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Vol. 19, #47 - November 24, 2014 - Issue #1007
This week's newsletter is all about whether do-it-yourself network attached storage (DIY NAS) is a viable option for businesses or a potential sinkhole for your time and money. Building your own IT solutions from scratch can be lots of fun but it can also be challenging, especially if you make false assumptions like the Pointy-Haired Boss did in this Dilbert comic strip:
Registration is now open for CloudCON 2014, an informative online conference for admins and other IT Professionals within the global IT community. This online event is hosted by CloudComputingAdmin.com and takes place on Thursday, December 11, 2014 at 11am EST | 10 am CST | 8am PST | 4pm BST. More details and how you can sign up for this event can be found here:
And now on to the main topic of this week's newsletter...
When it comes to technology for your business, are you the kind of person who prefers to build it yourself instead of buying an off-the-shelf solution? There are risks and rewards with both of these approaches. Let's look at storage as an example, specifically network attached storage (NAS).
DIY NAS risks and rewards
The main risk of any do-it-yourself (DIY) solution is that you might get in over your head. For example, long ago (in IT terms) I used to build my own computers. But as PC technology quickly advanced, I simply found I couldn't keep up with all the technological improvements in hardware. I couldn't afford the money to try every new motherboard or chipset that came out, and as an increasingly busy business owner I also didn't have the time to play around with all the new hardware coming out.
So I eventually opted for prebuilt PCs instead of building my own PCs. I also bought commercial NAS products instead of building storage servers from scratch. The first choice was a no-brainer (unless you're a gamer) but lately I've found reasons for reconsidering my second decision. That's because DIY NAS can not only have some benefits, it may even be the best solution for certain types of business problems. For example, if you plan on streaming media from your network storage device and you want your storage device to transcode the media before streaming it, you're better off building your own storage server because most commercial NAS products don't have the processing power to perform such transcoding. This isn't something I've tested myself, but I've been informed concerning this by a colleague who is more hardware-savvy than myself.
Another reason you might want to build your own solution is to save money. It's difficult to generalize, but DIY NAS solutions can often cost less than half what you would spend building a roughly equivalent solution yourself. That's actually kind of amazing considering that it generally costs more to build your own PC than to buy one from a vendor (unless you're talking about a high-performance workstation or a gaming machine). So if time isn't much of a constraint for you but money is, then it might be reasonable for you to build a storage server instead of buying a NAS device. Remember however when you're costing out the hardware for your storage server that you also need to include the cost of the software license for running Windows Server on the system.
Commercial NAS risks and rewards
Off-the-shelf NAS products like those from Synology also have risks and rewards associated with them. Two main benefits stand out to me on the rewards side. First, there's the ease-of-use involved when you purchase a NAS appliance. If you build your own network storage server using Windows Server, you need to walk through the whole lifecycle thing of planning, purchasing, building, testing, and deploying your storage server. With a commercial NAS appliance however, you simply plug it in, turn it on, connect it to your network, and start using it.
A second benefit of commercial NAS solutions is the vendor-supplied software bundled with the appliance that makes it easy to provision and manage network storage for all your important business data. If you build your own network storage server using Windows Server, you'll either need to use the in-box administration tools for storage provisioning/management or you'll need to install some third-party tools over top of the operation system for such purposes. If you're storage server is running Windows Server 2012 R2 then you can use the Storage Spaces feature for creating pools of storage you can use to provision virtual disks and shares for storing your data:
By the way, if you have the expertise needed to be able to embrace open source solutions for your business then you could opt for using FreeNAS or some other DIY NAS solution instead of building one on top of Windows Server. See the Admin Tools section of this issue for a link to where you can find more information about FreeNAS.
I mentioned above that there were two main benefits of using off-the-shelf NAS appliances. Well, here's a third: integration with the cloud. The DiskStation Manager (DSM) software found on all Synology NAS products also lets you sync files on your NAS appliance with public cloud services like DropBox, Microsoft Onedrive, and Google Drive:
You can of course do similar stuff with a DIY Windows Server storage solution, but it's more complex and involves using Windows Server 2012 R2, System Center 2012 R2, and Windows Azure Pack. That's a lot of complexity to throw at a simple problem (syncing on-premises storage with a public cloud) but in fairness the Microsoft solution is a lot more powerful and flexible than just dropping a NAS appliance onto your LAN. I also suspect that the Microsoft solution may become simpler and more integrated when the next version of Windows Server rolls around later next year or so.
