What are NAS & RAID in Edge Server Applications?

You’ve probably heard of NAS servers or RAID servers, which are fairly popular applications of servers. However, while the two are often used together, they are often mistakenly thought to be the same. Furthermore, their usage in edge servers, while important, are less discussed! Join me in today’s article to learn about NAS & RAID, and how we can apply them to edge server applications!

We will cover the following content and more!

  • What are Edge Servers?
  • Understanding NAS vs RAID
  • Advantages of NAS & RAID on the Edge
  • Hardware for Edge Servers for Networked Filesystems
  • Building a SATA RAID NAS with Raspberry Pi

What are Edge Servers?

In my previous article, I shared that servers are essentially computers that provide resources or services to other computers in a network. Edge servers, quite simply, are such computers as applied in edge computing scenarios.

If you’re new to either topics of Edge Computing or Edge Servers, I highly recommend you have a look at the following previous articles, in which I’ve written extensively about each of them:

Understanding NAS vs RAID

NAS & RAID are important technologies in data-storage applications in servers. As previously mentioned, despite many overlaps in their use-cases, they do in fact refer to entirely different things.

NAS – Network-Attached Storage

NAS is short for Network-Attached Storage. As the name suggests, a NAS server stores and hosts a filesystem, which can then be accessed by any computer in the server. NAS servers are used to share files in enterprises that involve heavy collaboration between employees, but are also popularly used by creative professionals and enthusiasts to backup their data in a convenient location.

NAS servers are often accessible over a local network connection like ethernet and different file protocols. In addition, they will use more robust NAS drives, which are designed for continuous operation and enhanced performance over regular desktop drives. Some other NAS servers include additional features like data security, or are simultaneously used to run other edge server applications, like mail servers.

Source: FS Community

RAID – Redundant Array of Independent Disks

RAID is short for Redundant Array of Independent Disks, and is used to improve the reliability of data storage facilities. More specifically, RAID enables data to be saved across multiple physical storage devices, while still appearing as a single drive. This is done using a RAID controller, which is a specialised piece of software & hardware.

Different RAID servers may work differently depending on their RAID Level. RAID levels denote the way that a RAID server is set up, and thus offer varying levels of performance or data security. For example, RAID 0 simply treats multiple disks as a single partition, with no redundancy in place. On the other hand, RAID 1 mirrors two drives, meaning that they will both contain the same data. This ensures that the data will remain accessible even if one drive fails. There are also other RAID levels, such as RAID 5, RAID 6, and RAID 10.

Source: Enterprise Storage Forum

NAS & RAID – Not Quite the Same After All

At this point, you might have already figured out that NAS & RAID are quite distinct after all. While NAS is a technology that allows network-accessible data storage, RAID is a file-system technology that improves the performance and availability of data storage systems.

It is very much possible to implement a RAID without network-storage capabilities. However, most NAS servers today will come equipped with RAID infrastructure, since the scale of NAS applications will often require the redundancies offered by RAID!

Advantages of RAID & NAS on the Edge

Now that we have a basic understanding of NAS, RAID and Edge Servers, we might be wondering why exactly it is so important for NAS & RAID servers to be moved to the edge? Well, here are three main reasons!

1.  Lower Latency, Faster Speed

The most direct advantage of storing information on the edge is eliminating the need to transmit data to and from the cloud. In this golden age of data, billions of IoT devices are deployed and generating up to trillions of data points daily! NAS & RAID servers on the edge allow you to store data reliably and just within arms reach for low-latency and high performance data analytics – and even machine learning!

2.  Save Bandwidth Costs

If your application stores large amounts of data that have to be stored for later processing, regular transmissions to cloud servers can be extremely costly. Investing in an edge server with NAS & RAID functions will allow you to take advantage of an accessible and reliable substitute while reducing the need to exchange data with an external network – resulting in lower requirements for network bandwidth and thus reduced costs in the long run.

3.  Improved Data Security

A reduction in the transmission of data to external locations also means less open connections and fewer opportunities for cyber attacks. This keeps your sensitive or confidential data out of the reach of a potential intercept or data breach. Furthermore, the redundancies provided by a RAID server can offer you increased protection against recently prevalent ransomware attacks, where critical data is stolen and withheld by hackers until a sum of money is paid.

Hardware for RAID NAS Edge Servers

NAS & RAID servers come in many forms, ranging from being run by a tiny single board computer, all the up to enterprise level servers run on racks of computers. When deploying for the edge, however, there is a particular focus on not only performance, but also meeting space and power constraints. In this section, I will share several recommendations for getting started with your very first NAS & RAID edge server!

Introducing reServer

The reServer is Seeed’s latest addition to the reThings family, and is a compact and powerful server that can be used in both edge and cloud computing scenarios. Based on the ODYSSEY x86 v2 board and powered by the latest 11th Gen Intel Core i3 CPU with Intel UHD Xe Graphics, reServer packs a real punch in any edge server application that you can think of.

In particular, reServer comes with a variety of network connectivity, including dual 2.5-Gigabit Ethernet, 5G, LoRaWAN, BLE and WiFi. For RAID & NAS server uses, reServer has dual SATA III connectors to store two 3.5” SATA hard disks, plus M.2 interfaces for SSD expansions!

