The entry-level NAS market is red hot. With prices dipping below $2,000 for a versatile storage server packing 10TB of disk, there's no wonder this market segment is witnessing extremely fast growth. Unfortunately for the business customer, it's also experiencing a lot of confusion.
The reasons for both the success and the confusion are easy to see. There are at least three different user bases for these products and a seemingly endless number of use cases. A larger business might use a low-cost NAS box to offload stagnant, rarely used data from more expensive, high-performance storage. Or it might place one alongside a virtual server farm to store virtual machine images or ship one to a satellite office to serve as low-cost file storage.
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For a small to medium-size business, one of these NAS boxes would serve the needs for daily file storage, with the bonus that nontechnical staff could set it up and start using it without professional IT help. Finally, the home market is starting to feel the need for network storage, not only for backing up multiple PCs and laptops, but also for hosting music, photos, and video, and making that media accessible even from outside the home.
With so many use cases and potential buyers, the vendors too often try to be everything to everyone. The result is a class of products that suffers from an identity crisis -- so-called business storage solutions that are overloaded with consumer features and missing the ease and simplicity that business users require.
Which of the entry-level NAS vendors gets it right for business customers? To find out, I reviewed five- and six-bay NAS cabinets from Iomega, Netgear, QNAP, Synology, and Thecus. Filled with 10TB or 12TB of raw storage, my test systems ranged in price from $1,699 to $3,799. Despite that gap, they all had a great deal in common, from core storage services to performance. However, I found the richest sets of business features -- straightforward setup, easy remote access, plentiful backup options -- at the higher end of the scale.
NAS shoot-out: Common ground On the surface, most of the NAS boxes in the sub-$5,000 class are very similar in terms of basic functionality and use. You will find a mix of consumer and professional capabilities, and depending your business needs, you may use just a few of these features or many of them. In the five NAS boxes I tested, I found common features as well as similar performance. Yes, some boxes proved slightly faster than others, but in general, performance was close enough that most end-users would not notice the differences.
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