so. Even with the purchases, he’ll still be saving the station money over the long term because he no longer has to buy consumables or file servers to store data.
For Lange, the benefits of NAS are simple: simple network, simple deployment and simple management.
“Our first NAS system was easy to deploy, and so was our second,” he says. “When that gets filled, we can add and easily manage another NAS box.” What’s more, his colleagues love that they can search the station’s archives “using keywords or the date of the original program,” Lange continues. “NAS is, quite simply, fantastic.”
Lange isn’t the only one who thinks so. Mike Warot, manager of information systems for brand marketing agency Live Marketing in Chicago, considers NAS a critical building block in his company’s shift to a virtualized environment .
“As we move from direct-attached storage to NAS and VMware , we’re looking forward to being able to service hardware without having to schedule outages,” Warot says. “What I like most is being able to shift virtual machines from one physical server to another without interruption.”
Enterprise data is growing at a compound annual rate of almost 60%.
SOURCE: EMC, IDC
Warot’s plan includes a pair of NAS appliances, each of which will host the virtual server instances that are executed on the VMware servers. This will allow shifting of instances, should the underlying NAS need service. He’s also using solid-state drives to dramatically improve performance.
For Warot and the 40 people who depend on him for technical advice and support, NAS’ minor operating system imprint simplifies access from myriad devices. “Desktop? What’s a desktop?” he jokes, referring to the agency’s notebook computers, desktops, BlackBerrys , iPhones and iPads .
“For those of us in IT, it’s not about supporting a standard desktop profile anymore,” he continues. “It’s about making access to information relatively agnostic, but secure across all of these platforms. NAS virtualization adds a layer of access [that’s] critical for getting things done.”
Many NAS users are so enthusiastic about the technology that they have trouble identifying drawbacks. Warot acknowledges that businesses must have the hardware and operating system to support NAS, but he believes “it’s probably worth the equipment upgrade to accommodate it.”
For Shane Jenkins, senior manager for SAN operations at TransUnion, the decision to reduce the Chicago-based credit bureau’s reliance on physical servers in favor of EMC  NAS server shares hinged on making a simple equipment upgrade to reduce operational costs.
“Aside from some minor internal network configuration changes and security updates, we migrated the existing shares through the server admin to the new NAS-provided shares, and we did a pretty clean cutover after that,” Jenkins explains.
NAS devices can accommodate terabytes of data rather easily and inexpensively. Yet, as storage requirements and the number of NAS devices grow, effective management requires some critical thinking about scalability, cost and utilization.
Randy Kerns, chief technology officer for ProStor Systems, a maker of storage solutions in Boulder, Colo., encourages small businesses to evaluate NAS solutions based on capacity, performance, management and integration. He suggests prospective buyers look closely at whether the storage solution will scale to meet capacity demands today or if significant capital investments will be needed to reach the next level.
What type of storage is used most within your company?
35% Direct-attached storage
31% Storage area network
3% Hosted storage
SOURCE: CDW poll of 395 BizTech readers
“Take a look at performance, connectivity and whether or not it works with Network File System and Common Internet File System protocols,” Kerns advises. He also suggests asking the following questions: “Does it have enough I/Os per second to meet requirements? Do I need a fault-tolerant solution? Does it provide failover? Do I need remote replication capability so I can replicate to another site for disaster recovery purposes?”
Ray Lucchesi, president of Broomfield, Colo.’s Silverton Consulting, believes more and more businesses will turn to NAS as their storage needs grow because it’s so easy to deploy and manage. (For more benefits, read “Scale of Five” below. )
Still, Lucchesi says IT managers should exercise caution before committing to anything. NAS costs more than direct-attached storage, after all. Plus, managing the technology intelligently demands careful planning, and advanced features require sophisticated networking skills.
Lucchesi believes the pros of NAS ultimately outweigh the cons. “Honestly, it’s hard for me to see why a small- or medium-size business wouldn’t choose NAS over a SAN,” he says. “Given its capabilities, NAS is a great storage solution for these types of businesses.”