Hello again folks!
In this new post I am going to share with you some meaningful information about a type of storage drives that are related to the networking field, have a very good endurance, and they are also fast and sometimes very gifted as far as storage space is concerned.
These drives are the so-called NAS disk drives. So let’s see what is NAS about!
What is NAS
Network attached storage (abbreviated as NAS) is a technology that turns out to be very useful in enterprise environments and centralised data systems (they can be successfully used at home as well, we will see how they are different from mainstream disk drives). This is a type of file-level data storage that is connected to a network (hence its name and abbreviation) through which the various network clients have access to the data.
So we have some centralized disk capacity (special disk drives that concentrate important sets of data in a network), while human users and client devices have access to it. By example, if there is a LAN, users can access all this shared storage stuff via an Ethernet connection. When we say NAS disk drives, we mean mainly hard disks – SSDs are less common in NAS configurations, if there are any – so this story is going to be pretty much about a species of HDDs.
And given this situation, NAS drives have some specific features making them look different from regular desktop drives, although we may install NAS HDDs in our home PC systems without problems.
Particularities of NAS drives
NAS disks are intended for storing unstructured data. What does this unstructured data mean? Common file types like video, audio, text documents, music files (if applicable), websites. There also exists another type of network storage called SAN (backwards abbreviation), standing for storage area networks, where the data is structured in databases.
With NAS drives, imagine we have some working teams whose members do their work remotely, and all of them need to access their data (like projects, learning resources, tools) in an easy and secure way, regardless of their location and time zone. Here comes the NAS with its disks, helping all those people with doing their work. NAS has to connect to a wireless router for ensuring users’ access.
A NAS is usually a physical device that incorporates several drive bays (meaning multiple NAS SATA hard disks), but for non-critical data we may also encounter single-drive NAS configurations. Enterprises and smaller businesses benefit from this technology, but like I said, NAS disks can also be used for domestic purposes like home offices, or even as a good replacement for “usual” hard disk drives.
Or if you have a smart TV device at home and need to manage its storage (I never owned such a TV, I think it’s an exciting experience to people who watch TV). Did you buy a smart TV? OK, then go for a NAS hard disk too!
When there are too many users that make requests to the system at the same time, performance may suffer due to the fact that NAS relies on HDDs, so there are also some network-attached flash storage drives (SSDs), either as a mix with hard disks or as full SSD configurations. But again, that’s not common in the NAS world.
SSDs are involved in newer NASes, sometimes solid-state drives are used as fast-caching storage in RAID NAS HDD configurations, since we know how faster SSDs are!
A NAS disk drive is purposely made for nested environments. Such a disk will surely resist in long-duration workloads (you know, that 24/7 thing) and provide faster speeds, while also being heat-resistant and designed for anti-vibration – that is good, we know that vibration translates into an annoying noise.
While classical hard disks should rotate their platters at smaller speeds in order to reduce vibrations, NAS disks are already equipped with advanced anti-vibration systems that keep them more silent without needing to give up speeds, which is obviously a white flag and leverages data transfers.
You can keep NAS drives turned on and running for weeks! And investing in them will turn out as a cost-effective option in the long run.
By personal experience, I already know how it is like to keep your computer turned on for weeks and months, and that it’s good and reliable, resistant disk drives that is needed for such purposes. I intensively used several computers at my home because I was doing a Number Theory research that needed time, patience, and hardware powers :). For now it is interrupted (energy savings is one of the reasons), but again, I already know what a 24/7 long-term PC run means. Large storage drives (like NAS can be) are quite welcome to such an environment! It may sound geeky, but it’s a reality.
NAS disk drives being nested means that they also support RAID configurations. Some of us know that RAID concerns data redundancy and that we can duplicate the disk data, so that when some HDD piece fails, we still have one valid version of that data, thus not needing to worry that much about data loss and how on Earth to recover it.
Let’s imagine 2 or 4 disk drives, each of them with a bunch of terabytes, that are placed (as an array) into a single logical unit or NAS! All those 2x or 4x terabytes may contain very important files, and for safety reasons, if their total space is enough, that file content may also be mirrored, so that when one of the disks fails (ideally not within a short time, anyway), the data actually stays intact. Long live to RAID!
Desktop HDDs risk to fail if they are continuously used for too much time (intense read/write operations, up time), but NAS drives are resistant, much more resistant from this point of view. So if you know how you are using your computers and there’s an enormous workload, just get some NAS drives in order to make your data secure.
NAS drives also feature better endurances (it means how big is the yearly data flow on the disk, or let’s just say how many terabytes of data we can write to the drive during a whole year). A NAS drive may have an over 5 times better endurance when compared to a classical Desktop HDD!
An important factor to consider in advanced NAS architectures is clustering. This is about scalability and ability to all nodes (drives) in a NAS cluster to see all files in the NAS system, no matter which disk the files are on. So if you have eight NAS HDDs in eight bays of a NAS system, if you access any of these disks you can see all the files that involve all the disks (and not just that part of files corresponding to the accessed drive).
