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Over the past few years, we’ve moved more and more of our lives into the mysterious realm of “the cloud” — but what was so wrong with local storage?

I’m not suggesting a return to floppy disks here, but maybe there’s a way to get the convenience and benefits of cloud storage without giving it all away to a potentially untrustworthy third-party company.

And it turns out there is. It’s called Network Attached Storage (NAS) and there are a handful of reasons why you may want to start using one right this minute.

What Is Network Attached Storage?

Whereas most data storage solutions are either local (i.e. within physical reach, like an external hard drive) or cloud-based (i.e. stored by another company, like Dropbox or Google Drive), a NAS device is like a mix of the two.

In short, NAS devices are hard drives that are connected to a network.

While adding an external hard disk to a PC to increase storage is not a bad option, it can only be connected to and accessed by one PC at a time. On the other hand, a NAS is connected to an entire network, meaning that it can be accessed by any number of PCs as long as they are also on the same network.

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Unlike traditional external hard drives, NAS devices generally have some kind of built-in operating system which adds software functions like native media streaming, printer streaming, or remote access. But otherwise, they’re functionally similar to any other kind of external hard drive you may have used before.

Cloud storage services like Dropbox effectively let you rent space on someone else’s network-connected drives, enabling you to access your data from anywhere with an internet connection. A NAS gives you this same functionality without handing your data over to a host company, thus alleviating any concerns about privacy or cost.

A NAS can also protect the data stored on it by being configured to support Redundant Array of Independent Disks What Is RAID Storage & Can I Use It On My Home PC? [Technology Explained] What Is RAID Storage & Can I Use It On My Home PC? [Technology Explained] RAID is an acronym for Redundant Array of Independent Disks, and it’s a core feature of server hardware that ensures data integrity. It’s also just a fancy word for two or more hard disks connected... Read More  (RAID). A RAID setup is essentially two or more hard drives connected together to add extra redundancy (storing data concurrently on all of the drives) and to act as a failover in case one of the hard drives fails.

The Benefits of Using NAS

Now that you know what a NAS device is and how it differs from a regular external hard drive, here’s a quick summary of all the benefits you can get from using one.

1. Additional Storage Space

One of the main reasons why people choose to get a NAS device is to add storage space to their local computer. As computers and laptops have shrunk in physical size on the whole, so have their local storage sizes — especially with widespread adoption of the cloud.

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A more cost-effective way of adding storage is to use NAS. Instead of allocating a set amount of space to an individual user, you can pool together the space and only use what you need, thus freeing up more space for more data-hungry users.

While hard drives can range in capacity from a few hundred GB all the way up to around eight TB, you can keep increasing the size of your NAS by attaching additional hard drives instead of upgrading the whole system.

2. Easier Collaboration, Less Mess

Do you remember the days when you used to have to email around a document when you wanted to collaborate on a report or document, leading to hundreds of clone copies of the same document?

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A NAS can help cut down on this unnecessary mess by allowing all users to access such documents in one central location and even adding the ability to group edit documents in a similar way to Google Docs or Office 365.

3. Your Own Private Cloud

Cloud storage is incredibly convenient — that’s why so many of us use it. But in the backs of our minds, I’m sure we all have worries about who can truly access our documents, especially for those of us storing confidential information like bank accounts or ID certificates.

What if you wanted the benefits of cloud storage but without any of the potential snooping? This is one area where NAS devices trump cloud storage NAS vs the Cloud: Which Remote Storage Is Right for You? NAS vs the Cloud: Which Remote Storage Is Right for You? Network Attached Storage (NAS) straddles the line between a local hard drive and cloud storage, and gives you the benefits of both. Read More .

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Most NAS devices have software options that allow you to configure remote access (i.e. access from beyond your local network) so that you can get to your documents and files wherever you are in the world. In other words, your own private cloud storage.

If this is one of your main reasons for switching to NAS, then when you are doing your research keep an eye out for NAS devices that also have complementary mobile apps for a full cloud storage experience.

