With the proliferation of digital data, both personal and business users are faced with the challenge of storing and backing up their files. The two main options for data storage are network attached storage (NAS) devices and cloud based storage services. While the cloud offers flexibility and accessibility, NAS devices provide greater security and control. This article examines the key differences between NAS and the cloud to help you determine which solution is better for your needs.
What is network attached storage?
NAS devices are dedicated file storage servers that connect directly to your local network, usually via an Ethernet cable or WiFi. A basic NAS setup consists of one or more hard drives enclosed in a chassis with an Ethernet port that allows multiple users and devices on the network to access the stored files. More advanced NAS systems include additional features like:
- Built-in RAID data protection
- Media streaming and transcoding abilities
- Remote access capabilities
- Expandable storage through additional drive bays
- Backups to external drives and cloud services
- Data encryption
- Virtualization support
- Smartphone apps for management and file access
Because a NAS device resides on your local network, data transfer speeds are typically much faster compared to cloud based storage. This makes them well suited for bandwidth-intensive tasks like 4K video editing, gaming servers, surveillance systems and other applications that require speedy access to large files.
What is cloud storage?
Cloud based storage services store your files on remote servers owned and operated by the service providers. These servers are accessed over the internet via web based dashboards or mobile apps. With cloud storage, files are uploaded from your local device to the provider’s data centers where they remain accessible from any internet-connected computer or device. Examples of popular consumer and business cloud storage platforms include:
- Google Drive
- Microsoft OneDrive
- Amazon S3
The main appeal of the cloud is flexibility. You can access your data anywhere with an internet connection without needing to be physically near your storage device. Cloud services make collaboration and sharing simple by allowing multiple users and locations to access the same files in real time. Most services have robust mobile apps that let you view and edit documents on the go from smartphones and tablets. The ability to quickly spin up new storage servers on demand makes the cloud easily scalable for growing storage needs.
One of the top concerns for any data storage solution is security. Keeping your files safe from theft and loss is critical.
NAS security advantages
Network attached storage systems offer robust security benefits:
- Full control over physical hardware – Businesses retain ownership of NAS devices onsite
- Behind firewall – NAS is protected inside business network perimeter
- Encrypted protocols – Modern NAS uses encryption transmission protocols like HTTPS, SFTP, FTPS
- Single point of access – Only one NAS access point instead of multiple user cloud accounts
- Greater transparency – Admins have full visibility into how data is managed and secured
- Customized permissions – Granular user and group access controls for shares and folders
- Auditing capabilities – Monitor user activity and track file actions
- Local backups – Quickly backup NAS data to external drives for offline storage
- Ransomware protection – More isolated from internet threats compared to cloud storage
For the highest security, NAS devices can be configured to remain disconnected from the internet entirely – functioning solely as internal network storage. This air gap approach protects against breaches and ransomware attacks from online intruders.
Reputable cloud storage providers implement robust security measures:
- Encrypted data transmission and storage – Prevent unauthorized access
- Rigorous infrastructure protections – Cutting edge physical and network security for data centers
- Access controls – Password protection and multi-factor authentication for accounts
- Version histories – Recover previous copies of files after accidents or ransomware
- Alarms and reports – Notify admins about suspicious activity and unauthorized access attempts
- Worldwide redundancy – Files copied across multiple data centers to minimize disruption risks
- Third party audits – Storage providers undergo regular independent security assessments
However, there are some risks to weigh. All cloud data ultimately resides in the infrastructure controlled by the provider. The user must inherently trust the provider is properly securing systems and defending against threats. Vulnerabilities in the provider’s environment can expose many cloud users at once. And unauthorized insider access within the provider, such as an employee, poses a rare but serious threat to cloud data.
Speed is a key metric when comparing NAS and the cloud. Network attached storage provides much faster data access and transfer rates.
NAS speed advantages
- LAN connection – NAS utilizes high-speed local network, avoiding internet bottlenecks
- High bandwidth – Gigabit ethernet or faster connections to NAS system
- Lower latency – Data requests avoid internet delays due to geographic distance
- Caching – Copies recently accessed files locally for quick reuse
- Streaming – Optimized for video surveillance, 4K editing, gaming and video on demand
- Flash storage – SSD NAS models offer blazing throughput up to thousands of MB/s
For businesses reliant on fast local data transfers, NAS markedly outperforms cloud platforms. Applications like database access, virtual machines, media production, CAD/CAM all benefit greatly from the speed of network attached storage.
Cloud speed considerations
While slower than a NAS device, cloud storage access speeds are still reasonably fast in most situations:
- Simple collaboration – Shared documents and basic file syncing often feel real-time
- Geographic distribution – Data centers located closer to users minimize latency
- Connectivity – Cloud providers tap high bandwidth fiber optic links
- Downloading large files can be slow – Cloud optimized for smaller collaboration files rather than bulk media transfers
- Subject to internet bottlenecks – Peak usage times can congest transfers
For individual users sharing office documents and syncing mobile photos, cloud speed is adequate. But teams working together on large creative files may find lag and bandwidth constraints frustrating.
Reliability and availability
Any data storage solution is only as reliable as the technology that underpins it. Both NAS and cloud offer solid disaster recovery protections.
NAS reliability features
- RAID – Mirrors data across multiple drives to protect against failures
- Redundant hardware – Components like power supplies, fans and network ports can be made redundant
- Clustering – Link multiple NAS units together for storage pooling
- Backups – Allows backing up NAS data to external hard drives
- Snapshots – Incremental versioning protects files from inadvertent changes
Properly configured NAS devices offer excellent protection against individual disk failures. And local backups provide insurance against disasters like fires, floods and theft. However, NAS hardware itself can still fail. Power outages and equipment faults will cause service disruptions. Careful consideration should be given to implementing redundant NAS servers along with tested backup/recovery procedures.
