Definition

cloud NAS (cloud network attached storage)

What is cloud NAS?

Cloud NAS (network attached storage) is remote storage that is accessed over the internet as if it is local. The storage is usually hosted by a third-party service provider, who charges the customer a fee based on capacity and bandwidth. Many enterprises use a similar chargeback method for their off-site storage.

Cloud NAS is often used for backup and archiving. A key benefit of this approach is that data stored in the cloud can be accessed whenever needed and from any place. The main drawback, however, is that the data transfer rate is limited by speed of the network connection the data is accessed over.

Think of cloud NAS as the same as on-site NAS except the storage devices are located inside a cloud vendor's data centers. The cloud vendor's storage resources are essentially NAS configured to meet customer storage needs.

diagram of on-site NAS vs. cloud NAS
On-site NAS connects directly to an organization's internal network and is located in its data center. Customers access a service provider's cloud NAS over a wide area network or the internet, and it is located in the provider's data center.

What is a NAS system?

NAS systems are typically deployed as a standalone storage device with one or more external hard drives to provide more storage than a standard desktop system or laptop. It has its own operating system (OS) and file system and supports a variety of applications, the same as a desktop system.

A NAS system does not connect directly to a computer; instead, it connects to a wired or wireless network used by one or more computers. It can provide dedicated storage for one device or shared storage across many devices. It can be used in place of additions to a primary storage system. A NAS system can be located in a data center rack or a work area.

Disaster recovery (DR) setups can also include NAS systems. If greater storage is required, multiple NAS devices can be scaled out, sharing the same file system and supporting the creation of larger volumes of shared storage.

Because a NAS device typically has its own OS, it is important to check for compatibility with planned applications for the NAS. Examples of specialized applications that may be supported in NAS include the following:

Which is better: On-site NAS vs. cloud NAS

Before the emergence of cloud technology, NAS devices were installed in a data center or in work areas. The systems were compact and fit well there.

The advent of cloud storage made it easy to replicate NAS resources in a cloud-based environment. The capabilities are the same, except in the cloud, users do not have direct access to the NAS equipment.

The advantages of cloud NAS over on-site NAS include the following:

  • access to data from anywhere;
  • no additional floor space needed;
  • cost effective because customer is charged only for services used;
  • scalability for special circumstances, such as a merger or acquisition;
  • reduced overhead; and
  • useful for DR.

Key considerations when comparing the two approaches include the following:

  • The network connection used to get data from the user to the cloud NAS may slow throughput, compared to on-site storage solutions.
  • Pricing considerations must be factored into the discussion. Storage vendors typically include storage capacity and network requirements as part of their pricing models.

Which configuration is better will depend on the application needing the additional storage. It is important to consider business requirements, costs and risks when deciding on the storage location.

What applications is NAS useful for?

When moving applications to the cloud, it is important to select a cloud NAS arrangement that supports a specific application. Depending on the on-premises application, migration to a cloud environment can require application development and can be costly. If the NAS supports protocols associated with legacy applications, such as Network File System and Active Directory, migration can be easier.

Cloud NAS is the best choice for some applications with specialized requirements that need a lot of storage capacity for computer-intensive systems. Artificial intelligence and machine learning applications fit in this category.

The cloud approach may also be best for applications with long-term storage needs, such as for legal or compliance issues. Cloud NAS also works well for daily storage requirements, making files and databases accessible and providing storage capacity that scales as needed.

Cloud NAS is also an option for DR. It is available quickly and can have critical systems already in place and ready if primary storage becomes unavailable.

Learn more about cloud backup and how it compares to on-site NAS systems.

This was last updated in October 2021

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