How to pick a NAS solution that's right for
NAS stands for 'Network Attached Storage'
and is a term used to describe any dedicated storage device that can be
connected directly to a network. Unlike other types of external storage, it can
function without the need to be connected to a computer. NAS drives are wide
ranging in performance and capability, with units designed for the home being
affordable and simple to use. Enterprise-level NAS boxes, on the other hand,
can cost thousands of pounds per unit and encompass multiple drives. As well as
providing improved performance, they have extensive security and management
facilities built in. Many small businesses now use a NAS as a general shared
area for data, which can be accessed by any user connected to the network.
A NAS differs from a traditional server in
that the hardware and operating system's sole purpose is to provide data
storage functionality. Most NAS units use file-based protocols such as NFS (Network
File System) - common on larger Unix-based corporate networks - and SMB (Server
Message Block), which is more commonly used on Windows-based home networks.
The cost of NAS drives used to be
prohibitively expensive for use in a home environment, but in many cases you
can now pick up a reasonable model for only a little more money than an
external hard drive of a similar capacity. Naturally, the recent hard drive
crisis triggered by flooding in Thailand has made the cost of drives higher
than they were 12 months ago, but with supply and demand returning slowly to
normal levels, these devices are dropping in price every month.
The Benefits Of A NAS
There are numerous benefits of a NAS in a
corporate environment, the most obvious of which is that they do not require a
server to function. In a small network with only a few PCs, having a
domain-based network is needlessly expensive, because a workgroup with an
attached NAS can afford the business much the same functionality at a greatly
reduced price. The dedicated and therefore accessible nature of a NAS unit also
means that they are much easier to maintain than dedicated servers, and should
a problem develop, they can be rebooted in moments.
For home users, NAS drives are also
becoming increasingly useful, as they enable the file sharing capabilities of a
dedicated file server for a fraction of the cost. Even the cheapest modern PC
is going to cost at least $400 and will probably come with a whole host of sunk
costs you just don't need, including an OS, as well as a pitifully small hard
disk. By contrast this same $400 will allow you access to any one of a number
of fully featured and capacious NAS boxes.
Another significant benefit of a NAS for
home users is space. A server is going to take up at least as much space as a
desktop PC, and if you want the convenience of a connected monitor, keyboard
and mouse, it will probably take up an entire corner of the room. A home NAS
box, on the other hand, is no larger than a USB hard drive and can sit
unobtrusively next to your router.
Another major benefit is the ease of setup.
Whereas a file server requires extensive configuration and knowledge of
networking terminology and server-based operating systems, with a NAS you just
plug it into your router and you'll be sharing your data around the network in
just a few minutes.
More Than Just Storage
standalone BitTorrent / NAS device
Many modern NAS drives offer their users a
lot more than just a network-accessible location to store files. It has become
increasingly common to find NAS devices with built-in BitTorrent clients, for
example, allowing users to seed or download data without the need for a
power-hungry desktop to be running 24/seven. Many of these drives also offer
FTP functionality, allowing you access to your data from remotely located
networks over the internet. This is also a great and affordable way of sharing
data among friends and family, allowing them to browse your holiday photos or
home videos remotely. Some NAS boxes offer UPnP functionality enabling you to
seamlessly use your Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 as a media playback device, while
others offer music serving capabilities for iTunes, Windows Media Player and
other popular playback software. If you're prepared to invest in a more
expensive NAS, they can also handle your entire backup and redundancy
requirements, because boxes with space for multiple drives can be configured in
RAID 1 or even RAID 5 mode to provide protection against a single disk failure.
These can be used in conjunction with powerful backup software like Acronis
True Image to fully automate a scheduled backup of your entire network.