What is a NAS?
A NAS, or network-attached storage, is a dedicated file storage device that enables multiple users and client devices to retrieve data from centralized disk drives over a network (https://www.techtarget.com/searchstorage/definition/network-attached-storage). Unlike a general-purpose server, a NAS is specialized for serving files either by its hardware, software, or configuration.
A NAS contains one or more hard drives that are arranged into logical, redundant storage containers or RAID arrays (https://www.seagate.com/blog/what-is-nas-master-ti/). The NAS operating system manages the RAID arrays and presents shares of the NAS storage over the network using network file sharing protocols like SMB, NFS, AFP, or iSCSI.
NAS devices allow multiple users and client devices to connect to the same storage over a network. This provides centralized data access and storage for multiple computers and users. NAS can be accessed through mobile apps, web browsers, file explorers over the network.
Benefits of Using a NAS
A NAS offers several key benefits that make it an attractive storage solution for many use cases. One of the main advantages is the ability to access files from anywhere. With a NAS, files are stored centrally on the network instead of on individual devices. This enables users to access the files from any computer or mobile device on the network, whether in the office, at home, or on the go. As long as there is an internet connection, authorized users can conveniently access shared files and folders on the NAS from virtually anywhere at any time.
Another benefit is shared storage. Because a NAS is connected to the local network, it allows multiple users and devices to access the same files simultaneously. This facilitates collaboration and information sharing across an organization. Teams can work together on projects more easily by storing files in a central, shared location on the NAS instead of emailing files back and forth or saving them to individual devices.
In addition, a NAS provides a convenient solution for backups. Important files can be stored securely on the NAS and backed up regularly to prevent data loss. Setting up automated backups to a NAS is straightforward and helps protect against accidents or hardware failures that could jeopardize data stored on individual computers or devices. Overall, the ability to access files anywhere, share storage seamlessly, and implement backups makes a NAS a versatile storage technology for many environments.
Connecting a NAS
A NAS does not need to be directly connected to a computer to function. One of the main benefits of a NAS is that it can operate independently as a standalone network storage device.
There are two main ways to connect a NAS:
- Direct connection: A NAS can be connected directly to a computer using a USB cable or Thunderbolt cable. This allows the computer to access the storage on the NAS similar to an external hard drive. However, direct connection limits access to that one computer only.
- Network connection: Connecting the NAS to your local network via an Ethernet cable or WiFi allows multiple devices on the network to access the storage. This is the most common and recommended method, as it enables centralized storage and backup accessible from anywhere on the network.
With a network connection, the NAS does not need to be physically tethered to a computer. It just needs to be connected to the same network switch or router as your other devices. The NAS will be assigned an IP address, allowing you to access its storage and features remotely through a web browser or mobile app.
Some key benefits of connecting a NAS to your home or office network include:
- Accessible storage for all devices on the network
- Ability to stream media files locally
- Remote access from outside the home when enabled
- Centralized backups for computers on the network
- Shared storage space for convenient collaboration and file transfers
So in summary, while a NAS can function when directly connected to a computer, it does not need to be. Connecting it to your network unlocks the most features and flexibility.
Accessing Files on a NAS
One of the main benefits of using a NAS is the ability to access files and data from anywhere within your local network. Authorized users can connect to the NAS and access shared folders and files without the NAS needing to be directly connected to a computer.
Within a Windows environment, you can access files on a Synology NAS by going to Run (Windows + R) and entering the path \\NAS_NAME\Shared_Folder_Name. This will open the folder directly within Windows Explorer. You can also map NAS folders as Network Drives for easy access (Synology).
On Mac OSX, you can connect to the NAS by going to Finder and selecting ‘Go > Connect to Server’ and entering the path smb://NAS_NAME/Shared_Folder. The NAS folder will then appear in Finder as a networked drive.
Most NAS manufacturers also provide mobile apps that allow you to access files remotely from your phone or tablet. Overall, NAS provides centralized storage accessible to all devices on your local network without needing to directly connect it to a host computer.
Managing and Configuring a NAS
Most NAS devices can be managed and configured through a web-based interface that you access by pointing your browser to the NAS IP address. The interface allows administrators to set up user accounts, configure access permissions, manage storage volumes, enable features like media streaming, and monitor the health of the NAS.
Many NAS devices also have mobile apps that allow you to access files and media on the NAS remotely. Popular apps like Plex, Kodi, and Emby can be installed on NAS devices to turn them into full-featured media servers.
Through the web interface or mobile apps, users can be granted selective access to files and folders on the NAS. Permissions like read/write access and account quotas can be configured per user or group. This allows the NAS administrator to control what parts of the storage different users can see and modify.
Additional NAS apps like DropBox or GitLab can also be installed to add new functionality for file syncing, code repositories, backups, and more. With available apps and an open Linux-based OS on many NAS devices, the use cases stretch far beyond basic file sharing.
Overall, NAS management revolves around the web interface for core configuration tasks, mobile apps for remote access and monitoring, and additional apps to customize the NAS for specific workloads. Most tasks can be handled without connecting to a computer.
