What are network attached devices?

Network attached devices, or NADs, are computing devices that connect directly to a computer network to access data and applications from a centralized server. Some common examples of NADs include network attached storage (NAS) devices, network printers, IP cameras, and media servers.

What is the purpose of network attached devices?

The main purpose of NADs is to provide shared access to data and resources for multiple users on a network. Rather than connecting peripherals directly to individual computers, NADs connect to the network itself. This allows them to be accessed by any authorized user on the network without needing to physically connect the device to each computer.

Some key benefits of using networked attached devices include:

  • Centralized data storage and backup with network attached storage
  • Shared access to printers and scanners across the network
  • Centralized media storage for streaming audio/video across the network
  • Remote monitoring capabilities with network cameras
  • Takes load off individual computers by offloading tasks to dedicated devices

What are some examples of network attached devices?

Network Attached Storage (NAS)

Network attached storage, or NAS, consists of dedicated data storage devices that connect directly to the network. This allows data to be stored in a central location and accessed from any computer on the network. NAS devices contain one or more hard disk drives and an embedded operating system optimized for file storage and sharing.

Key benefits of NAS include:

  • Centralized storage location accessible from anywhere on the network
  • Significant storage capacity for backing up data
  • Data redundancy and fault tolerance with RAID configurations
  • Ability to share and access files across different operating systems
  • Scalable storage that can be expanded as needs grow

Popular vendors of NAS appliances aimed at home and small office users include Synology, QNAP, Netgear, and Western Digital. Large businesses may use more robust NAS solutions from vendors like NetApp or Dell EMC.

Network Printers

Network printers connect directly to the local network via an Ethernet or WiFi connection, allowing them to be accessed by any computer on the network. This eliminates the need to have the printer connected directly to the computer with a USB or parallel cable.

Benefits of network printers include:

  • Accessible from any network computer without direct connectivity
  • Shared access eliminates need for multiple personal printers
  • Centralized management from print server
  • Ability to be placed in convenient location vs. right by a computer

Major office printer vendors like HP, Canon, Brother, Epson and Lexmark all offer network-ready printers designed for business use. Most also support cloud printing services that allow printing from mobile devices over the internet.

IP Cameras

IP cameras are digital security cameras that connect to a local area network. This allows them to transmit video footage and be accessed from anywhere on the network. Features offered by IP cameras include:

  • Streaming live video footage over the network
  • Recording capabilities for storing video clips
  • Motion detection and night vision support
  • Remote pan/tilt/zoom control
  • Smart analytics like facial recognition
  • Accessible through security system control panels and mobile apps

Major security camera vendors offering business and home IP camera options include Hikvision, Dahua, Axis Communications, Bosch, and Uniview.

Media Servers

Media servers are network attached devices designed for storing and streaming digital media like music, photos, and videos across a local network. Media servers allow you to centralize your media library in one place instead of across multiple computers and devices.

Key features of media servers include:

  • Centralized storage for media files in one place
  • Stream music, videos, and photos to different playback devices
  • Share media with multiple users across the network
  • Accessible from different operating systems and devices
  • Scalable storage capacity
  • Add-on server applications like Plex

Many NAS devices like those from Synology and QNAP can also function as full-featured media servers. Dedicated media server units are also available from companies like Western Digital and Nvidia.

What are the components of a typical NAD?

While specific components can vary between device types, most network attached devices contain some common core hardware elements:


The central processor (CPU) handles overall management and execution of tasks on the NAD. Performance needs vary based on the function. Lower demand roles like basic file serving can use lower powered ARM or Intel Atom processors. More intensive media servers benefit from multi-core Xeon or AMD Opteron processors.

Operating System

The OS optimizes the device for its specific role. Most run embedded Linux distributions or other lightweight OSes like FreeBSD. NAS devices may use stripped down versions optimized for file sharing. Media servers benefit from OSes that support media streaming.

Memory (RAM)

Having sufficient RAM is vital for performance when serving multiple concurrent users. Entry-level NADs may have just 512MB, while high performance media servers can support up to 128GB of memory.

Network Interfaces

Gigabit Ethernet is standard, with 10GbE on higher end units. Wireless connectivity is common on printers and cameras. High availability enterprise units may use bonding/teaming across multiple interfaces.

Data Storage

The primary storage consists of hard disk drives or solid state drives. NAS and media servers often arrange drives into high availability RAID arrays. Storage must be sufficient for the large media files served across the network.

How do network attached devices connect to a network?

Network attached devices connect to local area networks using standard wired or wireless networking technologies:

Wired Ethernet

Gigabit Ethernet over Cat5e or Cat6 cable is the most common wired NAD connection method. Faster 10GbE over Cat6a or Cat7 enables higher throughput on high demand media servers streaming HD video. Ethernet offers reliable performance and universal compatibility across different networks.


Wireless WiFi connectivity allows greater placement flexibility for devices like network cameras and printers. Speeds up to 1.3Gbps are possible with the latest WiFi 6 standard. Wireless trade-offs include slightly higher latency and the risk of signal interference.

