Technology Explained

NAS vs the Cloud: Which Remote Storage Is Right for You?

Andy Betts 02-04-2015

The benefits of cloud storage 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 Read More .

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

Note: If you’re actually looking for a professional cloud service AWS vs. Microsoft Azure: Which Cloud Service Is Best? Need a cloud solution for your next app or website project? The best options are AWS and Microsoft Azure. Read More that not only includes remote storage, but also computing power, have a look at Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.

What Is Network Attached Storage?

Network Attached Storage (NAS) straddles the line between a local hard drive Buying a New Hard Drive: 7 Things You Must Know Buying a hard drive is easy if you know some basic tips. Here's a guide to understanding the most important hard drive features. 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.


buffalo nas

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 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! 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.


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 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.

dropbox signup

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



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.


The website 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 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.

synology nas

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] 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 Use your NAS, or any network share, for backing up your Mac with Time Machine. Read More computers.

seagate 4 bay nas

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, 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.


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 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.


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, or your whole movie collection—then the price and performance benefits of NAS become clear.

Interested in a DIY NAS? Check our comparison of FreeNAS vs. OpenMediaVault vs. Amahi for help with software.

If you don’t feel brave enough to set up your own NAS server, you could also try one of these self-hosted Dropbox alternatives The 3 Best Self-Hosted Dropbox Alternatives, Tested and Compared Looking for a Dropbox alternative that doesn't impose any restrictions? Here are the best self-hosted Dropbox alternatives. Read More .

Image Credits: network attached storage Via Shutterstock

Related topics: Cloud Storage, NAS.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Bao Lo
    January 7, 2019 at 10:35 pm

    Our company uses the Morro Data CloudNAS to sync data among four offices. It uses a traditional NAS interface while keeping data in the cloud. Performance is good since it uses SSD for local cache.

  2. Ende
    February 3, 2018 at 9:35 am

    I'm using Lollyo Personal Cloud. It made the cloud out of my computer, so I have about 3TB of cloud storage;). Has apps for iOS and Android. Simple but I like it this way.

  3. Faisal
    October 12, 2017 at 4:41 am

    Your computer and NAS storage are usually in the same physical location. If a fire, or a natural disaster occurs, everything is gone. With the cloud solutions, you are protected from such problems.

    I prefer using the paid subscription of Microsoft Office because I get free 1TB storage of OneDrive with it.

  4. Greg McLean
    September 14, 2017 at 10:24 pm

    I have a QNAP NAS with (2) 2TB drives mirrored. I will be upgrading to a pair of 6TB drives soon, since I maxed out my capacity and have another 600GB of ripped movies staged on my Laptop. The lion's share of the data are movies and music. I've begun to put documents on it as well. I have Internet access to it, with Plex Media Server. I still need a backup solution though (RAID is NOT a backup solution)....

  5. Steve
    May 30, 2016 at 1:39 am

    I use a custom built NAS system based on FreeNAS 9.3 with 4TB+ storage also a media server (plexMedia app) workd great! I still cant seem to get comfortable with the cloud services considering all of the recent hacking / identity thefts.

  6. David
    March 23, 2016 at 1:23 pm

    Good information

  7. dustin
    February 16, 2016 at 9:53 pm

    Good article. Doesn't touch on open source NAS OS. Rockstor, Openmedia Vault etc.

  8. nasmis
    January 3, 2016 at 10:06 pm

    A third option is to say that the right answer is: Both!

    Have a NAS and make it responsible for everything backup related. waking your clients on the LAN (if necessary). performing invremental backups of the files on each of those clients, and then, finally, make the NAS run the service which copies everything to your external cloud solution (in case of fire or complete NAS system failure).

  9. Jonny S
    December 2, 2015 at 1:46 pm


  10. Anonymous
    October 23, 2015 at 11:13 pm

    Yeah, I just wanna share kinda lifehack.
    IF you ever need access to these files from remote location the simplest way might be connect to your PC in the NAS network and then access its file.
    I used both TV and Ammyy Admin with no problems at all

  11. Anonymous
    August 28, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    Well written and simple to understand. We're dealing with hardware failure on our NAS and now I'm contemplating a new NAS vs cloud. Still unsure, but your article helped. Thank you.

  12. John L
    April 7, 2015 at 11:23 am

    I keep this really simple and just install a second hard drive into my computer and copy across the important stuff. I use Teracopy (free) for this as it enables me to select everything and when it has compared just click "Skip All" and it just copys across the new stuff. At work we use a portable hard drive and also a subscription to Carbonite. Carbonite has no size restrictions and also includes a nifty bit of software called "Snapsync" which automatically backs up online my pictures taken on all of my mobile devices as soon as I get a wireless signal. We have been using Carbonite for the last four years and have never had an issue.