Now, we will briefly see what the three types of NAS disks are:
- High-end NAS: the top-tied network attached storage disks are used in enterprises and offer shared access to huge file volumes (think of thousands of terabytes aka petabytes, immense data centers, cloud systems…). They are even selectable for virtual machine images (it’s the first time I find out that such images exist). These devices are scalable and low-cost, and they can be integrated with a storage area network (SAN), so they together provide a complete example of network storage! We must say that high-end NAS also interferes with server configurations, they consolidate file servers. And they can be clustered.
- Middle-market NAS: yes, there is also a mid-end level of “network” hard disks. These cannot be clustered, and are the ideal choice for somewhat smaller businesses that still walk into hundreds of TBs (well, that’s still huge).
- Low-end or so-called desktop NAS: home PC users may look at this with interest. Also, small businesses that are interested in using cloud NAS (like SoftNAS cloud) and need a small shared storage (like 5-10 TB of data) are eligible for low-end NAS (or viceversa). This down-tier NAS offers a simplified backup and it also consolidates Desktop storage.
NAS data is easy to backup, regardless of which one of the levels above the disks belong to, and using them is easy enough for not needing IT specialists – we are empowered to handle NAS drives on our own.
An amazing detail about these NAS drives: if you have a wireless router for the Internet, a NAS drive, and you turn the computer off, the hard disk is still able to work – it connects directly to the router.
And another tip: since 2014 it was clear that desktop HDDs were facing a decline due to the expansion of SSDs, but large storage drives like the NAS ones still had a future ahead! Just because there was a need for very, very large disk space in households and businesses. So the HD vendors (HD stands for hard drive and not for high-definition, obviously!) improved the firmware and the manufacturing process for hard disks, and NAS disks evolved.
Good NAS drives to look for
When it comes to finding some examples, of course we have enough fish in the pool :). Now it’s almost 2020, and we have enough possibilities to choose some “goodies” NAS disk drives.
The widely known HDD manufacturers like HGST, Seagate, Western Digital, and Toshiba made a great work and now we are given various options for buying NAS disks, either as individual HDD pieces or integrated in a multi-bay system.
If you opt for buying the NAS hard disk, it is very much like buying a common HDD – it comes in a package. But if you want an entire NAS system, you have several new factors to consider: the total storage space you desire, the number of bays (and disk drives) you will have, and surely, knowing the fact that you will be using the disks in a continuous manner.
It is said that NAS drives are a bit more expensive than Desktop ones, due to their special features, so it’s best to choose them when we are really going to have appropriate workloads (very long read/write activities, like content creation, researching for numbers, maybe some data mining).
Let’s start the list of NAS hard disks by Seagate IronWolf. The IronWolf division of Seagate HDDs is this company’s solution for network attached storages – if you say NAS and want an affordable Seagate drive, you should automatically think about IronWolf. Modern Seagate NAS drives have up to 16 terabytes! Can you imagine that? 16 good TBs for heavy usage.
Their NAS firmware is called Seagate AgileArray, which makes these disks “Agile” :).
Actually, there are two sides of “the IronWolf medal”: there are HDDs whose brand name is simply Seagate IronWolf and they are low-level NAS (remember the short 3-step classification above), and there is also something called Seagate IronWolf Pro, that’s intended for – you guessed – enterprise purposes.
IronWolf Pro has higher prices and a better workload rating. As far as I am concerned, during the past months I have been thinking about buying a 16TB Seagate IronWolf (not Pro), this plan is still in the “Pending” status. A 16TB HDD very likely costs over $500, even without the Pro aspect!
The regular IronWolf can stand 180 TB of writes per year, and the Pro flavor – 300 TB. By comparison, a non-NAS disk may have a much lower endurance rate per year, which explains why one of my non-NAS hard disks, an enterprise Toshiba NearLine of 14 TB, crashed after one year and a few weeks of usage.
I planned the 16TB Seagate IronWolf to be a substitute, a repair to this loss! And given their improved endurance features, if I buy it eventually, it may just be a good idea. If I opt for a “Pro”, it’s even better!
Another difference between Pro and non-pro IronWolfs: the “Pro” are good for systems with up to 24 drive bays, and non-Pros – for up to 8. Let’s imagine an enterprise NAS configuration with 24 hard disks of 16TB each – that’s a pantagruelic 384 TB!
The overall IronWolf size range is from 1 TB to 16 TB, and Pro disks start from 2 TB. Also, the warranty for IronWolf Pro is 5 years, whereas the simple IronWolf disks only get three years.
Speaking of the top Seagate 16TB Pro NAS disk model, let’s take a look at its powers:
The Seagate IronWolf Pro 16TB NAS Internal Hard Drive HDD (to say its full name) is a 3.5-inch SATA-III drive, like all common hard disks. Its spinning rate is best: 7200 RPM, and it is not hindered by vibrations. Its cache (aka disk buffer or temporary memory) is quite an “Elite” one: 256 MB. This cache memory is used for speeding up the data, so the bigger a HDD cache is, the easier you will work with that data.
