Network Attached Storage 101!

Explain what NAS is?

NAS is short for Network Attached Storage.

It’s a server optimised for file storage.

You plug one of these NAS units onto your network, and insert a couple of hard disks. You can access these disks from any computer or device over the network. Using your internet connection, the storage can also be accessed remotely from internet.

NAS solutions are commonly found in all kinds of SMB/SOHO businesses, used to store data like client details, photos, documents, etc. They are very easy to set up – compared to a full-blown server solutions.

Think of it as Dropbox, except the files are stored in a unit sitting on your floor (on-premise), rather than at a big data center.

What it is, and isn’t

NAS won’t solve the following problems:

  • The best online availability. If your internet access is slow, you’re better off with cloud storage. They have data centers everywhere around the globe.
  • Fast online upload speeds (maybe). The NBN possibly solves this once for all. Until then, cloud storage services will have better upload speeds than your average home connection speeds. (Maybe Bittorrent Sync can help? – its available for NAS). It depends what you need though, uploading a video from Google Drive is pretty darn slow already. Also, if the internet speed of the place of remote access is already slow, it’s not going to matter regardless.
  • 100% Fail-proof backups. Unforunately, hard drives can fail. When this happens, you need to replace the disk. Whilst techniques – most notably RAID – are designed to avoid data loss, you need to factor is extra costs for replacement disks. With cloud storage, you don’t need to worry about any of this, as they have an entire team looking after their data center. (Why not use both?)

What NAS does solve:

  • Lots of space, with the fastest access from inside your network If you have lots of big content, NAS is still the best solution. Upload things straight onto the NAS without needing to go through the internet. As much storage as you can $$$ for.
  • … and cheaper than Cloud past the 1TB+ mark Most Cloud storage plans max around 1TB for personal accounts. Cloud storage becomes expensive for 1TB+ plans, often requiring an upgrade to the business tier.

Cost breakdown

Cloud (included here for comparision)

  • Dropbox 1TB (max for personal) $11.58/month, $138.96/year
  • Google Drive personal 1TB $10/month, $120/year
  • Google Drive personal also has plans for 10TB, 20TB, 30TB at the same above rate.
  • G Suite (business) $60??/month of storage with Google Drive Unlimted.
  • OneDrive 1TB $9/month $108.00/year

NAS

There are two bits you need: the NAS unit, and the NAS hard drives.

Other costs include your ISP internet connection bills, power bills, and maybe a low-end UPS backup power supply.

NAS units are sold by CPU performance (namely for people who also want video transcoding or encryption), brand, and number of drive bays (the number of available hard drives slots). Brand is quite important since they provide the in-built software – including the cloud web UI and other important things.

You should buy Synology or QNAP brands. Or trust my friend and go for Netgear ReadyNAS.

Example: Part One – Pick ONE of:

  • QNAP TS-231P (2 bays) $270.00, or
  • QNAP TS-431P (4 bays) $380.00

Disks are a little more complicated due to RAID configurations. All disks inserted into a NAS should all be of the same capacity and same brand, for techie reasons.

Example: Part Two – Pick ONE of:

  • 1TB (2 x 1TB, RAID1) 2 x $87.00 = $174
  • 4TB (2 x 4TB, RAID1) 2 x $225.00 = $450
  • 8TB (2 x 8TB, RAID1) 2 x $469.00 = $938 *
  • 12TB (4 x 4TB, RAID5) 4 x $225.00 = $900 (*cheaper to replace single failing disk than above)

Warning: Don’t buy normal desktop hard drives! Use NAS hard drives. E.g. WD Reds, Seagate NAS.

Okay, so if you choose the 1TB option, and paired this with the TS-231P, upfront it would cost a total of $444. That same money could pay for a 3-4 year subscription to a 1TB cloud storage plan. At 4+ years, you will probably need to replace a failing disk (another $87).

Or, if you choose the 4TB option, paired with the TS-231P it would be $720 upfront. ($225.00 to replace failing disk).

Reliability & backups

The cheapest way to backup a NAS is portable hard drives, using the USB port on the NAS unit.

NAS storage reliability can be improved by investing into a backup UPS power supply, and by spreading data across more disks – i.e. a NAS unit with more bays, and using higher RAID levels.

There are also other cloud storage providers, just for backups (no fancy web ui)
– Crash plan
– AWS but US-only 🙁
– Google Cloud “coldline”

Summary

If you need lots of storage, you probably need a NAS solution.

If you’re after a 100% reliable backup for critical data, cloud storage services still wins, but can become much more expensive per TB.