The Benefits of a Network-Attached Storage (NAS)

So you’re looking for a more effective way of sharing and storing your data, and you’ve come across Network-Attached Storage – otherwise known as NAS, for short. But what is it exactly and how does it work? Here we’ll explain all:

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What is Network-Attached Storage?

You could create extra storage by connecting a USB External Hard Drive to your computer – or you could use Network-Attached Storage. By allowing multiple devices to have access to the same data over the internet, this creates a more efficient means of data management along with offering backup of essential information on a frequent basis. So in a nutshell, NAS offers centralised storage.

What are the benefits of Network-Attached Storage?

The key benefits of network-attached storage are mainly speed and convenience. While hard drives will always be the most common choice when it comes to storage, you may find that you could be restricted with their use – as such devices are often limited in use due to the type of computer it’s connected to. Instead of a hard drive connecting to your computer, NAS connects to your wireless router – enabling multiple users from multiple devices to access the files on the network. So, if you’re at home and have a number of PCs and printers, this provides the quickest and most efficient way for everyone to acquire and share the relevant data.

Improves collaboration

By connecting to the network, this aids sharing and collaboration so as to allow users of the network to collaborate more effectively on a project – as any digital data saved to a NAS drive can be accessed from one universal location. So not only can anyone accessing the network get to their desired files and folders between computers with ease – they can also share said digital content. Many NAS units offer options for connecting to your storage remotely meaning you (or friends and family) have access to your files anywhere in the world – effectively your own private cloud storage. Of course as soon as you open your files up to the big wide world you should ensure you have secure passwords and where possible configure firewalls to give you as much protection as possible – with different NAS devices offering different options for this. Some might be simple FTP access and others offer slightly more advanced VPN access or via the manufacturer’s servers.

Which devices can I link to my NAS?

You can hook up your printers, computers as well as USB cameras with your NAS device.

Does my NAS back up my data?

When it comes to backing up your data, RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) is your best option. By using two or more hard disks, this helps provide a level of security in the event of a system failure – ideal for NAS.

Configuring the NAS setup

Another great advantage is that NAS provides the ability to customise your storage settings i.e. add even more hard drives when configuring your setup. This offers two useful benefits: one, simply upgrade your storage without ever needing to transfer your data to an external drive – all that’s required is a second drive. Fortunately the majority of NAS systems provide enough space to fit in two hard drives, so having that extra storage solution can be considered a lifesaver. Your second advantage with NAS is setting up two or more drives into a RAID array – whereby you pair multiple drives together to enhance redundancy, performance, or even both.

There are 6 types of RAID. The most common being RAID 0 (striped array), RAID 1 (mirrored array) and RAID 5:

RAID 0 is the simplest way to combine all of your drives into the largest single volume possible, by splitting your data across all the drives (known as striping). It offers performance benefits because the RAID controller is able to write to multiple drives at once but offers no redundancy so it is not suitable for important irreplaceable data.

RAID 1 effectively replicates what is one drive onto another. At best it offers the same performance as a single drive (at worst it can reduce write performance as write speeds will be dictated by the slowest drive). It does however offer full redundancy in the event of a single drive failure. If you’re using an external hard drive and it suddenly packs up on you then this spells trouble – but should one of your RAID 1 NAS drives be affected, the second drive has stored your data so you can easily recover your library.

RAID 5 is by far the most popular and is a combination of RAID 0 and RAID 1. It requires a minimum of three drives with one drive acting as a ‘parity drive’. Data is striped (like RAID 0) across n-1 drives (n being the total number of drives in your RAID array) meaning you have the performance benefits of RAID 0. The parity drive means in the event of a single drive failure it is possible to rebuild the entire array (much like RAID 1). This does however mean that you are vulnerable after a drive failure until the RAID is rebuilt (the time it takes to re-establish the parity drive) meaning you can still potentially lose all of your data. For this reason RAID 6 has been developed to supersede RAID 5 allowing failure of up to two drives for large arrays. The downside to this is that you need two parity drives so you get less total storage for your money, and as array sizes increase, RAID 6 becomes even more essential.

Why should I choose NAS?

We’ve already covered the fact that NAS is ideal for users looking to share files, storage capacity, printers plus its regular backup service. But why choose NAS as your preferred storage solution?

Media streaming

Now that you’ve become accustomed to sharing your files, you can now allow other devices such as a media player have access to your media library. Acting like a DVD player, your media player can display photos, play your music and films from a hard drive connected to it – or simply play files direct from your NAS. This eliminates the need to keep numerous copies of the same files.

Printer sharing

If your computer is attached to a USB printer, this lets you print your documents off with ease – but can be an annoyance for someone else who needs to print something but whose computer isn’t the primary computer connected to the USB printer. NAS solves this problem by connecting to the USB printer, thus sharing this printer with the rest of the devices in the household.

Remote access

With NAS, you can share your files from anywhere within the home – but many NAS devices offer remote access capability so you can access your files anywhere in the world. This means you can play your favourite song within your web browser, or share your photo album with friends while you’re on the move.

How much will NAS cost?

Costs will depend on how much storage you’re after – an entry-level NAS can start around £50 but you’ll only be running on a small amount of memory with a slow processor to boot. For NAS to cater for more simultaneous users for heavy-loaded applications such as media streaming or hosting a website, you could be looking at around the £400 mark. Quite simply, the best way to determine how big a NAS you need is to add the entire storage of household’s devices – then double it.

How do I install a Network-Attached Server?

This is a relatively simple process, but before undertaking the installation, bear in mind the following:
• What are your backup options?
• Which users will have access to the NAS server?
• What will the permission levels be for each user?
• What types of files will be shared?
It’s recommended that users should have their own account, thereby customising permission levels for each person.

Installing a NAS server for Windows users

With Windows, the NAS server should automatically display in the Network Places folder once the setup process is complete. If not, users should select the Tools drive on My Computer (this can be found under the Map Network Drive option). Select an empty letter that shows up in a free drive, but don’t use a drive that’s been used before. Then, choose between linking the NAS server for one-off use or on a regular basis – and then you’ll be granted access to the NAS server.

Installing a NAS server for Mac users

Quite often, many of the same systems will be implemented to help you with setting up the NAS server. Most come with a wizard function to walk you through installation, where once installed, the NAS device will appear in the Finder’s list of shared folders. If not, simply enter the IP address of the installed server to gain access to the shared files.

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