Network-Attached Storage (NAS) allows access to storage drives via a network. While some organizations treat NAS as a form of data backup, in reality, this is not what it is intended for.
To ensure your data is protected, and that you can restore it in case of a disaster, it is important to have an adequate backup strategy alongside your NAS system. In the following, we cover the basics of NAS, including the different types of NAS devices, and how it compares to the cloud. We then explain why you need a dedicated backup solution to complement your NAS, and describe the different approaches to achieving it.
In this article:
- What is NAS?
- What is NAS with cloud backup
- The need for NAS backup solutions
- NAS backup approaches
- Securing your NAS backup
- Data management with Cloudian
This is part of a series of articles about Data Backup.
What Is NAS?
Network-Attached Storage (NAS) is a dedicated file storage system containing one or more storage drives that enable multiple users to collaborate and share data. This shared storage is accessed by users on a Local Area Network (LAN) via an Ethernet connection. NAS is designed primarily for handling unstructured data, such as audio, video, websites, text files, and Microsoft Office documents.
NAS Device Categories
There are three categories of NAS devices, based on drive capacity, drive support and scalability. Each category is suitable for different business sizes:
- Enterprise NAS: This is the high-end category. It is designed for enterprises that need to store large quantities of file data. Enterprise NAS provides rapid access and NAS clustering capabilities.
- Midmarket NAS: The NAS midmarket category is suitable for businesses that require several hundred terabytes (TB) of data. Midmarket NAS devices cannot be clustered.
- Desktop NAS: The low-end NAS device is for small businesses and home users that require local shared storage. This market is shifting toward a cloud NAS model.
What Is NAS with Cloud Backup?
NAS file storage can be backed up by cloud-based file storage or replaced entirely by cloud storage. There are three main factors to consider when you have to choose between them. These factors are cost, security and storage limitations:
- Cost: The cost of a NAS for small business varies, from about $500 to $1000 and more, depending on the features and storage space your business needs. When more storage is needed, you’ll have to pay for additional hard drives. On the other hand, cloud file storage solutions are based on a monthly fee. The more storage space you need, the more you’ll pay. 1TB of storage typically costs about $95 per month. The cloud solution avoids the initial investment purchasing a NAS requires and the costs associated with buying more hard drives, but you’ll pay a monthly storage fee.
- Security: When NAS is used, the fact that you host the files on your own hardware, gives you full control over data security. NAS offers data redundancy and protection options, along with data encryption and user access controls. When you use a cloud service, the cloud provider is responsible for your data security. Using the cloud, you relieve yourself of data security, but when giving control of your data security to another party, there’s always a chance your data may be stolen or damaged. Several NAS vendors offer the option of backing up your data to the cloud for added redundancy and protection.
- Storage limitations: NAS devices have storage limitations, which are determined by their architecture. When more storage is needed, the hard drives can be replaced. Using cloud storage, there is no need to worry about running out of storage space. You would upgrade your plan with your cloud provider when more storage space is needed.
Why You Need NAS Backup Solutions
The data NAS devices store is essential to the daily operations of your business. NAS devices need to be protected in order to ensure that the data is safe and can be retrieved in any situation such as device failure, human error, and natural disasters. Here are the 4 reasons why you should use NAS backup solutions:
- You cannot lose critical data━NAS devices hold valuable business assets. Permanent data loss can be very risky for your business. By backing up the data on your NAS device, you’ll be able to recover it quickly and with the least financial impact.
- NAS cannot be your only backup solution━NAS devices are intended as storage devices, but some businesses mistakenly use them as backup solutions. NAS devices should never be the only backup a business relies on. This is because they are vulnerable to threats including flood, fire, device failure, and physical damage. Off-site cloud backup is the most recommended backup solution. By backing up your NAS device to an off-site location that can be accessed via the cloud, you’ll be able to access your data and will allow your staff to minimize downtime due to data loss.
- Bounce back from collaboration & syncing errors━when documents and files are shared company-wide and multiple users have access to them, file changes are bound to get overwritten. NAS backup solution provides unlimited file version histories, and your team will be able to search your backup to find the exact version of any document you need. In the case where your NAS device is infected by a ransomware virus that encrypts all of your data, your work can be restored from the previous file versions held within your backup.
NAS Off-Site vs On-Site Backup
One approach to back up NAS systems is to use offline backup storage to retain a copy of the NAS file system. Another approach is to create a remote copy in an off-site location – this is much more resilient to disaster scenarios, but also increases the Recovery Time Objective (RTO), because of the time needed to retrieve data back to the local environment.
