By Carrie Tsai, Last Updated: November 17
Today, in this age when data are becoming bigger and bigger from higher-resolution photos and more near-constant video capture, the storage space in PCs and mobile devices, no matter how much it’s expanded, fills up faster than ever, making it much harder to store and backup data. This makes many PCs or mobile devices users have to recur to additional storage solutions such as cloud storage, external hard drive, and the recent NAS.
In recent years, it seems that more and more people apt to use the relatively-new tool NAS. After all, cloud storage systems like Google Drive and Dropbox, although quite convenient to use and indeed bring a truly good storage experience, always require regular subscription fees and provide uncertain security risks when private data are stored in public space.
External hard drive, although guarantees data security, must be connected to your PC or your mobile device to store and back up your data, making it an unscientific and inconvenient data storage solution.
But the questions are, what is NAS? Why do many people turn to use it for data storage and backup from the older ways of using cloud storage or external hard drive? And how to get a NAS? How to choose the right one? Take your time. All will be solved in the following.
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What Is A NAS and How Does It Work
A NAS, short for Network-Attached Storage, is primarily a high-capacity file-dedicated storage server attached to a network which allows for storing and retrieving data from a centralized location for centralized file-sharing and backups for authorized network users and devices.
Unlike a DAS (direct-attached storage) device such as an external hard drive which stores data only when it’s plugged into a mobile device or a PC, a NAS connects to your home or office network via standard Ethernet to provide a single access point for storage, making your data from your mobile device or PC accessible to you remotely from anywhere.
Technically, a NAS system works to integrate all the data from mobile devices or computers and allows users to access the data on the Internet by attaching it to a local area network (typically an Ethernet network) where it has its own nodes and assigning an IP address. More importantly, it can exist in a LAN to consolidate all the data on the web for centralized management and deployment without the intervention of the application server.
In terms of management, NAS actually does pretty well. It supports multiple file-based protocols such as NFS, SMB/CIFS, AFP, NCP, UPnP and DLNA and a variety of operating systems, making it intuitive and convenient for users to manage NAS devices through any workstations.
At its most basics, NAS is a file-based data storage server used largely for storage and file sharing across a network. But it can actually do so much more than that. You can use it to backup your crucial data from your mobile device and PC and once the hard drive in your NAS device dies, you can hot-swap it with a new drive for recovery.
The Benefits of NAS
Moreover, the vast majority of NAS servers that support the UPnP and DLNA protocols can be used as multimedia servers for sharing and streaming multimedia files to devices such as gaming consoles, tablets, and mobile phones across a network. Furthermore, NAS systems are also versatile devices that can often be utilized as print servers for network printing.
* Convenient & Accessible
* Data Storage
* File sharing
* Fast Network Connectivity
* Data Backup/Disaster Recovery
* High Capacity
* Multimedia Server
* Print Server
* Easy to Manage & Deploy
As a new type of data storage solution, NAS systems are rapidly gaining popularity among home and small-size enterprise users. This is unsurprising for that they indeed have lots of brilliant advantages over traditional storage devices.
* Lower Costs
Whether for enterprise users or for home users, a NAS system always provides a very convenient way to add storage to all authorized devices. By simply attaching NAS to your network, you’re able to easily share files, photos, and videos with other authorized users.
Also, NAS is capable of remote access, meaning that data on them can be accessible over a network connection to users no matter where the users are located. This benefit is especially useful for enterprise users since it makes it much easier for them to collaborate and respond to assignments and issues in time.
In terms of network capabilities, most current NAS devices have wired Gigabit Ethernet connectivity, which allows for increased network throughput and thereby faster data access and storage. This is because most of the current NAS devices have two or more Gigabit ports that can be linked together, aggregating link speeds and thus improving network capability.
NAS systems always support high storage capacity. Home-class NAS devices often support up to 8TB storage capacity. And when it comes to business-level ones, they typically have higher scale-out and some even support petabytes of storage capacity.
Besides, NAS systems also do very well in capacity expansion. They can often expand their capacity through USB ports where users can plug direct-attached storage devices or through built-in iSCSI support which can create virtual drives for even more storage.
Unlike SAN (Storage Area Network) which is complex to manage, NAS provides integrated data storage and simplified operations, making it much easier to manage and deploy.
NAS has a very attractive price-point compared to the much more expensive SAN storage solution. This is because, on the one hand, a NAS device itself is usually cost-effective. On the other hand, it integrates all the data on the web for centralized management without having to locate within the server, which reduces workload from the application or enterprise servers, greatly reducing the cost of the server.
In terms of security, NAS is good at centralizing data storage in a secure way. On the one hand, most NAS devices support Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) such as RAID0, RAID1, and RAID5 which keeps your stored data safe and recoverable from another drive once the drive where your data are stored has been destroyed.
On the other hand, NAS comes with various security controls to protect data from being accessed by intruders such as physically locked enclosures, K-Slots (Kensington Security Locks), and authentication methods requiring a username and password.
In short, as an easy-to-manage, multifaceted, high-scaled, low-cost, and reliable storage solution, NAS is becoming and will definitely become prevalent among home and enterprise users.
In What Ways Can You Get A NAS
NAS is indeed a nifty data storage solution that connects a centralized hard drive to a network and provides data access to all the authorized devices, making file-sharing and backup a whole lot easier. But how can we get our hands on such a system? Well, there are many ways by which you can get a NAS.
Repurpose An Old PC You’ve Been Lying Around
If you have an old PC that has been left in the closet, building your own NAS by repurposing your old PC may be the most cost-effective way to get a NAS. DIY NAS can be accessed from computers and PCs which are powered by Mac OS, Linux, and Windows that have built-in backups and can perform well to support all of the common NAS functions.
