Who has the original copy of that report on their machine? Which hard drive has the footage from that shoot a few years ago? Are those photos from our vacation on the laptop, the external hard drive, or the sync service? If you’ve ever asked yourself a question like these, you have felt the pain of digital scatter. In today’s world, with as many devices as we use, it’s almost unavoidable.
Almost. When you start to feel the pain of digital scatter, either at work or at home, take it as a sign that it’s time to look into upgrading your data storage systems. One of the best ways to do that is investing in a NAS device.
As you start exploring more sophisticated data storage options than juggling external drives or managing sync services, understanding what you can do with a NAS system can help your decision making. This post explains what NAS is and all the different ways you can use NAS to supercharge your business or home office setup.
What Is NAS?
Network attached storage, or NAS, is a computer connected to a network that provides file-based data storage services to other devices on the network. It’s primarily used to expand storage capacity and enable file sharing across an organization or across devices in a home.
The primary strength of NAS is how simple it is to set up and deploy. NAS volumes appear to the user as network mounted volumes. The files to be served are typically contained on one or more hard drives in the system, often arranged in a RAID scheme. Generally, the more drive bays available within the NAS, the larger and more flexible storage options you have. The device itself is a network node—much like computers and other TCP/IP devices, all of which maintain their own IP address—and the NAS file service uses the Ethernet network to send and receive files.
NAS devices offer an easy way for multiple users in diverse locations to access data, which is valuable when users are collaborating on projects or sharing information. NAS provides good access controls and security to support collaboration, while also enabling someone who is not an IT professional to administer and manage access to the data via an onboard web server. It also offers good fundamental data resiliency through the use of redundant data structures—often RAID—making multiple drives appear like a single, large volume that can tolerate failure of a few of its individual drives.
A redundant array of independent disks, or RAID, combines multiple hard drives into one or more storage volumes. RAID distributes data and parity (drive recovery information) across the drives in different ways, and each layout provides different degrees of data protection.
Getting the Most Out of Your NAS: NAS Use Cases
The first two NAS use cases are fairly straightforward. They are exactly what NAS was built for:
- File storage and file sharing: NAS is ideal for centralizing data storage for your home or business and making files available to multiple users. The primary benefits of a NAS system are the added storage capacity and file sharing compared to relying on workstations and hard drives.
- Local backups and data protection: NAS can serve as a storage repository for local backups of machines on your network. Most NAS systems have built-in software where you can configure automatic backups, including what you back up and when. Furthermore, the RAID configuration in a NAS system ensures that the data you store can survive the failure of one or more of its hard drives. Hard drives fail. NAS helps to make that statement of fact less scary.
But that’s not all NAS can do. With large storage capacity and a whole host of add-ons, NAS offers a lot of versatility. Here are a few additional use cases that you can take advantage of.
Host Business Applications on NAS
Small to medium-sized businesses find NAS useful for running shared business applications like customer relationship management software, human resources management software, messaging, and even office suites. Compared to expensive, server-based versions of these applications, companies can install and run open-source versions quickly and easily on NAS. Some NAS devices may have these features built in or available on a proprietary app store.
Create a Private Cloud With NAS
Most NAS devices give you the ability to access your data over the public internet in addition to accessing it through your private network, essentially functioning as a cloud service. If a NAS device manufacturer doesn’t already have a cloud application built in, there are a number of open-source cloud applications like Nextcloud or ownCloud.
Use NAS to Run Virtual Machines
Virtualization software providers, like VMware, support running their products on NAS. With proper configuration, including potentially adding RAM to your device, you can easily spin up virtual machines using NAS.
Develop and Test Applications on NAS
Many NAS devices offer developer packages, including apps for different programming languages and tools like Docker and Git Server. With these add-ons, you can turn your NAS into your own private lab for developing and testing applications before moving them to a server for production.
Use NAS as a File Server
Although a NAS device is usually not designed to be a general-purpose server (it’s underpowered compared to a file server and comes with less robust access management capabilities), NAS vendors and third parties are increasingly offering other software to provide server-like functionality. For home use or for a small team, higher-end NAS devices can function as a file server.
Manage Security Cameras on NAS
Apps like Synology’s Surveillance Station allow you to set up a security camera system yourself using IP cameras rather than paying for a more expensive enterprise or home system. With a large storage capacity, NAS is perfect for storing large amounts of video footage.
Stream Media With NAS
NAS is a great place to store large media files, and apps like Plex allow you to stream directly to a device or smart TV in your home or business. You can consolidate video or audio files from your devices into one place and stream them anywhere.
Ready to Get Started With NAS?
Understanding the many use cases can help you see where NAS might fit into your business or make file sharing at home easier. There are many ways to make your NAS device work for you and ensure you get the most out of it in the process.
Do you have more questions about shopping for or buying a NAS? Check out our Complete NAS Guide. It provides comprehensive information on NAS and what it can do for your business, how to evaluate and purchase a NAS system, and how to deploy your NAS.