Over the last couple of years, we have noticed that more and more of you are buying NAS appliances, boxes containing a number of commodity disks which can be attached to the network and serve that disk space to other machines on the network. This was a cause of concern to the computing staff because these appliances can raise issues of security and reliability and so in an effort to see if these boxes were meeting a need which might be equally well met by a commodity computing provision, I talked to those of you who had purchased this kind of kit in the last couple of years (and a big thanks to all those who took the time to respond to my request for information).
As expected, the biggest attraction of these devices was that they (with one or two caveats) offered substantially cheaper storage than anything offered by the School or the central University. Also attractive was the fact that people had more control over their storage, allowing them to reconfigure it as necessary, and that units could be bought with more disk slots than were required at first allowing for low cost expansion as needs dictated. These are features which would be difficult for the School to match at the moment and so it does seem that the purchase of this kind of equipment may be justified in some cases.
As mentioned above however, there are some real security and reliability concerns over these devices and so to help people decide whether a NAS appliance may be a good fit for their needs, we have created a page detailing some points to consider when contemplating purchasing one of these devices. We would encourage anyone thinking about using a NAS box to read this page and, if they require further advice, contact the computing staff in the usual way.