Leading cloud platforms provide industry-leading availability:
- Distributed infrastructure – Globally disperses storage resources
- Continuous operation – Services remain online 24/7 year-round
- Redundant data centers – Files replicated across multiple secure facilities
- High-end data centers – State-of-the-art facilities, power, cooling and security
- Rapid failover – Traffic quickly shifted from one site to another during outages
- Disaster recovery – Options like cold site backups for major incidents
The expansive nature of the cloud affords tremendous reliability advantages. Service disruptions at any single location have minimal impact overall. Cloud systems are engineered for robustness and uptime exceeding most on-prem infrastructure capabilities. However, internet connectivity issues can still disrupt access to cloud based resources.
Data storage needs change over time. A good storage solution should easily scale capacity up or down on demand.
NAS appliances offer excellent scalability:
- Upgradeable – Most support expanding with additional internal drives
- Modular – Can cluster multiple NAS units into a single namespace
- Flexible – Many form factors from desktop to rackmount enterprise-grade
- Migrate data – NAS operating systems make data migration straightforward
Well-designed NAS devices allow gradually scaling up storage without needing to replace entire units. They provide a clear capacity growth path over years of incremental upgrades. However, physical limitations of the hardware ultimately cap maximum capacity. Scaling into petabyte-range storage requires transitioning to enterprise SAN or NAS clusters.
The cloud provides virtually unlimited on-demand scalability:
- Pay-as-you-go – Increase storage for a flat monthly fee per GB/TB added
- No capacity planning – Cloud handles provisioning sufficient backend resources
- Start small, grow big – Cloud easily scales from gigabytes to exabytes
- Usage monitoring – Dashboards track utilization over time
- Automated tiering – Seamlessly transition data between storage tiers
- Global namespace – Single view abstracts storage resources spread worldwide
The cloud’s ability to instantly allocate more storage servers on demand with no incremental effort provides unmatched scalability. However, wide variances in cloud storage pricing at higher capacities make cost monitoring important.
Striking the optimal balance between performance and affordability is key for any storage solution.
NAS cost structure
Purchasing and operating NAS storage in-house carries mainly upfront capital costs:
- Hardware purchase – Costs scale with storage capacity needs
- Annual support/maintenance – Optional vendor support packages
- Power and facilities – Ongoing utility and real estate costs
- IT labor – Internal resources for management and support
- Scalable – Pay only for additional storage when needed
A key benefit of the NAS model is the ability to size units according to actual storage requirements. Overprovisioning capacity is avoidable. Shared NAS allows cost-effective consolidation, eliminating siloed direct-attached storage.
Cloud storage follows a pay-as-you-go operating expense model:
- No hardware costs – Utilizes provider’s storage infrastructure
- Utility pricing – Per GB/TB monthly charges based on usage
- Tiers – Base storage rate plus premium for faster performance
- Data egress – Outbound bandwidth pricing based on amount transferred
- Incidental fees – Charges for requests, transactions, support etc.
- Free tier – Providers offer a small amount of storage at no cost
The subscription-based pricing of cloud storage simplifies cost forecasting. However, incremental fees can make large deployments costly compared to on-prem solutions. Carefully monitoring usage and controlling waste are important cloud cost optimization techniques.
|Network Attached Storage||– High speed local access
– Tight security control
– Simple scalability
|– Hardware purchase and maintenance
– Limited capacity
|Cloud Storage||– Access anywhere
– High reliability
– Limitless on-demand scaling
|– Monthly recurring cost
– Vendor lock-in
Use cases suited for NAS
While not a fit for every scenario, network attached storage excels in these environments:
Local backup target
NAS systems make ideal backup repositories for other servers and PCs. Their storage is online and available for convenient restores when needed. NAS backup capabilities include:
- Shared folders for consolidated backups from multiple devices
- Snapshots for incremental versioning of backups
- Data replication support
- Integration with backup software
- Link aggregation for increased bandwidth
Media editing and management
The performance of NAS devices suits collaborative media workflows:
- High speed throughput for video editing
- Low latency access for sound editing
- Scalable storage for large media assets
- Media transcoding and streaming
- Media asset search and management
Small business shared storage
NAS offers a cost-effective shared storage solution for smaller organizations:
- Centralized storage improves collaboration
- Eliminates separate silos of local storage
- Remote access improves flexibility
- Easy permissions management
- Provides small business tiered storage options
Scenarios suited for cloud storage
The on-demand nature and accessibility of cloud storage serves multiple use cases well:
Personal media collection
For individual consumers, the cloud conveniently enables anywhere access to personal media like photos and videos. Cloud features that help include:
- Unlimited capacity for large collections
- Auto-sync from multiple devices
- Photo tagging and search
- Media viewing on mobile apps
- Seamless sharing and collaboration
Office document repository
Cloud platforms excel at enabling teams to collaborate on office documents. Benefits include:
- Simultaneous multi-user editing
- Version history
- Extensive mobile support
- Integrations with office productivity suites
- Secure external sharing
Offsite data backup
Cloud storage serves as an excellent offsite backups target to complement on-prem solutions. The cloud provides:
- Data copies at remote facilities resilient to local failures
- Virtually unlimited capacity
- Easy management of multiple backup sets
- Long term retention policies
- Solutions tailored for backup data
Both NAS and cloud storage offer compelling benefits that make each suited for particular use cases. NAS provides superior performance, security and control for localized data that will remain within the organization. Cloud platforms enable ubiquitous access and limitless scalability at a predictable cost. Many environments are best served through smart integration of these technologies rather than an either/or choice. With diligent planning and testing, network attached storage and the cloud can complement each other in a robust storage infrastructure tailored precisely to meet modern data storage needs.