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How to configure a rack-mounted NAS in 10 easy steps

Get the most out of your rack-mount NAS appliance by enabling permissions, network access and other advanced options.

Storage hardware has a reputation as being somewhat difficult to configure, but NAS appliances can be surprisingly easy to set up. This tip focuses on rack-mounted NAS appliances, but there are other NAS form factors such as towers, mini towers, desktops and so on. Rack-mounted NAS appliances generally offer more sophisticated capabilities and higher capacity than competing form factors.

Each vendor has its own way of doing things, but there are 10 basic steps involved in getting a rack-mounted NAS appliance up and running.

Step 1: Prepare the hardware

This includes mounting the appliance in the rack, installing the hard disks, and attaching the power and network cables.

Step 2: Configure administrative accounts

It would be a huge security risk to leave the default username and password enabled. At the very least, you need to change the default password. The best practice is to create a separate account for each member of the administrative staff. Some appliances include built-in support for Active Directory authentication.

To configure the administrative accounts, you need to log into the appliance. Each vendor has its own way of providing access to the administrative interface. Some vendors provide access through a Web browser, while others provide customers with a dedicated client application.

Step 3: Perform a diagnostic check

At a minimum, this means verifying that the appliance has correctly detected all of its hard disks. Many vendors include a built-in diagnostic function that users can run to assess the overall health of the appliance.

Step 4: Configure the storage architecture

In most cases, this means configuring the disks to be part of a RAID array. However, organizations commonly configure NAS appliances as JBOD storage. Also, it is not always appropriate to include every hard disk in a RAID configuration. Sometimes hard disks can be used for caching or as a hot spare, as noted in Step 9.

Step 5: Create volumes

The number of volumes that should be created depends on how the organization will use the appliance. If the appliance will be used as a file server, for example, it may be appropriate to create a single, large volume. If the firm will use the NAS appliance for departmental file sharing, the departments could be isolated from one another by creating a separate volume for each department.

Step 6: Configure access permissions for the volumes

This can mean a few different things depending on the appliance's purpose. If the appliance will be used as a file server, you need to establish share-level permissions. Depending on the file system the appliance uses, you may also need to establish some file-level permissions.

Step 7: Configure network access

Rack-mounted NAS appliances generally offer more sophisticated capabilities and higher capacity than competing form factors.

You need to assign an IP address to the appliance (unless you plan to use dynamically assigned IP addresses) and create the corresponding DNS host record. Typically, you also have to enable the appropriate access protocol. Most higher-end NAS appliances support multiple access protocols such as Server Message Block, AppleTalk, NFS, FTP or iSCSI, and it is up to administrators to enable the protocols they want to use.

Step 8: Configure notifications

The rack-mounted NAS appliance should now be accessible, but there are a few more tasks that should be performed, such as configuring notifications. NAS appliances usually have a built-in alerting mechanism that can let the administrator know if the appliance is having a problem. Such a mechanism might, for example, provide notifications of events such as fan failures, low disk space or disk failures. Enabling the notification option usually involves configuring the appliance to communicate with your mail server and then providing the email address or distribution list address to which you want the notifications sent.

Step 9: Configure advanced options

The advanced options tend to vary significantly from one vendor to the next, but could include automatic RAID rebuilding, write caching, designating a network interface or a hard disk as a hot spare, or allowing the appliance to shut down in response to a power failure.

Step 10: Configure the backup

While not technically a NAS configuration step, the last thing you should do is to create a backup job to protect the NAS appliance. Usually you cannot install backup agents onto a NAS appliance, so backups are commonly based on the Network Data Management Protocol (NDMP). NDMP was designed to transport data between backup servers and NAS appliances.

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