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The benefits of cloud storage What Is The Cloud? What Is The Cloud? The Cloud. It's a term that gets thrown around a lot these days. What is the cloud, exactly? Read More are well known. It’s an efficient and convenient way of being able to access all your files on any of your computing devices.

But there’s also a less well-known alternative — Network Attached Storage ASUSTOR AS7004T NAS and Media Center Review and Giveaway ASUSTOR AS7004T NAS and Media Center Review and Giveaway Read More .

But what exactly is it, and could it prompt you to drop Dropbox and ditch Drive? Let’s take a look.

What Is Network Attached Storage?

Network Attached Storage (NAS) straddles the line between a local hard drive 5 Things You Need to Consider Before Buying a Hard Drive 5 Things You Need to Consider Before Buying a Hard Drive Buying a hard drive? It's not that difficult if you know a few basic tips. We've assembled the most important features of a modern storage drive and what you should buy. Read More and cloud storage, and gives you the benefits of both.

A NAS system includes a processor, memory and space for hard drive storage, that is connected to a local network so that it can be accessed remotely either through connected computers, wireless devices, or even on the go with a Dynamic DNS, say from No-IP.

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It gives you the security of physically owning the drive on which your data is stored, while also having the convenience of being able to access that data from anywhere. It can also be shared with multiple users, in lieu of a more powerful server.

NAS devices are perfect for small businesses 5 Worthy Cloud-Based Accounting Apps For Your Small Business 5 Worthy Cloud-Based Accounting Apps For Your Small Business In an industry that has traditionally been dominated by expensive and resource-hungry desktop programs there are now an ever increasing number of lightweight yet powerful cloud-based apps. We pick five worthies. Read More , as well as consumers with multiple computers. If you own a desktop PC, laptop and tablet and want to access all your content — whether important office documents or movie files for streaming Watching Offline Movies From Google Play? You CAN Do That On A Chromebook! Watching Offline Movies From Google Play? You CAN Do That On A Chromebook! Today we take a look at one area where a lot of people still harbour many misconceptions about Chromebooks - offline movie playback. Read More — on each device, then you may be an ideal candidate for a NAS.

NAS Systems

Network Attached Storage systems come in a range of prices and complexities for all levels of user.

For consumers and entry-level use, they tend to include a single, integrated hard drive of varying capacities. Most big name hard drive manufacturers have products in this category, such as the Western Digital My Cloud series, with capacities of between two and eight terabytes, or the Seagate GoFlex Home range, which can be used by up to three computers as well as iOS and Android devices via a free app.

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More advanced systems (albeit still available at affordable prices) will consist of an empty enclosure with multiple slots into which you can install your own hard drives.

Synology is regarded by many as the best name in NAS products. A mid-range system such as the DiskStation DS214 costs around $390 diskless, and is powered by a dual-core processor and 512MB RAM for smooth performance, and has two drive bays that can accept 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch drives up to a maximum capacity of 12TB.

NAS versus Cloud Storage

At the consumer end of the market, Network Attached Storage is often marketed as a “personal cloud” solution, and comparisons to cloud services are valid.

With more and more cloud services offering file and image editing Google Docs Adds Basic Image Editing With Crop & Rotate Google Docs Adds Basic Image Editing With Crop & Rotate Google Docs now has basic image editing tools. It is a simple update, but it is another important step in turning Google Docs into a document editor for all seasons. Read More features, as well as media streaming, they are becoming much more than just places to store your content.

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So when would you choose one over the other? Here are some of the key areas you’ll need to consider.

Security

There are two main questions about security.

The first is whether you want your data stored by a third party, or do you want to keep it in your own hands? The answer probably depends on what kind of files you’ll be keeping there, but at the very least you should always be sure to check the terms and conditions of your chosen cloud provider so that you know exactly what they will — or may — do with your files.

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The website tosdr.org provides a handy breakdown of the T&Cs of popular sites, rather than reading it in full.