To set up your own NAS via your old PC, you can repurpose your old PC by using a software solution like the FreeNAS to transform your old PC into a home file server. But keep remembering that this option requires one to have some technical base. And moreover, maintenance is also troublesome. This option is best suitable for geeks.
A Router with Built-in Hard Drives
Some WiFi routers especially the newer ones often come with built-in hard drives and NAS server software, meaning that they can be actually used as NAS for data storage and file-sharing in addition to typical network routers. Apple’s AirPort Time Capsule is a typical wireless router which ships with a built-in hard drive that Macs can easily utilize for network storage, back-up as well as file-sharing.
Hence, find out if your existing WiFi router comes with built-in hard drives. If it does, you’ll be able to get a NAS right now on the existing router without having to add yet another device to your household. However, if it doesn’t, you can also consider grabbing an entirely new WiFi router which is the latest and greatest with built-in hard drives if you’re unhappy with your old existing router.
A Router Which Has USB Ports
In fact, if you find out that your existing WiFi router doesn’t come with built-in hard drives but has USB ports, don’t fret. A WiFi router coming with USB ports is NAS-enabled which allows you to attach an external hard drive or a USB flash drive via a USB port for additional storage.
Once the router is attached to an external hard drive via a USB port, the built-in NAS software will expose the router to the network as a NAS. Then you can enable the NAS server from your router’s web interface for additional storage and file sharing.
But keep remembering that attaching a USB 2.0 drive gets much lower speeds than using a USB 3.0 drive. And external hard drives can get much faster speed from USB 3.0 ports than USB flash drives can. It’s great if your existing WiFi router has USB ports that support USB 3.0 so that you can attach a USB 3.0 external drive to get faster speed.
Purchase A Dedicated NAS Device
Rather than repurposing your old PC or attempting to use your router as a NAS, you can always buy a NAS device to get a NAS. This could be the easiest way to get your hands on a NAS. These NAS devices are dedicated to the corresponding NAS server software which is designed specifically to be connected to a WiFi or wired network and thus provides a NAS file server.
How to Choose A Dedicated NAS If You Intend to Buy One
If you intend to get a NAS by buying a dedicated NAS device, you can head to a Website like Amazon and search for NAS. But don’t make the purchasing decision very hastily and casually before you figure out how to choose the right one.
This is because there is a wide range of NAS devices available which have a variety of uses, features, performance, and prices. So you should really learn how to choose in order to tailor a solution for your specific needs. The following are useful tips for you to choose the right NAS device.
Decide Which Type to Use: Pre-Populated or Diskless
Dedicated NAS devices often have two types including pre-populated and diskless. Pre-populated NAS devices ship with built-in drives which have been already formatted for use in a particular RAID configuration. NAS devices that are diskless don’t come with any built-in drives, meaning you’ll need to attach an appropriate hard drive or multiple hard drives separately to the NAS device to access the storage.
But how to choose between the two types? Well, check out the cost difference. A given NAS device in different types may cost differently. The diskless form can generally be cheaper since it saves the cost of built-in drives. However, using a diskless NAS device requires you to attach an appropriate hard drive or multiple hard drives to it.
It’ll be great if you already have some old hard drives lying around for that you can easily transform them into NAS storage without having to spend much to buy new drives. But if you don’t have one, you need to buy new ones, which may cost a lot more. Anyway, it’s advisable to choose one type which is relatively cost-effective and can work out to a good value.
Figure out What You’ll Use It For
Would you like to use a NAS device for home use or for business use? Do you want to use it for serving big data activities over your home network to multiple devices all at the same time such as sharing HD videos and storing big media libraries? Will you use it for a large enterprise or for a small-medium business?
Figuring out what you’ll use it for is very helpful for you to narrow down the options available as well as making it much easier to find out what kinds of features are needed. For example, if you buy the NAS device for home use, you don’t need to look for large numbers of user accounts. But if you’d like to use it for business especially large businesses, you’ll want a NAS device to have a very large data capacity and allow for fast speed of file sharing.
Different purposes and practical needs will have different requirements for the specifications, features, and functions of NAS devices. Figure out your purposes and practical needs before shopping for a NAS device.
Look for the Key Features
After figuring out what you’ll use a NAS for, you need to take your time to tap into the key features of NAS devices such as operation, storage capacity, performance, file compatibility, network connectivity, and security. Try to look for the features which can meet your practical needs.
For home users, picking a NAS device that can be set up in a short time and can run with little maintenance is the way to go. And if you just want to use a NAS device for basic data storage and backup, you don’t need to really focus on the storage capacity and network connectivity. But if you’d like to use a NAS device to serve HD videos to multiple devices all at the same time or store very big media libraries, you’ll need one with higher specifications to capacity, performance, and connectivity.
Consider Your Budget
Don’t forget to take your budget into account. It’s wise to choose a NAS device which is your budget option and good for the price.
In short, it’s advisable for you to choose one which is easy to set up and operate, possesses the key features that can meet your practical needs, and is cost-effective.
A NAS is a high-capacity file-based storage server that allows for centralized data storage, back-up, and file-sharing by attaching to a network for authorized users and devices. As an easy-to-manage, versatile, large-scale, low-cost, and secure storage solution, NAS is gaining great popularity among home and business users.
You can get a NAS by repurposing your old PC or using a router with built-in drives or USB ports or buying a dedicated NAS device. When intending to buy a NAS device, choose one which is easy to operate, has the features satisfying your specific needs, and is within your budget.