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We have a semi-corporate environment with about 25 users. Most machines are Windows7 but there are some Macs on the network, too.

We want to set up some location (on a Windows server with lots of storage) where users can store their usual daily working files. This way, we can back up the entire storage drive and not have to run backups on each machine. The idea is that users will keep their important files here instead of their local machine.

Now, I've read about NASs but I am not sure that there is any reason why to use a special system rather than just a network file-share. If I'm not mistaken, even the Macs can access the windows file shares.

A NAS server would add another level of (unwanted) authentication. I am rather inclined to use just Windows file sharing. I don't need a media server.

Am I missing anything here?

  • How much data are we talking? I ask because cloud based storage for your group might be an option as well, and you wouldn't have to concern yourself with backups as they'd handle it. – TheCleaner Dec 4 '13 at 18:47
  • No, I don't want to use cloud-based storage. We have two completely separate locations connected via a private network, so we can do backups to our own machines. – bgmCoder Dec 4 '13 at 20:41
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    In that kind of environment Nas = windows share. I used Nas so I could have a low power machine with 5 disks and raid6 dedicated to serve file. Usually they take less space and run quietly. Of course, after a while you'll start using their features more and more. – imel96 Dec 5 '13 at 2:11
  • @imel96 Thanks for the comment. I have an old windows 2003 server, but I'd have to buy disk space. The shares would be for about 20 computers where about 5 or 6 are Macs. NAS=Windows Share. That's the ultimate conclusion here. – bgmCoder Dec 5 '13 at 2:19
  • While in your particular "need" NAS=Windows Share be careful throwing that equality around. The 2 terms are more like a Venn Diagram with overlapping parts rather than equal. – TheCleaner Dec 5 '13 at 2:46
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For some background:

The reason you typically get a NAS appliance is to get something that will serve up storage and "just work". Of course you need to do an initial configuration, but after that, you pretty much just leave it alone until a drive fails, or there's a critical firmware update. For a Windows file server, you'll need to do regular maintenance (patching, etc).

NAS devices can also offer excellent performance, and nice features like hot-swap/hot-add of drives. They also will handle building your RAID volumes for you with minor effort on your part.

You can join most NAS's to corporate domains, so additional authentication is not an issue.

For your particular scenario:

If you already own the Windows file server (hardware and licensing), then you're pretty much good to go. It should work OK for your needs and there's no reason to replace it with a NAS. My only question would be, does it at least have a RAID1 for the storage drive? I would recommend that in addition to backups ... it will save you trouble in the long run.

HOWEVER - If you don't already own the server, than it is worth looking at SMB level NAS units. You can get a good quality 4-disk NAS for MUCH cheaper than a new server+licensing. ($1000 or so). The only main question here would be if your particular backup solution will work OK if backing up off a remote target (you won't be able to install a backup client directly on the NAS).

You mentioned FreeNAS - that and Openfiler are viable options for your scenario. I have built an Openfiler box used for a similar scenario as yours and it works well. I was able to join it to an AD-based domain and it works fine. If you are comfortable building a rig from scratch this method would be cheap and effective, but keep in mind you're on the hook for hardware repairs.

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  • Wonderful answer, jlehtinen. Just what I was hoping for. We have an older Windows 2003 server that can take 16gb of ram. I could use that, or I could fit out FreeNAS on a custom box (I have done that before). The windows machine would require an extra storage drive, however. My plan is to put everyones critical files here and then backup that machine to another one. – bgmCoder Dec 4 '13 at 22:39
  • Since I have your ear - would FreeNAS on a second server be suitable as a backup for the primary file-server? – bgmCoder Dec 4 '13 at 22:51
  • So your intention is to copy the contents of the primary server to the FreeNAS every night or so? – jlehtinen Dec 4 '13 at 22:56
  • No, I am thinking to have the FreeNAS server (or Windows server) serve up files for the networks users. Then the second server would receive the backup of the first. That way I don't need backup software on everyone's machines. – bgmCoder Dec 4 '13 at 23:07
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    So you want to use rsync to copy from the Windows file server to the FreeNAS? You'll want to test that to make sure it handles the permissions on your folder structures and shares in a way you can handle. Any time you push files from NTFS -> Unix you will scramble file security. You could config CIFS on the FreeNAS and use robocopy to transfer files from the 2k3 box to the FreeNAS to maintain security, but restoring files from that kind of "backup" would be an admin job, not something you could delegate to users. – jlehtinen Dec 5 '13 at 3:26
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One thing that (as far as I'm aware) none of the available NAS boxes are capable of (currently) is Shadow Copies which you would be able to do with the Windows server.

This may or may not be important/useful to you; personally I love NAS devices over servers, but just thought I'd throw this into the mix.

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  • That's a good point. I've found Shadow Copy useful for backup up Thunderbird and Firefox Profiles whilst they are being used. – bgmCoder Dec 4 '13 at 23:33
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Nope, you're not missing anything. If you've already invested in a lot of storage and it can also do NAS - think NetApp or EMC products - then sometimes it makes sense to just use the CIFS functionality built into the storage you've already got. It's one less Windows license you need. You can also leverage storage-based replication and snapshotting more easily than with a Windows server in the middle. Using your storage directly for NAS can simplify DR efforts in some cases. As you've said, though, adding NAS exclusively for what you're asking about is overkill and just one more thing you need to learn.

For an organization of your size, a Windows file server is a no-brainer.

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  • Thanks for the advice. Actually, I have been considering using FreeNAS. But with your remarks, perhaps just windows file-share would be just as viable and simpler. But what about the data-forks caused by Mac access? – bgmCoder Dec 4 '13 at 20:42
  • @BGM Sorry, I'm not sure what a "data fork" is. OS X can access Windows file shares. – MDMarra Dec 4 '13 at 20:44
  • A data fork is not necessarily bad. It is the way Macs save metadata that belongs to a file. If you take your Windows OS and open a flash disk owned by a MAC user, and look at hidden files, you will see all kinds of files named ._something. Those are Mac's data fork files. – bgmCoder Dec 4 '13 at 20:53
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    @BGM AFAIK, modern versions of OS X properly mark those files as "hidden" so that they don't appear to the user when saved on a SMB share. You can also disable the creation of these files on network shares - this is done on the OS X client and can be pushed out via a custom MCX or script. – MDMarra Dec 5 '13 at 4:33
  • Ah, thanks for that. I didn't realize you could disable the data fork files on the Mac for NEtwork shares. – bgmCoder Dec 5 '13 at 15:45

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