Server computer Archive

The NAS as an on-premises edge-computing device for cloud services

QNAP TS-251 2-bay NAS

QNAP TS-251 2-bay NAS – units like this could become a capable edge-computing device

The high-end network-attached storage system is a device able to augment the cloud computing trend in various forms. This is by becoming a local “edge processor” for the cloud-computing ecosystem and handling the data that is created or used by end-users local to it.

High-end network-attached-storage systems

We are seeing the rise of network-attached-storage subsystems that are capable of running as computers in their own right. These are typically high-end consumer or small-business devices offered by the likes of QNAP, Synology or NETGEAR ReadyNAS that have a large app store or software-developer community.

The desktop variants would be the size ranging form half a loaf of bread to a full bread loaf, with some rack-mounted units about the size of one or two pizza boxes.This is compared to servers that were the size of a traditional tower computer.

But some of the apps work alongside public cloud-driven online services as a client or “on-ramp” between these services and your local network. A typical use case is to synchronise files held on an online storage service with the local storage on the NAS unit.

These high-end network-attached-storage devices are effectively desktop computers in their own right, with some of them using silicon that wouldn’t look out of place with a traditional desktop computer. Some of these machines even support a “local console” with a display connection and USB connections that support keyboards and mice.

Cloud computing

Cloud computing takes an online-service approach to computing needs and, in a lot of cases, uses multiple computers in multiple data centres to perform the same computing task. This is typically to host the data in or close to the end-user’s country or to provide a level of scalability and fault-tolerance in the online service approach.

Lot 3 Ripponlea café

A cafe like this could benefit from big-business technology without paying a king’s ransom thanks to cloud computing

Small businesses are showing an interest in cloud-driven computing solutions as a way to come on board with the same things as the “big end of town” without paying a king’s ransom for hardware necessary for an on-premises computing solution. In some cases, it is also about using different endpoint types like mobile-platform tablets for daily use or as a management tool, underscoring such concepts as low cost or portability that some endpoints may offer.

Typically, this kind of computing is offered “as a service” where you subscribe to the service on a regular, usually monthly or annual, basis rather than you spending big on capital expenses to get it going.

But, due to its nature as an always-online service, cloud computing can cause reliability and service-availability issues if the Internet connection isn’t reliable or the service ends up being oversubscribed. This can range from real-time services suffering latency towards a cloud-computing experience becoming unresponsive or unavailable.

Then there is the issue of privacy, data security, service continuity and data sovereignty which can crop up if you change to a different service or the service you use collapses or changes hands. It can easily happen while cloud-computing faces points of reckoning and the industry goes in to consolidation.

Edge computing

But trends that are being investigated in relationship to the “Internet Of Things” and “Big Data” are the concepts  of “edge” and “fog” computing. It is based around the idea of computing devices local to the source or sink of the data that work with the locally-generated or locally-used data as part of submitting it to or fetching it from the cloud network.

It may allow a level of fault-tolerance for applications that demand high availability or permit scalability at the local level for the cloud-computing application. Some systems may even allow for packaging locally-used data in a locally-relevant form such as for online games to support local tournaments or an online movie service to provide a local storage of what is popular in the neighbourhood.

The ideas associated with “edge” and “fog” computing allow for the use of lightweight computer systems to do the localised or distributed processing, effectively aggregating these systems in to what is effectively a heavyweight computer system. It has been brought about with various early distributed-computing projects like SETI and Folding@Home to use personal computers to solve scientific problems.

What is serving the edge-computing needs

Qarnot Q.Rad press image courtesy of Qarnot

This Qarnot Q.Rad heater is actually a computer that is part of edge computing

Some applications like drones are using the on-device processing to do the local workload. Or we are seeing the likes of Qarnot developing edge-computing servers that heat your room or hot water with the waste heat these computing devices produce.  But Amazon and QNAP are working on an approach to use a small-office NAS as an edge-computing device especially for Internet-Of-Things applications.

The NAS serving this role

Here, it is about making use of these ubiquitous and commonly-available NAS units for this purpose as well as storing and serving data that a network needs. In some cases, it can be about the local processing and storing of this locally-generated / locally-used data then integrating the data with what is available on the cloud “backbone”.

For some applications, it could be about keeping enough data for local needs on the NAS to assure high availability. Or it could be about providing scalability by allowing the NAS to do some of the cloud workload associated with the locally-generated data before submitting it to the cloud.