Product Features

  • CPU: Latest 11th Gen Intel® Core™ i3 CPU running up to 4.10GHz
  • Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics Xe G4 48EUs running up to 1.25 GHz
  • Rich Peripherals: Dual 2.5-Gigabit Ethernet, USB 3.0 Type-A, USB 2.0 Type-A, HDMI and DP output
  • Hybrid connectivity including 5G, LoRa, BLE and WiFi (Additional Modules required for 5G and LoRa)
  • Dual SATA III 6.0 Gbps data connectors for 3.5” SATA hard disk drives with sufficient internal enclosure storage space
  • M.2 B-Key/ M-Key/ E-Key for expandability with SSDs or 4G and 5G modules
  • Compact server design, with an overall dimension of 124mm*132mm*233mm
  • Quiet cooling fan with a large VC heat sink for excellent heat dissipation
  • Easy to install, upgrade and maintain with ease of access to the internal components

Learn more about the reServer on the Seeed Online Store today!

GPU-Accelerated Applications: Jetson Mate

It’s common to double up your NAS or RAID server with other uses like data processing and analytics, so it may be worth your while to give the Jetson Mate a closer look. The Jetson Mate carrier board is a comprehensive and reliable solution that has been specially designed for building NVIDIA Jetson clusters, with dedicated compatibility to the Jetson Nano / Jetson Xavier NX Modules.

Equipped with an onboard 5-port gigabit switch, as well as independent power for 3 worker/slave nodes, the Jetson Mate with its rich peripherals (CSI, HDMI, USB, Ethernet) and inbuilt fan is a complete solution for building GPU clusters or servers on the edge. With the on-board USB ports, you’ll also be able to easily add external storage to use it as a NAS server!

Now, you can pick up the hardware for a complete edge GPU cluster from Seeed in two convenient packages!

Beginner-Friendly: Raspberry Pi 4B

If you’re a beginner, you most certainly won’t go wrong with the Raspberry Pi 4B. Despite its small size, the Raspberry Pi still houses a fairly powerful quad-core Broadcom CPU, and has been used in many community RAID or NAS server projects! You’ll also benefit greatly from the extensive range of discussions and support from the Raspberry Pi community!

Product Features:

  • Broadcom BCM2711, quad-core Cortex-A72 (ARM v8) 64-bit SoC @ 1.5GHz
  • 1GB, 2GB or 4GB LPDDR4 RAM
  • 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz IEEE 802.11b/g/n/ac wireless LAN, Bluetooth 5.0, BLE, Gigabit Ethernet
  • 2 × USB 3.0 ports / 2 × USB 2.0 ports
  • Standard 40-pin GPIO Header
  • 2 × micro HDMI ports (up to 4Kp60 supported)
  • 2-lane MIPI DSI display port / 2-lane MIPI CSI camera port

Interested to learn more? Learn more about the Raspberry Pi 4 on the Seeed Online Store now!

Compact & Ready-to-Use: PIzza for RPi CM4

The PIzza is a microserver powered by the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4. It is designed for the easy setup and quick deployment for typical commercial and lightweight industry applications, including smart homes, 4G/LTE routers, digital signages and SD-WAN. Furthermore, it can be used as a user-friendly mobile or portable OpenWRT VPN solution with the on-board dual gigabit ethernet ports. With the included NVME socket, you can easily use the PIzza as a Network-Attached Storage (NAS) or multimedia center in your home. You’ll be able to seamlessly access media files from multiple devices, or push them to the TV via HDMI at up to 4K resolution.

Product Features:

  • Powered by the Powerful Raspberry Pi Computer Module 4 (CM4) @ 1.5GHz
  • Diverse Wireless Connectivity Options
    • Dual-Band Frequency 2.4GHz/5GHz WiFi
    • Dual Gigabit Ethernet Ports
    • 4G/LTE Communication via mini PCIe (Other modules supported)
  • Expandable Storage: M.2  NVME Socket for SSD Expansion
  • Multimedia Ready: HDMI Output at up to 4Kp60
  • Integrated Thermal Management: Aluminium Heatsink with ABS Body

Interested to learn more? Learn more about the PIzza on the Seeed Online Store now!

Building a RAID NAS Edge Server with the Raspberry Pi

To wrap up, I’d like to briefly share Jeff Geerling’s blog post, which you can access here. In there, Jeff documents his process in building a compact SATA RAID NAS with the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4, Raspberry Pi IO Board, and an IO Crest 4-port SATA card. He’s included detailed steps with code and troubleshooting pointers – so you can follow along and get experimenting with your very own RAID NAS!

Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4 with IOCrest 4-port SATA card and four Kingston SSDs
Source: Jeff Geerling

In the later half of Jeff’s post, you’ll also find various benchmarks comparing different interfaces and RAID levels. These are just some of the considerations that you’ll have to keep in mind when designing your final RAID NAS solution!

Summary & More Resources

In this article, we’ve learnt more about RAID & NAS and their uses in providing accessible filesystems in networks. With edge servers, we can take their advantages to the next level with low latency, private and cost-saving network storage! Furthermore, getting started with a Raspberry Pi RAID NAS is a great home project even for beginners who don’t have much experience – so be sure to give it a try!

For more resources, you might want to take a look at some of our other articles:

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June 2021