4. Automatic Data Backups

We can’t stress enough the importance of backing up your data regularly 5 Basic Backup Facts Every Windows User Should Know 5 Basic Backup Facts Every Windows User Should Know We never tire to remind you to make backups and keep your data safe. If you're wondering what, how often, and where you should back up your files, we have straight forward answers. Read More , but manually backing up your documents can be a hassle. It’s easy to get lazy and maybe skip a day, then one day turns into a month, which turns into a year… and then your hard disk crashes and you’re left without any recent backups.

Using a NAS you can set up automatic backups which can mirror any changes made locally on the computer. As soon as a change is made to a document or folder, this change can be reflected immediately on the NAS.

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If you need even more reassurance that your data is backed up reliably, then you can use the aforementioned NAS RAID setup.

NAS RAID would mean that a change made on a local computer is immediately captured in the NAS backup, which is then copied to multiple hard drives — kultiple backups in case of hard drive failure and with no additional effort on your part.

One of the best things about this is that it can be configured for backups on Mac Turn Your NAS Or Windows Share Into A Time Machine Backup Turn Your NAS Or Windows Share Into A Time Machine Backup Use your NAS, or any network share, for backing up your Mac with Time Machine. Read More and on Windows The Ultimate Windows 10 Data Backup Guide The Ultimate Windows 10 Data Backup Guide Windows 10 makes data backups effortless. We have summarized every native backup, restore, recovery, and repair option we could find on Windows 10. Use our simple tips and never despair over lost data again! Read More .

5. Reassuring Data Protection

More of us are mobile these days and the risk of dropping or otherwise damaging our laptops is pretty high. Even for desktop computers, there still hasn’t been a solution to the classic “spilled a drink, ruined everything” You Just Spilled Water Or Coffee On Your Laptop - Here's What You Should Do You Just Spilled Water Or Coffee On Your Laptop - Here's What You Should Do Okay, let's take a deep breath and deal with the emergency first. Any emergency requires us to take a moment or two and assess the situation. That way we aren't just reacting, we are acting... Read More problem.

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Rather than isolate data on each individual computer, a NAS server means that you can put the data on a secure network-attached drive that is not affected by local hardware failures.

As NAS devices often have their own OS depending on the device you purchase, it might even offer built-in data encryption, which protects your data from prying eyes outside of your network or unauthorized users (like the NSA).

6. Easy Server Setup

One of the biggest benefits of NAS devices is that they aren’t overly complicated to set up and get running. Most of them use a simple web-based interface which allows you to set up the device and access settings.

If you’ve ever fiddled with the settings of your wireless router 10 Crucial Features to Use in Your Wireless Router Setup at Home 10 Crucial Features to Use in Your Wireless Router Setup at Home Most wireless routers are equipped with a handful of amazing features that you probably aren't taking advantage of. Here are some of the more useful ones to start exploring right now. Read More , then you’ll feel relatively comfortable setting up a personal NAS device. It’s really not that hard.

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And as if the web-based interface wasn’t simple enough, many major NAS manufacturers also provide mobile apps that make the experience even more similar to more traditional cloud storage providers.

7. Make Your Own Media Server

While you can’t use Dropbox as a media server, you’ll have no problem doing that with a NAS drive. You’ll probably find that even some of the more basic NAS devices include some form of media server.

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And if interoperability is important for your media streaming, then look out for NAS devices that are DLNA compliant What Is DLNA and Is It Still Used? What Is DLNA and Is It Still Used? DLNA was built for a world where local media was king. Read More  so you can stream content directly to your PS3, smart TV, and other DLNA-compliant devices.

It’s Time to Go NAS Right Now

In the tech world, acronyms can be a bit overwhelming and make everything sound more complicated than they are, but you have nothing to fear with NAS devices.

They’re easy to set up and use and they come with so many benefits: increased storage space, private cloud storage, streaming music and movies, and even automating backups. Plus, they’re often as cheap as purchasing additional hard drives for your local computers.

