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NAS vs. Server for small workgroup

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September 21, 2011 4:25:15 PM

Hi,
I am trying to get some definitive performance information on the NAS vs Server discussion as it relates to small workgroups.
The target workgroup is 5-10 computers with close to about 250GB or less of data primarily being documents and databases with a few multimedia files like pictures and short clips of lectures and speeches etc.

With an ~$1000.00 budget the primary requirements are speedy File Sharing, Backups, Access control and remote access. There is also a sub requirement of having the potential to expand and grow if needed...in both resources and capabilities.

Based on these requirements, my solution was to acquire a new\refurbished Dell PowerEdge T110 or T110-II and install Windows Home Server 2011 on it. This solution to me addresses all the requirements. I can add WD Black drives for additional storage and utilize the built in RAID capabilities for disaster recover (Thinking RAID 1).
WHS 2011 seems like it will work well to address all the requirements and runs on the T110 without any problems.

With some of the newer NAS devices available today I realize most the requirements can fulfilled. MY D-Link NAS device is servicing about 5-7 to systems quite well, however most of those systems are not accessing the NAS as frequently as systems would in the workgroup environment described above.

Given all this information I and trying to decide between a stand-alone NAS device or the Server solution. ?????

In the limited searching I have done I haven't found a clear performance distinction in the Server vs. NAS debate.

Does TOMs have some sort of "NAS vs. Server" article or review or performance chart??

If the NAS device is the better option then which device should I be looking at that outperforms a Dell T110 I or II running WHS 2011 with 8+GB of RAM and drive in a RAID 1 configuration???

Thanks for advice, recommendations and any hard numbers.
October 4, 2011 10:40:25 PM

I've just recently encountered the same exact dilemma and decided to go the WHS 2011 route for a small local non-profit. Having just gone through it, there are some things to keep in mind that you wouldn't necessarily know going into it. In that way, maybe I can help you make a decision in a roundabout way. I'm not aware of any direct comparison of NAS vs. WHS, and that would certainly be helpful if anyone else knows of one, but when it comes right down to it, depends on your current and future needs. Some things to be aware of...

About Windows Home Server 2011
1. Does not use Drive Extender (as in previous WHS), and is not RAID compatible. It uses it's own system for expanding and backing up data. Does not require identical disks for mirroring.
2. It will take you longer than you think to set it up. You would be wise to buy/borrow a "How To" book, like WHS for Dummies. But it might make it sound easier than it really is.
3. Uses it's own connection software downloaded from the server to the client compter, that sometimes works, and sometimes doesn't. This will result in a bit of time wasted monkeying around with it, and maybe a little hair loss.
4. Will not allow you to rename your server once you have it set up, so make sure you pick the right one the first time or you will need to reinstall. (I had to do this)
5. Designed for home media and file sharing. Period. WHS 2011 is built on Windows Server 2008, but don't expect the same capabilities. You might want to consider Windows Small Business Server if you think you might want more business-class features, like messaging integration. There are a few developers out there that have built add-ins, but most of them at this point are for the older version of WHS, not 2011. There are people who have installed SharePoint on WHS, but I personally have not tried it. Definately not supported by Microsoft.
6. Only consider this solution if you have primarily Windows computers. It claims it will work with Macs, and some have had success. But I wouldn't count on it for older (pre-Intel) Macs or Linux machines.
7. Don't fool yourself into thinking this is the cheap way to go. Yes, the software is only $100, but you could easily put $500 or more into beefing up your old machine to become a dependable server. (Hint: buy new hard drives and swap-out bays).
8. If you want remote access, you will be in for some more hair pulling. I am still trying to get remote access working at my installation -- currently dealing with router conflicts. You will become intimate with your router settings.

About Network Attached Storage Devices
1. Not all NAS devices are created equal. Some are dumb storage, while some have media servers and bakcup services built into them. Pay close attention to detailed specs (will it really do what you want it to), and read user reviews.
2. Buy from a 30-day money-back vendor. You may find yourself trying and returning one or two before you find one that actually does what you need it to. Some of them say they do something (like remote access), but don't really (Gasp!), or not without a separate subscription.
3. You cannont install 3rd party apps or run a database from NAS devices. Forget about running Quickbooks or multiple sessions -- it cannot handle syncronizing files. If you want to use it for something like that, you will have to find a workaround with an application running on one of your attached computers. And prepare yourself for some headaches and a lot of forum reading.
4. Make sure you can back up or mirror the NAS. Can you use an off-site service, like KeepVault, and/or a second/external drive without too much runaround? I usually recommend both local and offsite backup.

That's the closest I can come to a direct comparison right now. I have to say that if I had it to do over again, I would probably steer toward the NAS solution. But then it seems hit-and-miss whether you get a good one or not. Sometimes it's worth the hassle to have more control over your data, as you do with a server. There are other server options, like Linux Ubuntu, with a lot more options/services, but a steeper learning curve. Remember to consider the value of your time when comparing prices.

Good Luck! :hello: 
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