This hard disk is eligible for RAID NAS, and in case it happens to fail, Seagate gives you an insurance – the Data Recovery Rescue Service.
Their data transfer speeds are likely limited to 250 MB/s, so this is not like when we admire the power of SSDs – but instead we get 16 TB of space. And if we are rich and rule an enterprise environment then we can get tens of such disks there!
This disk costs around $600 on Amazon, and this does not include shipping fees, of course. I suppose that US users who buy from Amazon.com are exempt from shipping fees or at least those fees are little.
See this NAS piece of cake here:
Western Digital Red is the response of the WD brand to our modern NAS needs. Their NAS firmware is named WD NASWare. They may not be exactly as fast as Seagate drives are (many of them have only 5400 RPM), but overall, they are more energy-efficient and have lower temperatures (i.e. they are cooler). It is stated that rival Seagate NAS drives are energy-efficient only starting from 10TB capacities (well, thatțs good for geeks who want maximum capacities).
The WD Red family also has two branches: the omonym and the “Pro”. And here it’s also ruled that difference in the number of bays: 8 for non-Pro and 24 for Pro HDDs. Both WD Red Pro and non-Pro branches provide capacities up to 14 TB, so this time we will not see the largest HDD sizes (16 TB) available on the market. Maybe the next year.
See the specs of this HDD family:
and the Pro:
The difference in warranty is pointed out again: 3 years for WD Red „simple” and 5 years for Pro. This difference is of course justified for both Seagate and WD NAS branches – a Pro disk provides better quality for more important purposes, and thus deserves an enhanced protection!
The Western Digital Pro suite’s flagship disk is a 14TB 7200RPM drive with an impressive 512MB cache. At this time the WD site does not provide the maximum data transfer rate, but I assume it should be somewhat above 200 MB/s (and from what I saw in a detailed review of some lower-capacity WD Reds, the speeds tend to drop some tens of MB/s when the drive is halfway full, so HDD speeds depend also on how much disk space is already used).
Be careful though: this model is far more expensive than the 16TB Seagate IronWolf Pro flagship! It’s more than twice its price:
HGST also offers a NAS disk drive suite that is called HGST DeskStar. Of course it is intended for unstopped 24/7 operation, and it features a rotational vibration sensor. Remember that keeping vibration under control empowers HDD speeds!
This DeskStar family includes models up to 8 TB (there are lower-capacity disks like 6TB and 4 TB). The best DeskStar HDDs have a 7200RPM spin rotation (the maximum for hard disks) and 128MB of cache (well, it’s not as big as the cache values we can encounter in other families like WD Red and Seagate IronWolf).
The mean time between failures (MTBF) is rated at one miilon hours (over 110 years, you know…), and the seek time is below 12 milliseconds (seek time means how long it takes to the HDD read/write head to find the correct position for reading or writing from a specific sector data).
The seek time of a hard disk is often called access time, but the real access time is a bit longer than that, because they say there’s a small latency (delay) between the HDD head finding the data and actually starting to work with it. But anyway, 12 milliseconds is a so short timespan that we cannot actually feel it :).
Depending on your location and shipping fees, the 8TB DeskStar model may cost you around $500, and the 4TB one may take ~$300 off from you. These prices are obviously higher than those of the non-NAS desktop HDDs, but remember that this is another quality class: it’s NAS!
Modern hard disks also have an intelligent technology incorporated: its acronym is S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology). This SMART thing is… really smart: it analyses a lot of specific parameters of the device, and based on this set of results it’s able to warn us when the drive is likely to fail soon.
All the NAS HDD brands exposed above support SMART, but the Seagate IronWolf division took this technology to an advanced level and it’s stated to monitor hundreds of parameters (not just some tens), by means of adaptive algorithms.
So if you buy a Seagate IronWolf NAS HDD (16TB or lower) and regularly check its SMART status, you have a chance to anticipate a possible failure. That is of course undesirable, but sometimes it happens :(.
Network attached storage drives are like an enhanced version of our everyday desktop drives, providing space for data that is shared on networks and ensuring fast, all-time access to it. These systems usually incastrate a larger number of disk drives, that can also be mirrored via RAID for increasing the security of data, just in case there happens any failure.
This is basically a world of hard disks, where very large storage space is needed. SSDs may appear in a restrained way, by example like a caching interface for a NAS HDD array. Within some years there may happen a more massive replacement of HDDs with SSDs in the NAS field too, and this depends on the general evolvement of the SSDs industry.
The leveling of NAS drives (high, middle, and low) also permits us – the Home PC users – to benefit from larger speeds and endurance when using large storage drives, since we can create small ”enterprises” in our houses too, with specific requirements and needs.
As usual, if you find this content interesting, please feel free to leave your opinions below and share it! I will keep taking care of the site content and get back to you.