For bonus points, if you have some spare hard drives laying around and feel like a project, you can try grabbing a Raspberry Pi and make your own NAS box Turn Your Raspberry Pi Into An NAS Box Turn Your Raspberry Pi Into An NAS Box Do you have a couple of external hard drives lying around and a Raspberry Pi? Make a cheap, low powered networked attached storage device out of them. While the end result certainly won't be as... Read More .

Have you felt the call of NAS? What do you use it for? Or do you think local or cloud storage is better? What are your solutions for storing and managing your data? Let us know in the comments below!

Image Credit: stocksolutions via Shutterstock.com, Antonio Guillem via Shutterstock.com, Scanrail1 via Shutterstock.com, ymgerman via Shutterstock.com, AlexLMX via Shutterstock.com, Macrovector via Shutterstock.com, Sentavio via Shutterstock.com, Maxx-Studio via Shutterstock.com

  1. Iv
    July 29, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    As for me the idea of NAS is that I need not high storage tablet or laptop to watch favourite movies in appropriate quality.
    I think the best solution is to use DLNA NAS with app to stream media from it wirelessly. I tried several of them and stopped at MCPlayer, cause of smooth playback and Dolby sound. But Plex and 8player are rather fine too.

    • James Frew
      July 30, 2016 at 2:40 pm

      Plex has been most flexible for me especially since they opened up the PS3 app to non-Plex pass subscribers.

  2. likefun butnot
    July 27, 2016 at 8:45 pm

    Until you're well into enterprise-grade devices, a NAS is going to be pretty lame hardware, being built around an ARM or Atom CPU with a paltry amount of RAM and probably "only" a single gigabit ethernet connection. Multi-bay consumer/SOHO NASes generally deliver software RAID that is is functionally very similar to Linux LVM or Windows Storage Spaces, whether the vendor is calling their technology that or not. If you're lucky, maybe the NAS supports use of an SSD as a cache.

    For the most part, this means that a low-end NAS is going to suck compared to local storage, especially for NAS boxes configured in some kind of parity-checking configuration. Yes, it'll be faster than uploading to a cloud provider in almost all cases, but unless the storage is very well managed, you're also not going to have the suite of services that go along with a cloud storage option. Rebuild time after a drive crash are also going to be problematic and terrifying, where a major cloud storage providers are essentially built so that a catastrophic data loss is extremely unlikely. I would definitely say these are points in favor of the cloud, especially for backup-only needs.

    Personally, rather than screw around with an inexpensive Synology or Drobo box, I'd rather use a low power desktop machine and roll my own. FreeNAS and UnRAID are both easy enough to operate and make credible devices that will readily scale to better hardware if it's made available.

    • James Frew
      July 28, 2016 at 8:02 pm

      I guess it depends on what your requirements are. I use a (very) basic Seagate single drive NAS, as for me it was to make sharing content around users easier, but then I back all of that up in the cloud for easier access.

    • DT
      August 5, 2016 at 11:23 am

      Look up "ease of use" in the dictionary and you'll find a reference to Synology's interface. Seriously, these things are high quality dedicated devices perfectly designed with a drop dead easy interface. Open the browser, point it to your NAS, and see a 'desktop' like interface to your NAS device, very elegant.

  3. pd
    July 27, 2016 at 8:24 pm

    Don't encourage the perception of the Raspberry Pi as a NAS platform. I love the Pi but it's USB2 bus is not only slower than USB3 speeds, the USB ports and the measly 10/100 ethernet port share the same bus.

    Until the Pi gets Gigabit ethernet and splits the network and USB buses, or at least ups the speed of that bus to USB3 levels, it's not really a legitimate or even hobby-level NAS solution. That is, assuming even hobby users value the data they store on a NAS.

    • James Frew
      July 28, 2016 at 7:59 pm

      I agree that the Pi NAS is more of a learning project than a NAS solution. Also you never know the Pi 5 or whatever it ends up being might be more suitable in the future.

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