Power over Ethernet

PoE allows device power and data to be delivered over a single Ethernet cable. This reduces cabling complexity since a separate power connection is not needed. Printers, IP cameras, and phones are examples of devices that can often utilize PoE.


Apple’s Thunderbolt interface can be used to connect media servers and NAS devices directly to Macs at 10Gbps or 20Gbps speeds. This creates a high performance dedicated storage network with daisy chaining of multiple devices.


USB connections are less common on dedicated NADs but some printers and cameras may offer direct attached USB options for a single computer if network connectivity is not available.

What are the advantages of a network attached device vs. direct attached storage?

Using dedicated network attached devices provides some key benefits compared to storage directly attached via USB, Thunderbolt, or eSATA:

  • Network accessibility – NADs connect directly to the LAN for access from any authorized computer vs. just one host system.
  • Centralized storage – Resources like storage pools are maintained in one place vs. scattered across devices.
  • Efficiency – Specialized devices avoid tying up host computer resources for ancillary tasks.
  • Scalability – Storage and performance can be upgraded on the NAD as needed vs. limited by a single computer.
  • Reliability – Centralized data and redundancy improves backup integrity and disaster recovery.
  • Security – Resources like data shares can be maintained in a secure server room.

In summary, properly implemented network attached devices optimize efficiency, scalability, performance, and security for shared network resources vs. direct attached options.

What network protocols are used by network attached devices?

There are a number of common networking protocols used for communication, configuration, and data transfer with NADs:


The fundamental TCP/IP protocol delivers basic connectivity and routing over Ethernet networks. It allows NADs to exist as nodes on the local network communicating with TCP for reliable connections and IP for host addressing.


The Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) enables NADs to automatically receive an IP address and other network configuration from a server. This simplifies setup vs. manual IP configuration.


Mapping host names to IP addresses is achieved through the Domain Name System (DNS). This allows connecting to the NAD using an easy to remember name vs. directly referencing its IP address.


Sharing files can utilize the File Transfer Protocol (FTP), which allows servers and clients to transfer data files over the network.


Microsoft’s Server Message Block (SMB) and Common Internet File System (CIFS) protocols enable file/print sharing between Windows computers and NADs like NAS appliances.


Network File System (NFS) handles file sharing from Linux and UNIX connected devices using a client/server model. This is commonly used for sharing files from a NAS.


Apple Filing Protocol (AFP) permits file access and transfer between Macs and network attached devices like NAS appliances.


The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and its encrypted variant HTTPS allow web browser based configuration of NADs through web interfaces. HTTPS underpins cloud services and secure remote access.


Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) enables remote monitoring and administration of NADs on the network. This allows centralized management tools to poll devices for status and receive alerts.

What are best practices for implementing network attached devices?

Some best practices to follow when deploying and configuring NAD solutions include:

  • Purchase reliable enterprise-grade NAD hardware from reputable vendors like Synology, NetApp, or Western Digital.
  • Isolate NADs on their own secure network segment or VLAN if possible.
  • Always keep firmware up to date to ensure the latest security patches are applied.
  • Use strong passwords and limit accounts to prevent unauthorized access.
  • Configure firewall policies to only allow required protocols/ports access to the NAD.
  • Enable HTTPS and SSH for secure remote web and CLI access.
  • Setup SNMP monitoring to track system health, performance, and availability.
  • Use RAID configurations like RAID-Z or RAID-6 for optimal performance and redundancy.
  • Enable disk encryption like AES-NI to secure data at rest against theft.
  • Establish backups to another NAD or offsite location in case of failure or disaster.

Following security and high availability best practices helps ensure NAD solutions remain available and protect access to important business data.

What are some troubleshooting tips for network attached device issues?

Some common troubleshooting steps for network attached device connectivity or performance issues include:

  • Check cabling to confirm network interfaces are properly connected and linked.
  • Verify network interfaces have valid IP addresses, DNS, and routes configured.
  • Confirm there are no duplicate IP addresses causing an address conflict.
  • Check for firewalls or ACLs blocking required ports between devices.
  • Ensure logical interfaces like VLAN trunks are configured correctly.
  • Reset device to factory defaults and reconfigure if necessary.
  • Upgrade firmware/drivers to latest stable release.
  • Inspect system logs for errors related to services/protocols.
  • Monitor performance metrics like interface traffic, CPU usage, and RAM utilization.
  • Isolate slow file transfers to network or storage subsystem.

Diagnosing the scope of issues into network vs. hardware categories can help isolate root causes affecting NAD connectivity and performance.


Network attached devices provide efficient and scalable access to centralized resources like storage, printers, and cameras on local networks. Following best practices for security, resiliency, and performance allows businesses to benefit fully from their NAD implementations. Knowledge of core protocols like SMB and NFS along with effective troubleshooting enables administrators to keep their NAD infrastructure operating smoothly.