Netgear ReadyNAS

The NETGEAR ReadyNAS on the right is an example of a NAS that is capable of being an edge-computing node

This may be of importance with IT systems that are moving from a totally on-premises approach towards the use of cloud-computing infrastructure with data being stored or processed online. It is where the focus of the cloud infrastructure is to make business-wide data available across a multi-site business or to provide “portable access” to business data. Here, a NAS could simply be equipped with the necessary software to be a smart “on-ramp” for this data.

For small and medium businesses who are moving towards multiple locations such as when a successful business buys another business in another area to increase their footprint, this technology may have some appeal. Here, it could be about doing some pre-processing for data local to the premises before submitting to the cloud as part of an online management-information-system for that small effort.  As well, it could be about keeping the business-wide data “in-sync” across the multiple locations, something that may be important with price lists or business-wide ledgers.

This kind of approach works well with the high-end NAS units if these units’ operating platforms allow third-party software developers to write software for these devices. It can then open up the possibilities for hybrid and “edge” computing applications that involve these devices and the network connectivity and on-device storage that they have.


What needs to happen is that the high-end network-attached-storage systems of the Synology or QNAP kind need to be considered as a hardware base for localised “edge computing” in an online “cloud-computing” setup.

This can be facilitated by the vendors inciting software development in this kind of context and encouraging people involved in online and cloud computing to support this goal especially for small-business computing.

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A NAS could appeal as an alternative to the old XP-powered file server


Replace Your Outdated Windows XP File Server With Network Attached Storage | Lifehacker

My Comments

ASUSTor AS-204TE 4-bay NAS with WD Red 6Tb hard disk

ASUSTor AS-204TE 4-bay NAS – “Data central” for a small business

Some of you who run small businesses may be trying to get that last bit of mileage out of that beige-coloured “white-box” computer that is running as a file server. Typically the old computer may be running Windows XP Professional as its operating system which is approaching end-of-life and you may find that many components, especially the mechanical ones, are starting to wear down.

Today’s small-business desktop NAS units are about the size of half a loaf of bread for small units or the size of a large toaster or a toaster-oven for the larger units, and are built from the ground up to work as data servers for a small workload. They are even engineered to be able to run reliably for a long time without issues concerning overheating or vibration. As well, most of today’s small-business NAS units are even optimised to run the fans and hard disks on an as-needed basis to allow for quiet operation and reduced energy needs.

Although the news article focuses on Synology equipment, it can hold true of similar devices offered by QNAP, WD, Seagate, NETGEAR ReadyNAS, ASUSTor and the like. Most of these are increasingly running multipurpose operating environments that the manufacturers build on Linux or, in some cases, licensing Windows Server 2012 Essentials Edition from Microsoft. As well, they have a lot of the essential server applications like database servers, Web servers and the like that you can install from the vendor along with the essential file servers and can even work with Microsoft ActiveDirectory setups. This can make for some small-business NAS systems that can be truly multifunctional like some properly set-up file servers.

Western Digital Sentinel DS5100 Windows Server NAS

Western Digital Sentinel DS-5100 Windows Server NAS

The advice about considering a NAS as an upgrade path for your small-business’s old “white-box” file-server computer may not apply to those of you who have a lot invested in this style of “regular-computer-based” server system, especially where an application server is concerned, and have kept it up to date with new hardware and software. But it can be of use for those of us who are heading towards a more efficient computer setup for the small office..

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Product Review–WD Sentinel DS5100 Windows Server NAS

An idea that has come to me for small businesses that have a handful of staff is the concept of a small server that isn’t too overpowered for their needs but allows them to “grow up”.  What I mean by that is that  a small business that runs with a few regular desktop or laptop computers but without a server may not be seen by some as being a “grown-up” business as far as their IT needs are concerned. This may be due to absence of flexibility in these setups or not being able to cope with larger volumes of business due to the smaller size of these setups.

Here I am reviewing the Western Digital Sentinel DS5100 NAS which is a four-disk NAS that runs on the Essentials version of the Windows Server 2012 operating system rather than a shoehorned version of Linux which most NAS units run on. This software is licensed and optimised for 25 users and 50 computers.

The Sentinel DS6100 series comes with increased capacity and two power supplies which you can set up for increased power-supply redundancy and reliability. It also runs with two 2.5” boot drives rather than one boot drive also for increased reliability.


