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Six reasons to choose a NAS drive

Find out the key benefits of network-attached storage

NAS drive

Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices are growing in popularity, with Technavio predicting sales will grow by 6% CAGR between 2017 and 2021 across Europe, the Americas and APAC. NAS devices offer greater flexibility, scalability and often, better performance than their standalone counterparts as well as more control over what's stored.

We outline six reasons you should consider switching from standard storage to network-attached options to improve employee productivity and ensure your business runs more smoothly.

Storing and sharing

Although you may think a hard drive plugged into every computer may seem a faster way of storing data, it isn't a particularly cost-effective way of backing up information for a whole business, especially if you have a lot of employees, all using a different workstation.

A NAS means anyone in the company can use a single device to store everything, which not only allows anyone who needs access to view or share information, but it also gives admins more control over how resources are allocated to each user. Additionally, shared folders can be set up for colleagues to share information more freely and a NAS will act exactly like the user's computer with everything organised in folders.

The majority of NAS drives work across Windows and Apple to make backing up data a process that happens in the background, without you even realising in most cases. You can opt to use your own application to manage this process, the software that comes with the NAS, Microsoft's built-in Windows software or Apple's Time Machine.

If there's enough space on the NAS, you can store backups from as many computers as you like, ensuring your business is safeguarded if there's ever a problem with the computers in your organisation.

More recent NAS drives take this further still. The smarter models can be run like cloud storage services, complete with remote access, apps for iOS and Android smartphones and even synchronisation, so that files stored on a local hard drive sync with files stored on the NAS, updating as, say, a document is edited and re-saved. Buy a NAS with enough capacity and the right features, and you can effectively have your own cloud storage solution working in-house. Some even do a pretty good job of aping OneDrive's general look and feel.

The other issue is redundancy. Even an affordable two-bay NAS can be set up in a RAID1 configuration with data mirrored across both drives. Should one drive go down, you'll still have a safe backup of your most important files, and you can keep working on any documents or data stored (just remember to order that replacement hard disk). That's a big plus for business continuity, but it's just as important when you're talking about irreplaceable photos or videos.

Media streaming

If, like many, you frequently consume a large amount media at home, you’ll be used to many of your devices being tailored to web-based media streaming services. It’s worth noting, however, that devices such as Smart TVs, games consoles, media streamers and networked audio systems will also support a NAS with DLNA server.

It’s often wise alternative thanks to its convenience, lower cost and the speed at which it operates. Transferring your existing libraries and new media rips to a NAS drive, for example, is considerably faster than shifting them to a cloud-based streaming service – especially when working with high-quality media content with larger file sizes and bandwidth requirements (such as HD and Ultra HD video).

If you’re looking to use a NAS drive for this purpose, it is essential that you not only research storage capacity and performance but also look for compliance with the UPnP and DLNA standards. If working with an Apple system, do also check that the drive can be used as an iTunes server.

In terms of hardware, check that your NAS of choice is compatible with the devices you use – such as tablets, smartphones, and laptops. If it doesn’t, it’s possible that it supports add-on media server software – such as Plex or Twonky Media – that can provide compatible player applications for your hardware.

At the top-end of the NAS drive market, units now ship with the ability to transcode – meaning they can adapt formats and bit rates to suit the device you are using. Some can even be used as media player and server, thanks to HDMI and audio connections that allow you to connect directly to your Smart TV or sound system. 

Speed

If speed is a key factor when deciding how to store to your data, NAS offers a far more fluid experience than the cloud - including faster access to files, quicker downloads, and smooth file-streaming.

The best NAS drives are equipped to handle multiple connections and simultaneous file transfers, thanks to their disk bandwidth, RAM and sheer power of the CPU. To get that maximum efficiency, however, you do need wired Gigabit Ethernet links between NAS and the router, and then between the router and each PC.

If that's no obstacle and you're going all-out, higher-end models even come equipped with dual Gigabit Ethernet ports - allowing you to bond both Ethernet channels for super-fast transfer speeds between the NAS and a host of machines.

Capacity and cost

Whilst the price of a NAS device may appear expensive at first glance, delve a little deeper and you'll soon realise that hard disks remain the most cost-effective method of storing your data. Uploading your files at high volumes to the cloud has its benefits, but when you begin to look at incorporating multiple users, business upgrades and subscription lengths, the costs can mount up very quickly.

A 1TB Dropbox Pro subscription will set you back £7.99 per month (or £79 per year), whilst the equivalent service with Google Drive costs $9.99 per month. 1TB storage through Microsoft's OneDrive is also priced at £5.99.

So when you compare those ongoing costs with that of a 1TB NAS drive, for example, the difference is clear. With NAS, you can store and safeguard more data for less money - and you can even snare a larger 3TB or 4TB NAS hard drive for under £100.

Higher capacities naturally come with bigger price tags - but NAS drives are available in numerous sizes, depending on your storage needs.

Reclaim your independence

With a NAS, you're in control. You add the users and create the shared folders, allocate resources and define who can see what and where. You can encrypt or decrypt your drives and data as you choose, using 256-bit AES encryption to encrypt it. Providing you maintain good security, nobody can get at your data, and there's not much chance of GCHQ, the NSA or hackers finding a way in for a snoop. In short, you have a greater degree of independence, and if you want to make changes to the way your storage works, that's up to you.

Flexibility

Increasingly, NAS is becoming a misnomer. Some of the mid-range and high-end devices are now more like mini-servers, albeit ones that run stripped-back, specialist, Linux-based firmware. New ARM and Intel architectures are giving them more performance without increasing power consumption, and built-in app stores make it easy to add new functions. Want a web server? A WordPress host? An email server or a VPN? A NAS drive could be cheaper to run and easier to administer than a more traditional server.

NAS drives are also adapting to the modern IT landscape. The most forward-thinking manufacturers are developing devices in conjunction with mobile apps that can manage them, stream media to your device, or access their data to give your tablet and phone exponential levels of storage. They're either making remote access easier, so that taking files from the home NAS while you're at the office becomes a no-brainer, or they're adding features that sync folders between the NAS and the big cloud storage services, so that key files are protected and available.

Then there's virtualisation. NAS can support this, using either standard protocols or – with the pro and business-grade models – iSCSI links to provide virtualised drives for virtual machines. That's great for development, testing and desktop virtualisation, but can also be useful in the home for experimenting with different operating systems or applications, or setting up controlled environments for secure browsing. If you're keen to get stuck into virtualisation, a NAS can be a simple, cost-effective storage option to power those virtual machines.

With great flexibility tends to come complexity, and the less expert will find that the more basic NAS devices are easier to set up, manage and work with every day. However, few NAS devices require serious admin skills – or at least not for basic functions – and the features list tends to grow with each firmware update. Explore your new NAS, and you may be amazed at what it could do.

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