Although everything presented in this chapter so far has dealt only with single hard drives directly-attached to a system, there are other, more advanced options that you can explore. The following sections describe some of the more common approaches to expanding your mass storage options.
5.6.1. Network-Accessible Storage
Combining network and mass storage technologies can result in a great deal more flexibility for system administrators. There are two benefits that are possible with this type of configuration:
Storage can be consolidated by deploying high-performance servers with high-speed network connectivity and configured with large amounts of fast storage. Given an appropriate configuration, it is possible to provide storage access at speeds comparable to locally-attached storage. Furthermore, the shared nature of such a configuration often makes it possible to reduce costs, as the expenses associated with providing centralized, shared storage can be less than providing the equivalent storage for each and every client. In addition, free space is consolidated, instead of being spread out (and not widely usable) across many clients.
Centralized storage servers can also make many administrative tasks easier. For instance, monitoring free space is much easier when the storage to be monitored exists on a centralized storage server. Backups can be vastly simplified using a centralized storage server. Network-aware backups for multiple clients are possible, but require more work to configure and maintain.
There are a number of different networked storage technologies available; choosing one can be difficult. Nearly every operating system on the market today includes some means of accessing network-accessible storage, but the different technologies are incompatible with each other. What is the best approach to determining which technology to deploy?
The approach that usually provides the best results is to let the built-in capabilities of the client decide the issue. There are a number of reasons for this:
Minimal client integration issues
Minimal work on each client system
Low per-client cost of entry
Keep in mind that any client-related issues are multiplied by the number of clients in your organization. By using the clients' built-in capabilities, you have no additional software to install on each client (incurring zero additional cost in software procurement). And you have the best chance for good support and integration with the client operating system.
There is a downside, however. This means that the server environment must be up to the task of providing good support for the network-accessible storage technologies required by the clients. In cases where the server and client operating systems are one and the same, there is normally no issue. Otherwise, it will be necessary to invest time and effort in making the server "speak" the clients' language. However, often this trade-off is more than justified.