For more details, see:
NAS management overview with System Manager
NAS vs. External Hard Drive
When it comes to data storage, NAS and external hard drives are two of the most popular options. Both provide additional storage space, but there are some important differences between the two:
A NAS (network-attached storage) device connects to your network and allows data to be accessed by multiple devices on that network. External hard drives connect directly to an individual computer or device via USB. This limits external drives to use by just one device at a time (Source).
One of the main benefits of a NAS is centralized data storage and access. All connected devices can access files on the NAS simultaneously. External drives are not shareable across multiple devices at the same time.
NAS devices often include RAID support for increased data redundancy. Most external drives do not offer RAID. This makes a NAS more reliable for valuable data storage (Source).
External hard drives are generally more portable and work well for backups and transferring data between locations. NAS devices are designed to stay connected to your home or office network 24/7.
While both options provide additional storage, NAS devices offer more advanced features like centralized access, sharing, RAID support and remote management. But external drives are more budget-friendly for basic backups and storage that doesn’t need regular access from multiple devices.
Choosing a NAS
When selecting a NAS, the most important factors to consider are your storage needs, budget, and desired features. First, determine how much storage capacity you require both currently and for future growth. For most home users, a 2 to 4 bay NAS with at least 4 TB per drive bay is sufficient, but 8 TB or larger drives provide more room to expand storage. Larger businesses may need more bays and storage capacity.
Next, set a budget for the NAS device and hard drives based on the storage capacity needed. Entry-level NAS devices start around $100-200, while mid-range models with more power and features cost $300-500. High-end NAS for businesses can cost over $1000 just for the device. Also factor in the cost of hard drives at around $100-200 per TB of storage.
Finally, pick a NAS with the connectivity, processor, memory, and features suited for your use case. Key considerations are the number and types of drive bays, network connections like Ethernet or Thunderbolt, RAM for caching files, and the processor power. Also look at built-in backup, RAID configurations, multimedia streaming, remote access, and OS platform. Leading consumer NAS brands like Synology, QNAP, WD, and Asustor have online tools to match you with the right model based on your requirements.
Taking the time to properly evaluate your specific NAS storage, budget, and feature needs will ensure you select the right device for the job.
Protecting the data stored on a NAS should be a top priority. There are several key ways to ensure NAS security:
Encryption – Enable encryption on your NAS to scramble data so it can only be accessed with the proper key or password. Many NAS devices support encryption protocols like AES-256 bit encryption which is very secure (Source 1).
Backups – It’s critical to maintain regular backups of the data on your NAS, ideally both on-site and off-site/cloud backups. This protects against data loss from hardware failure, accidental deletion, malware, ransomware and other threats. Choose a backup solution designed for NAS systems (Source 2).
Anti-Virus – Install anti-virus software specifically built for NAS systems to scan for malware and ransomware. Keep the software updated for maximum protection. Popular options include ESET NOD32 Antivirus for NAS and Trend Micro Antivirus for NAS (Source 3).
Following security best practices like complex passwords, firmware updates, access controls, and network security is also critical for securing your NAS and sensitive data.
Popular NAS Brands
Some of the most popular and reputable NAS brands on the market include Synology, QNAP, WD, Asustor, and Buffalo. Of these, Synology and QNAP consistently earn high marks from experts and users alike.
Synology is widely considered one of the best NAS providers for home and small business use. Their devices offer excellent performance, intuitive management interfaces, and robust apps and services. Models like the Synology DS220+ provide speedy file transfers, easy setup, and scalable storage in a compact form factor. Synology’s DSM operating system also makes it simple to access files and media from anywhere.
QNAP is another top choice, known for strong performance, abundant features, and support for third-party apps. The QNAP TS-253D is a good example, providing fast transfer speeds, flexible storage options, HDMI output, and an app store with hundreds of add-ons. QNAP NAS devices cater especially well to power users and IT professionals.
WD, best known for their external storage drives, also offers NAS devices like the WD My Cloud Home. These provide simple file storage and backup for homes and small offices. They emphasize ease of use over advanced features.
While there are many excellent NAS options, Synology and QNAP models tend to top most experts’ lists as great all-around choices combining speed, features, security, and ease of use.
In summary, a NAS does not require a direct connection to a computer to operate. A NAS functions as a standalone storage device on the local network, allowing users and devices to access and store files over the network. The main benefits of a NAS include centralizing storage, enabling file access from anywhere, backing up computers, sharing files, and more. While a NAS needs to be connected to a router, switch, or WiFi network, it does not require being physically tethered to a computer to work.
Some key points covered:
- A NAS operates independently as networked storage without needing a computer.
- Users can connect wirelessly or over ethernet to access files on a NAS.
- A NAS only requires a network connection, not a direct link to a computer.
- You can manage and configure a NAS remotely through a web browser.
- A NAS provides more advanced features than an external hard drive.
In recap, a NAS functions as standalone network storage without being physically tethered to a host computer.