On the other hand, there are also a few risks with using commercial NAS appliances for your business. The big one to me is that appliances can be vulnerable to certain forms of malware as the following two articles from Neowin demonstrate:
Shellshock bug impacts NAS devices like QNAP and Synology:
Cryptolocker deviation attacks Synology NAS devices [Update]:
Of course DIY storage servers built upon Windows Server can also be vulnerable to malware, but while you've likely got an antimalware solution in place for your servers, what about your NAS appliances? If you've opened up the firewall on your NAS appliance to allow remote users to access shared files, then you may also be opening your appliance to becoming infected by malware. To their credit, Synology does offer a free utility called Antivirus Essential that you can install on your appliance, but now you have two antimalware platforms to manage: the one on your servers and the one on your NAS appliances. The same is true for patch management. Appliances also need to be kept up to date with the latest patches released by their vendor. But you already have a patch management solution and process in place for your Windows servers, so now you've got two patch management solutions to deal with. By contrast, if you built a DIY storage server running Windows Server 2012 R2 and used Storage Spaces to provision and manage network storage, you could run the same antivirus product on it that your other Windows servers are running, and you can apply software updates to it using Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) the same way you do with your other Windows servers.
Let me finish off with a few recommendations concerning off-the-shelf NAS appliances for those of you who aren't interested in the DIY approach. These recommendations come from some of my IT pro colleagues who use NAS appliances in various business contexts and also at home for things like media storage:
If you need lots of terabytes of network storage for your business:
If you want something a bit more modest but still very powerful:
If you need something you can install in a rack in your server room:
If you just need something to store your family photos, music or movies:
Send us feedback
Have you built your own network storage solution? Do you prefer using off-the-shelf NAS appliances? Share your thoughts with us at email@example.com
No add-ons mode is a way of running Internet Explorer so that toolbars, ActiveX controls and other add-ons can't execute. This is not only a safer way of running IE but also a helpful way of troubleshooting problems, for example when a flakey add-on is causing IE to hang or crash. Of course, there's also some reduced functionality when you run IE in no add-ons mode, but that's just your usual tradeoff between functionality and security.
If you frequently find yourself needing to launch IE in no add-ons mode, try this:
Now anytime you want to run IE in no add-ons mode, just open IE and click the NoAdd-ons shortcut on your Favorites bar.
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The Microsoft Press blog frequently posts sample chapters from new and upcoming books and ebooks from Microsoft Press. Be sure to visit the blog frequently and check out what's new there:
Some announcements from the Microsoft Virtual Academy:
Dev/Test Scenarios in the DevOps World
If you want to hear the pros and cons of various Dev/Test tools and practices, watch this on-demand course. Our team of experts provide a deep dive into the dev/test portion of DevOps and ALM. Get answers to your questions on testing, debugging, building, releasing, deploying, and more! Watch the course here.
Windows Server 2012 R2: Using IP Address Management (IPAM)
Get a detailed look at IP Address Management (IPAM) in Windows Server 2012 R2 in this on-demand course. IPAM is an integrated suite of tools to enable end-to-end planning, deploying, managing, and monitoring of one’s IP address infrastructure, with a rich user experience. It automatically discovers IP address infrastructure servers on your network and enables you to manage them from a central interface. View the course here.
Public Cloud and the IT Professional: Legal Aspects
If you have questions about the legal aspects of the public cloud, this on-demand course is for you. With the push to move infrastructure and content to the cloud, many IT Professionals are unaware of the legal aspects and considerations that need to be taken into account. This course, led by Microsoft experts actively involved in public cloud engagements with IT Professionals on a daily basis, offers a detailed look at the required IT tasks and the associated legal aspects. View the course here.
"Finally, in conclusion, let me say just this." --Peter Sellers
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UserLock restricts, monitors, alerts & audits all user logon activity on Windows Servers. Empowering IT to monitor, record and automatically block all unauthorized or suspicious access.
