What's the difference between a file server and a NAS device?

June 08, 2016
Questions about Carbonite products

Carbonite server backup solutions allow small and midsize businesses to protect the data stored in file servers and Network-Attached Storage (NAS) devices from computer viruses, accidental deletion, natural disasters and anything else that might cause a company to lose critical information.

File servers and NAS devices offer similar capabilities in that they both provide a centralized location for users on a network to store, access, edit and share files. But there are some differences between the two technologies that aren't always obvious. This quick primer comparing file servers to NAS devices should help clear up any confusion.

Key similarities and differences
File servers and NAS devices each provide a great way to share files across devices on a network. But the typical file server offers more powerful hardware and greater functionality than a NAS device.

For example, a file server and NAS device both allow you to control who has access to specific files and folders. Administrators accomplish this by creating user groups and giving those groups access to the files they need to do their jobs. But a file server typically offers more configuration options in terms of security and more granular access controls than a NAS device.

In addition to file storage and sharing, NAS devices can also be used to automatically create locally stored backups of your business data. Just remember that for the ultimate in data protection, you also need to keep a copy of your critical business information stored off site with a cloud backup solution like Carbonite.

Applications and pricing
NAS devices can also be used to host applications. They provide many of the same services as an application server, but with more basic settings and less customization. They also offer fewer choices in terms of the applications that users can run. NAS device vendors require users to choose one of their own applications rather than choosing any third-party software.

With the difference in functionality between file servers and NAS devices comes a difference in cost. File servers offer greater processing power and as a result, they're more expensive. Server operating systems also drive up the price because they often require companies to purchase a server license, and in some cases, Client Access Licenses, which give users and devices the right to access the server. In contrast, most NAS software comes with the NAS device and does not require licensing.

Want to delve deeper? Here are some resources that cover the benefits and drawbacks of file servers and NAS devices:

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