The other main security issue is how safe your data will be once it is accessible online.

Services like Dropbox and Google Drive offer two-factor authentication What Is Two-Factor Authentication, And Why You Should Use It What Is Two-Factor Authentication, And Why You Should Use It Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a security method that requires two different ways of proving your identity. It is commonly used in everyday life. For example paying with a credit card not only requires the card,... Read More to help make logins more secure (although you will need to remember to activate it). Some NAS manufacturers, like Synology, provide this, but not all do.

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The security of a NAS system also depends on whether it is accessible over the public internet. For a true cloud-like experience it should be, but if you want to maximise your security options, you can restrict just to your network.

Ease Of Use

Even though NAS devices are becoming more user-friendly, with the consumer-oriented products requiring minimal setup and configuration, it still cannot compare to the ease of a cloud service.

Most major cloud services have desktop apps that make using your remote storage as seamless as any other folder on your computer.

Backup And Reliability

If your NAS device has slots for more than one hard drive then you have a built-in solution for backup 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 ready to go. Most will also work automatically with standard backup software like Time Machine on OS X 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 computers.

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This is highly convenient for most users but is not foolproof. It protects you against the failure of one of the drives, which can then be easily replaced, but won’t protect you against damage or loss of the NAS device itself, which could compromise all of the drives inside it.

If your NAS device only has one drive, you will still need to find an alternative backup solution.

The cloud, by comparison, includes backups as part of the service you’re paying for. Not only will moving your data to the cloud count as a backup in its own right, but the cloud company will (or at least, should) ensure that your data will never be lost if there’s a problem at their end.

So long as the cloud service doesn’t go down — and the company doesn’t go out of business — your data will be safe there.

Performance

Performance, or speed, is directly affected by the speed of your network, and the amount of data you are using.

You save files to a cloud server via the Internet, so the transfer speed can only be as fast as the upload speed of your Internet connection. And it may be slower still, since many cloud service apps will not use the maximum bandwidth so that they don’t choke your Internet connection entirely.

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The initial sync, or the uploading of large files, may be something you need to do overnight, or over a series of nights.

Conversely a NAS drive can be attached to your computer directly over Wi-Fi, or a wired connection such as Ethernet Everything You Need To Know About Ethernet Cables Everything You Need To Know About Ethernet Cables Read More on some devices. The upload speeds here will be considerably faster than by uploading over the internet.

However, read speeds can be potentially slower with NAS than for cloud services. If you are reading files from your NAS remotely over the Internet, then you will be restricted by the upload speed of your home Internet connection. This could be slower than what’s offered by your cloud services, though may still be quick enough to stream HD video.

Price

The final issue is price, and for heavy use, NAS wins hands down.

Most cloud services will offer a few gigabytes of storage for free, and if you’re able to stay within this limit then cloud is the better option.

But for large amounts of storage, the prices hardly compare.

drive prices

A 2TB Western Digital My Cloud device costs around $140. Dropbox charges $99 per year for half the storage, as does Google Drive. Amazon charges around $120 per year.

If you’re using large amounts of storage, the cloud can get expensive quickly.

Choosing The Right Solution

There are clear pros and cons to using Network Attached Storage over the cloud.

If you’re a light user, working with small text files, or JPEG images, then you might find the convenience of the cloud works perfectly for you.

The moment you move to larger files — your RAW image library The Best Free RAW Image Processors For Mac OS X The Best Free RAW Image Processors For Mac OS X Photoshop is expensive, and while many are happy to fork out a monthly fee for Adobe's revised Creative Cloud system, others will always turn to free software first. One thing is for sure: if you're... Read More , or your whole movie collection — then the price and performance benefits of NAS become clear.

Do you use Network Attached Storage? Which device do you use? Or do you prefer to keep your files in the cloud? Let us know in the comments below.

Image Credits: network attached storage Via Shutterstock

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