NAS appliances run proprietary operating systems optimized for storage performance. You cannot install and use the usual backup software agents on a NAS device. Here are four common NAS backup strategies:
|NAS Backup Strategy||Off-Site||On-Site|
|Online data backup
Some NAS device vendors have combined the performance of the local NAS device with the reliability of online backup using backup cloud storage services.
|Pure off-site strategy||N/A|
|NAS-based data replication
This backup strategy produces a duplicate copy of the data stored on a NAS device at a second NAS device. Vendors use a combination of local and remote replication.
|Replication performed to cloud service or device in remote data center||Replication performed across the LAN|
The Network Data Management Protocol (NDMP) is a protocol that was created specifically for NAS device backups. NDMP allows a NAS device to send data directly to your home backup servers across the network without the need for backup client intervention. In this way the backup server communicates directly with the NAS appliance, indicating which storage device data can be sent to for backup. NDMP backups are best-suited for file data.
|Backup performed to server in remote data center||Backup performed to server in local data center|
|Traditional network-based backup
A traditional network-based backup is based on backup agents installed on all the servers that access storage on a NAS device. The data is sent to a home backup server across the network. This is the traditional client-server backup strategy. This approach is not the most effective of the NAS backup strategies. It increases network traffic because data must travel on the network from the NAS devices to the client and again from the client to the home backup server. In cases where a NAS device is used as a file server shared by multiple systems, the backup software on each system can create multiple backup copies of the same files.
|Backup can be performed to cloud or remote data center by deploying WAN||Backup performed to server across the LAN|
Securing Your NAS Backup
In many cases, your NAS backup storage will be an additional NAS server, deployed as a NAS offsite backup or on-premises. It is crucial to apply security best practices to your backup NAS, as well as the primary, because it holds the same sensitive data, and if compromised, it will undermine your disaster recovery strategy.
Be diligent about updates
One of the easiest ways to improve the security of your NAS backups is to ensure that you keep your server up to date. Updates can help improve NAS performance and eliminate vulnerabilities before issues can be exploited.
Periodically check for updates or set an alert for whenever new updates are released. This can help ensure that you apply the updates as soon as possible. Likewise, make sure that any supporting software you are using is being regularly updated as well.
Enable two-factor authentication
Two-factor authentication uses a combination of username and password along with another identification method. For example, sending a pin to a user’s mobile device.
Two-factor authentication can help you ensure that only authorized users are allowed to access your backup memory, data, and systems. It can help eliminate the risk of shared credentials and reduce the chance that stolen credentials can grant illegitimate access.
When accessing your NAS remotely, make sure you are using a HTTPS connection. This secures your connection with encryption to ensure that data and requests cannot be intercepted or modified during transfer. If you have not purposely enabled HTTPS you are likely using an unencrypted HTTP connection.
To enable HTTPS, you need to first install an SSL certificate and link it to a domain name that is tied to the IP address of your NAS. There are several free services you can use to get this certificate or you can pay for one that you only have to renew once a year.
Set up a firewall
A firewall is a standard part of any security strategy. It enables you to monitor and filter traffic to your NAS, ensuring that only approved connections are allowed. You should periodically make sure that your firewalls are enabled and that filtering policies match your security protocols.
When setting up your policies, if possible, try to use whitelisting over blacklisting. Whitelisting only allows in approved traffic while blacklisting only blocks traffic known to be malicious. This means that blacklisting may let in attackers from unknown addresses while whitelisting does not.
Data Management with Cloudian
One of the biggest challenges in data storage is unstructured data management. Typically, over 60% of NAS data is “cold” – it hasn’t been accessed in the past year. Cold data consumes expensive capacity and data backup resources.
Cloudian integrates with data lifecycle management solutions that let you immediately reclaim that space by moving cold data to on-premises Cloudian storage. Users see no change in data access. When a migrated file is requested, the data is automatically returned to the appliance for transparent user access.
The Cloudian solution is completely transparent to users. Throughout the data lifecycle, your users see no change in data access. When a migrated file is requested, the data is automatically returned to the NAS device for transparent user access. The Cloudian solution benefits include:
- Immediately free up NAS capacity
- Delay costly capacity expansions
- Reduce NAS costs by 50% or more
- Reduce backup times by 60%
- Transparent to users, both when data is archived and when retrieved
- Fast data retrieval
Learn how to lower your storage total cost of ownership with our TCO calculator