Server or NAS?
There was a time when Microsoft Windows servers did a multitude of tasks; share files, act as a print sever, act as a mail server, run databases, authenticate users to the network and maintain network security policies and user profiles. In fact, Microsoft Small Business Server was specifically designed to do almost everything 'in-house' that was required by a small business. Since the advent of the cloud, more and more IT related services previously undertaken in-house have been outsourced to data centres. The main one being the role of the mail server of course. It is our opinion that something as critical as email is best left to the likes of Microsoft with their huge server farms and data centres all over Europe and North America. As a result, gone are the days when a simple power outage or internet connection issue could lead to the loss of email.
At one point, many of our clients also ran databases on in-house servers which are catered for in the cloud these days too. Again, we welcome this as it offers our clients greater reliability and the ability to increase computing power as and when needed without having to buy new hardware and migrate in-house systems to them. In addition to this, it is often better to configure network printing so workstations send print jobs directly to a network printer using TCP routing rather than via a shared printer on a server. As a result, many of our client's servers now only undertake two roles; authenticating users to the network and file sharing. But with ever more sophisticated Network Attached Storage (NAS) systems even these roles can be done without running Microsoft servers or Active Directory. As a result, in some circumstances we will recommend a NAS over a Microsoft server. For example, in smaller business environments where the client's emailing and / or client management systems are already provided in the cloud and networking needs simply revolve around file sharing. The NAS units we deploy allow for unlimited user network accounts and a granular file security system which, when combined with Windows 7, 8 and 10 Credential Manager, allows for the same level of sophisticated file sharing that an Active Directory server offers. The only drawback is that client-side credentials are managed on each PC as opposed to centrally. However, in an environment of 10 or less computers this not a huge issue.
A major advantage of the NAS systems we deploy is the ability to access files they store over the internet. This is done via an intuitive web portal (website) or using an app that is installed on smart devices like smartphones, tablets and laptops. This means files can be read, downloaded, edited and uploaded by staff using a mobile device while away from the office. The changes they make are saved back to the NAS for the staff members in the office. Another advantage is storage capacity. The rack mounted NAS systems we supply have external disk arrays that can be very easily connected to them to increase storage capacity. NAS systems are also as easy for us to remotely manage and maintain as Microsoft Windows servers. However, they are extremely reliable and once configured require minimum ongoing maintenance. Lastly, there's cost. On average, even a high-end NAS system costs a third of a Microsoft server. On top of this, operating system updates are free and very easy to apply.
There are some circumstances when we would not recommend a NAS, one example being when the client wants to run a network based application that is only Windows compatible, like Sage Accounts for example. But other than that, there are many situations we see where a NAS system would serve a client's needs perfectly and also save the client money in terms of initial outlay and ongoing support and maintenance costs. If you are looking to implement a method of sharing your company files both internally and over the internet and were thinking of investing in a Windows server or NAS, please call us for a free consultation. We will be happy to advise you on the best solution.