WD Sentinel DS5100

4Tb raw AUD$3799
8Tb raw AUD$4499

WD Sentinel DS6100

8Tb raw AUD$4999
12Tb raw AUD$5799
16Tb raw AUD$6499

Western Digital Sentinel DS5100 Windows Server NAS


Class Small-business network attached storage
Operating System Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials
Capacity 8Gb raw (no RAID in place)
Disks 4 x user-replaceable SATA 3.5” disks
Network Connection 2 x Gigabit Ethernet
USB Device Connection 4 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0
Console video connection VGA
Device Discovery
UPnP No – install separate software
Bonjour No – install separate iTunes software
UPnP Internet Gateway Control No
Features And Protocols
SMB/CIFS Yes – Windows Server
Media Server No
Remote Access VPN endpoint
Remote NAS Sync Windows Server devices

The Network-Attached Storage System itself

WD Sentinel DS 5100 Windows Server NAS alongside bread

Small size alongside a loaf of bread

This is a 4-disk NAS that runs with Intel Xeon E3-1220L horsepower but is in a cabinet half the size of a breadbox. It is well-built and hasn’t shown any symptoms of excessive vibration or noise, although the large fan does spin up hard during the initial boot-up phase. Even transferring data to a parity-arranged RAID setup where two or more disks would be spun up meant that the system was relatively quiet.

This is because the power supply is a laptop-style “lump” that is outside the NAS’s case rather than physically integrated in the unit. This allows for quieter operation and the smaller size that this unit has.

The WD Sentinel DS Series of NAS units – effectively a “business in a box”

Setup and use

WD Sentinel DS5100 Windows Server NAS Connections - 2 Gigabit Ethernet, 4 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, VGA, power

Connections – 2 Gigabit Ethernet, 4 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, VGA, power

The setup routine requires that you to use a dedicated keyboard, monitor with VGA connection and mouse as a “console” to get Windows Server 2012 Essentials going on the WD Sentinel. After that, you have to go to the “//servername/connect” URL to download connection software for your operating system so you can manage the WD Sentinel from your computer.

The Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials software can support up to 25 users on 50 machines initially out-of-the-box but there is the ability for the small business to upgrade to Windows Server 2012 Standard. The fact that this box runs on Windows Server means that it could run as a server for a variety of business-grade software applications such as being part of a “point-of-sale” system.

The throughput was pretty good enough for most light-duty file-by-file work, being able to accept 220Gb over two hours. This could satisfy most small-business data requirements especially at the early stages.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

WD Sentinel DS5100 Windows Server NAS front

Access door to hard drives

For a person who isn’t used to Windows Server, it may appear to be very daunting to do tasks like setting up the data volumes. WD could improve this with a wizard that simplifies and directs setup towards a RAID-5 setup. Similarly, the Windows Server Essentials misses out on the ability to run the Exchange Server and the main file / Web / application server function in one box which may put a limit on its use as the dream “business in a box” server.

Microsoft could pitch a lightweight variant of Exchange Server for use on Windows Server Essentials setups in order to cater for on-premises setups with these “business-in-a-box” servers and could work towards simplifying Windows Server Essentials setup for the businesses who don’t have ready access to IT staff. As well, small business needs to be aware of line-of-business software that works with Windows Server Essentials in an easy-to-manage manner and can run on these servers.

This class of server could be a chance for WD, Seagate and others, along with Microsoft to achieve the goal of the small “business-in-a-box” server that is highly capable. For example, more-powerful highly-compact “breadbox” servers could appear, with some being able to run from a vehicle’s or boat’s battery leading towards the goal of server-assisted big-time computing for businesses that work out of a vehicle or boat.

As well, a computer dealer could offer a “get-you-going” pack with one of these servers along with a UPS at a price that could please small business so they can have that “foot-in-the-door” with server-based computing.


Personally, I would pitch the WD Sentinell DS5100 or DS6100 for one of many applications. For example, a person who is teaching or learning Windows Server skills could use this box rather than a surplus desktop “tower” as part of this activity. Similarly, this could be set up as an entry-level “business in a box” server for a small shop moving from the cash register or single-terminal POS setup to a more flexible setup.

Similarly, this box, with Windows Server’s BranchCache feature could work well with small businesses who are running from a few different locations or want to establish a transportable location like the so-called “pop-up” branch. Here, it means that the unit could serve as a “local cache” server for these remote or transportable locations thus mitigating poor-quality or expensive Internet backlinks.

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