When shopping for network file storage solutions, many users contemplate simply attaching an additional hard drive to a computer already on the network rather than spending additional funds on a dedicated file server. While this option is a viable solution for some network administrators, a number of differences make dedicated file servers a more optimal arrangement for most networks.
An attached storage device on a network computer can take many forms, most commonly as an external hard drive attached to a user's desktop or laptop computer. Other users on the network simply connect to the user's machine, map the additional drive, and use it to store files. By contrast, a file server is a dedicated storage mechanism, existing on the network as its own entity without the need for any additional host machine. Users connect directly to the file server to create, modify, retrieve and delete their own files.
One of the greatest considerations when comparing an attached storage device to a file server is the issue of security. File servers excel in the field of security, as most allow users to view and modify their own files but prevent them from viewing the files of other users. A number of other security issues also exist, as administrators can define how users access the device, and even lock out certain users who should be unable to store files. By comparison, attached file storage devices generally have few (if any) user-to-user security, and any user with access to the host computer can easily access files stored on the device.
With a dedicated file server, network users can directly access a file, and multiple users can access, modify, and execute files from the device at the same time. File servers are specially designed to serve files and applications, while an attached file storage device is typically only set up to store files. In addition, if the user of the computer to which the file storage device is attached turns off the computer or unplugs the drive, network users may lose access to their data.
Reliability and Availability
Although a user turning off a host computer can temporarily take an attached file storage device offline, dedicated file servers are not typically subject to this consideration. Instead, file servers are designed to work on their own, and rarely require rebooting or powered-down maintenance. Depending on the quality of the server, it may even support "hot swappable" media, or drives that can be added and removed without interrupting the server's availability.
The amount of available storage space is a consideration that does not differ significantly between file servers and attached storage devices. While file servers are available with hundreds of gigabytes or even several terabytes, a number of storage devices may be attached to a user's computer to create an equally large, if not larger storage capacity. In some configurations, however, each attached storage device must be mapped separately, placing limits on the amount of storage made available by attached devices.
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