  13. Keith
    April 4, 2015 at 1:33 pm

    I use NAS storage for my business/personal use and have them implemented for several of my small business clients. They work well and are reliable. I do use a secondary USB hard drive plugged directly into the NAS if available or into a network PC for backup. I'm now using a Seagate NAS that I really like, especially the time management feature which allows you to adjust times to turn off the device when not in use. They are easy to setup, I had it up and running within 10 minutes. NOTE: I use to have an LG NAS which was a good product, but I will NEVER buy another LG product because of the lack of support they provide. A thunderstorm took out the power module [like what is used with a laptop] and LG did not have a replacement part or provided no means to obtain one. This NAS was only 3 years old. I also searched Google for days with no results.

  14. hkcvietnam
    April 3, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    To my opinion, NAS has many useful features, such as archive files, share photos with loved ones, simple remote access.
    NAS product I see is not yet widely distributed, how anyone will understand and use NAS in work as well as in the family.
    Thank you very much.

  15. hkcvietnam
    April 3, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    theo tôi, NAS có nhi?u tính n?ng h?u ích nh? l?u tr? t?p tin, chia s? hình ?nh v?i ng??i thân, truy c?p t? xa ??n gi?n.
    S?n ph?m NAS tôi th?y ch?a ???c phân ph?i r?ng rãi, làm th? nào b?t c? ai c?ng hi?u và s? d?ng NAS trong công vi?c c?ng nh? ? gia ?ình.
    C?m ?n nhi?u.

  16. Dan Price
    April 3, 2015 at 3:44 am

    Nice piece Andy. Really been enjoying reading your stuff so far :)


  17. bart
    April 2, 2015 at 10:25 pm

    HP Microsever + Xpeanology! all you need to know about storage.

  18. Deere
    April 2, 2015 at 5:56 pm

    I want to know two things:

    1. Why do you compare NAS to mainstream, overpriced, unreliable Cloud storage services, that use dubious approach to privacy and security? It's not that hard to find services offering 100Gbs+ of space for free.

    2. Why do you talk about TBs, when such amount of data shouldn't ever be trusted to Cloud, not to mention it would take ages to upload it on typical (read: slow) connection?

    • likefunbuntot
      April 2, 2015 at 8:19 pm


      1. From the perspective of a laptop/mobile device user with a fast internet connection, the two sorts of devices can be roughly conflated. Over 802.11, transfer rates will probably actually appear very similar.

      In favor of cloud storage is not having to manage physical hardware or network settings.

      2. In some cases (I am thinking particularly of iOS here, which is completely, brokenly retarded about storage and sharing data between applications so that Dropbox is functionally the only workable glue between a lot of tools) Cloud storage is elevated to a position of primacy because it's the only tool that non-technical people can actually figure out how to work. My county parks department is 80% Apple / iOS and nearly everything they do is stored on a workgroup Dropbox account.

  19. likefunbuntot
    April 2, 2015 at 2:55 pm

    It's fairly straightforward to implement your own NAS rather than building an expensive prepackaged configuration. FreeNAS + a spare Core 2 Duo-based system is probably about as friendly as a Synology or Drobo and a lot more flexible.

    I do think Synology NASes have the most useful and capable firmware among 4 - 8 drive NAS systems, though one of the great disappointments to using them is that the ARM-based CPUs they have aren't fast enough to support some of the things an Intel processor manage.

    Functionally, a NAS box is a server. We're only talking about them here in the context of file storage, but most of them can also act as web or FTP servers. They may be able to seed torrents, stream media via DLNA or Plex or act as a bridge for remote connection to desktop machines. These other capabilities tend to be the differentiating features of any particular NAS.

    Another aspect to NAS-based storage: It's usually slow and even slower if you're using a box that supports parity-based interleaving (Functionally RAID5 or RAID6, whatever the NAS calls it) of some sort, and this is something else where there's a real penalty to the slow CPUs those devices use. Writes to a low-end NAS will probably be more bottlenecked more by the CPU than network bandwidth as well.

    Comparing the rebuild times on a 12TB RAID in a Drobo 5D (which is technically direct-attached rather than network-attached, but the internal hardware is the same as the 5N) to those on a FreeNAS or Windows Storage Server running on PC hardware, in my experience the Drobo needs about four times as long to recompute and rebalance a new drive, a matter of days rather than hours. That's a long time to spend worrying about your data.

    For the most part, anything that requires more than a mirrored single disk, I'm not going to bother to use a NAS. I do have them set up for small customers, but it's usually cheaper and easier for me to re-purpose an old desktop.

    • Tinkicker
      April 6, 2015 at 11:55 am

      Thanks for that breakdown, lfbn. That gives me an incentive to finally put one of my several ancestral pic's I've got in storage to some repurposeful good use.