It’s time for your free Exchange Server Healthcheck. Diagnose email performance issues & proactively check Microsoft Exchange health with SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor.
New Veeam Availability Suite v8 is now available for vSphere and Hyper-V! This new suite provides recovery time and point objectives of < 15 minutes for all applications and data.
FreeNAS is a Free and Open Source Network Attached Storage (NAS) software appliance based on the FreeBSD operating system:
f.lux makes the color of your computer's display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day:
Registration is now open for CloudCON 2014, an informative online conference for Administrators and other IT Professionals within the global IT community. This online event is hosted by CloudComputingAdmin.com and takes place on Thursday, December 11, 2014 at 11am EST | 10 am CST | 8am PST | 4pm BST.
This annual live conference is a convenient opportunity to learn from many leading experts and vendors who serve the Cloud Computing and IT Administrator community. Examples of focus session topics include:
Registration is free and you will be able to attend the live event and/or view the recording of the vendor sessions that you wish to join.
Convergence 2015 on March 16-19 in Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Microsoft Ignite on May 4-8, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois, USA
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Building High Performance Storage for Hyper-V Cluster on Scale-Out File Servers using Violin Windows Flash Arrays (Microsoft Download Center)
Migration Automation Toolkit next steps (Building Clouds)
Cisco ACI APIC - User Authentication and RBAC (VirtualizationAdmin.com)
Tips for Assigning Wi-Fi Channels (WindowsNetworking.com)
Pass-The-Hash: Protect Your Windows Computers! (Part 3) (WindowSecurity.com)
Video: Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer 2.3: A detailed look (WindowSecurity.com)
Microsoft certification – Why and how – Tips from an MCT (4sysops)
New Technical Courses Live on ITA (Microsoft IT Academy Blog)
Small XenDesktop sites: design and sizing (Johannes Norz)
View ICA File Contents (Andrew Seeliger's Blog)
It is very easy to miss out on the benefits of cloud computing if your end users leave mission-critical apps on-premises. By hybridizing those apps, your users can cash in on the cloud and use it more effectively – find out how to implement this strategy inside.
Thanks to server virtualization, many organizations are running into VM sprawl. So, what can you do? Fortunately, you can free up time and eliminate manual tasks by automating some aspects of your virtualization deployment. Find out how you can utilize automation in your virtual data center today!
Cloud hosted desktops have been around for over a decade, but surprisingly, some very useful facts about the technology have been muddled in the shuffle of trend reports and exciting new use cases. Find out five important things to know about DaaS today in this exclusive report.
If you’ve gone to a VMworld show, you probably know all about the VMware Hands-on Labs, but you might not know that they are available directly from the cloud and will soon be available to anyone who signs up for an account. The lab portals give admins a way to experiment with new configurations and expand their knowledge with the company’s product line. Find out what else these labs can do for you now.
This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
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Highlights from the Budapest Airshow 2014 featuring planes flying through the beautiful city and taking off from and flying under the bridges of the Danube river:
Tsetseglen Odgerel from Mongolia with a beautiful performance of amazing flexibility and graceful movement:
Wingsuit flying BASE jumper Espen Fadnes makes history acting as a flying carpet for skydiving canopy flyer Bjørn Magne Bryn in Romsdalen Valley, Norway:
Svein Aasjord and Trond Ivarsøy had stopped their boat to watch humpback whales in the distance feeding on herring:
Mitch Tulloch is Senior Editor of WServerNews and is a widely recognized expert on Windows administration, deployment and virtualization. Mitch was lead author of the bestselling Windows 7 Resource Kit and has been author or series editor for almost fifty books mostly published by Microsoft Press. Mitch is also a ten-time recipient of Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award for his outstanding contributions in support of the global IT pro community. Mitch owns and runs an information technology content development business based in Winnipeg, Canada. For more information see www.mtit.com.
Ingrid Tulloch is Associate Editor of WServerNews and was co-author of the Microsoft Encyclopedia of Networking from Microsoft Press. Ingrid is also manages research and marketing for our content development business and has co-developed university-level courses in Information Security Management for a Masters of Business Administration program.