Why You Shouldn’t Use Your NAS as a File Server

The short answer is: reliability, flexibility, Windows compatibility, and consistent backups are difficult to achieve with most NAS servers. A major selling point for low-end NAS devices is their simplicity. You can just add hard drives and set up a share and that’s all that’s needed to provide storage on the network. For a home environment and very small teams in a small organization where cost is the most important factor in the purchase decision, this all makes perfect sense. However, NAS servers, there are exceptions for high-end devices, aren’t really a business-grade file server solution. If you use a Windows Storage Server based device, which uses Windows internally, then the NAS server will in fact function as a Windows Server on the network with full support of Active Directory and NTFS. We strongly recommend a Windows Storage Server based NAS or using an actual Windows Server as your file server, and there are many good reasons for our recommendation.

For example, Windows Server is the Microsoft recommended environment for file sharing within organizations of all sizes. Active Directory allows for a centralized management of permissions and NTFS is used throughout to ensure files can be safely moved within the network without losing critical information, such as access permissions. Most low-end NAS are not based on Windows and this causes various issues that don’t become visible immediately. For example, NTFS restricts and allows different types of file names, characters in file paths, and total path lengths, than the operating systems used inside most NAS servers. Also ACLs are not represented equally on the NAS devices as in NTFS. This means, sooner or later your team will end up having difficulties copying files into the NAS due to the file name or path length, or due to misrepresentation of ACLs.

NAS devices are generally under-powered, with limited RAM and CPU power, to keep the cost down. Windows Server, on the other hand, is an operating system built to offer robust file shares to thousands of concurrent users; hence, the hardware that it runs on is also better equipped than a typical NAS server. Especially when it comes to backups, it’s much more beneficial to run your backups on the Windows Server that hosts the file share, rather than pull files from a NAS. Windows Server can provide a consistent view of the file system so that the entire folder contents can be backed up consistently. This means that no matter how many files and folders are changed while a backup is running, the backup itself will always reflect the point in time when the backup commenced. This feature is crucial for good backups. In addition, backup software such as BackupChain can be configured to preserve ACLs so that all file and folder permissions are also preserved in the backup folder structure.