Network Attached Storage (NAS) Explained

Network Attached Storage (Nas)In this guide for beginners, we’re going to look at network-attached storage (NAS).

It acts as a dedicated file-level architecture type storage device that can be accessed by multiple users on a given network — essentially a networked hard drive.

Data is vital to companies throughout the world, as competitiveness is increasing and the shift towards digitally enhanced services quickens.

Without access to data, a business can be left behind due to losses in sales, slow completion of projects, and sub-standard customer service.

This is partly where NAS steps in as a place to store data privately on a network.

NAS Storage Explained

In some sense, working with NAS is comparable to working with a hard drive on your computer.

The only difference is the drive is located elsewhere on the network and you are actually accessing the data remotely.

You are able to share this drive with other people on your network.NAS can connect to multiple devices simultaneously, provide backup data, and a host of other services.

NAS is ordinarily accessed via LAN (local area network) and it is managed using a web browser to access internal web administration pages. The NAS has its own internet protocol (IP) address on the LAN.

Most NAS have a basic operating system designed to handle data storage efficiently and can work with a variety of underlying file storage systems. These include SMB, CIFS, AFP, and NFS.

Benefits of Using NAS

NAS works as a fast access system and is like a private cloud for your workplace/home (despite it not actually being a cloud-based online storage service).

  • Performance boosts — NAS handles the serving and management of files on the network, so it frees up other devices on the network from file serving. NAS is often geared towards unique uses too, such as Big Data management.
  • Simple to use — you don’t need to be an IT techie or computer whiz to know how to use NAS. Setting up NAS is simple and takes very little time; it can often all be done all with a web browser.
  • Safety — centralizing data this way is safer and more reliable. It is easier to manage automatic backups.
  • Security — a company can have sensitive data stored in one location instead of employees all keeping their own copy on their own computer.
  • Scaling is simple and easy — to add more storage volume all that needs to be done is to add more hard disk drives. Nothing else about the servers needs altering — and the network doesn’t need to be down whilst changes are being made.
  • Easy collaboration — employers always have access to the data with NAS, meaning it’s easier to work with each other and with customers.
  • Lower cost — compared to similar-sized storage systems, added efficiency and speeds make NAS a good choice for mid-range file sharing and storage requirements.

Who is NAS for?

NAS is for anyone who needs a larger storage volume, excellent management, and accessibility.

One common use for a NAS system is for small- or medium-sized businesses that don’t need large expensive servers but can’t tolerate the inefficiency of standalone computers on a network for file management.

NAS is a cost-effective storage option for these types of businesses.

Some NAS operate as servers and can perform automated tasks for the company, such as emailing, printing tasks, database management, etc.

For people at home, NAS is helpful if they have a large amount of data among multiple people to handle. Instead of having many hard disks tied into different computers, they can come together to use NAS.

Alternatively, for smart homes, NAS is useful for controlling house operations, performing a function within the “internet of things”.

How Does it Work?

NAS begins with hardware. It can sometimes be referred to as a NAS box, as this is often the appearance of the main storage device.

The hardware is much like any other basic server (it has random access memory, processors, and storage disk drives).

Capacity with these units is easily upgraded. The main difference with a NAS unit is the software and architecture — they’re geared towards file storage.

Software is usually embedded in the hardware when it comes to NAS boxes.

They’re simple and efficient operating systems, meaning the system can operate even faster than an ordinary server (it doesn’t have to deal with the extraneous requests and commands, so it can be streamlined and cost-effective).

NAS is then connected to a network switch or wireless router on the network.

Having been set up by the administrator with details such as permissions, the NAS is ready to begin serving and receiving files.

Before NAS, businesses had problems with managing hundreds of file servers, which took time to manage and resulted in money losses. NAS, on the other hand, largely plugs and play.

Vendors and Products

NAS can be slotted into three categories, which are mainly about size, capability, and redundancy.

  • Enterprise NAS — This is good for bigger businesses that need much larger file storage and data handling. Companies that need to work with Big Data and virtual machines employ enterprise NAS. Enterprise NAS is particularly easy to scale up and add new storage space. It also has better redundancy fail-safes.
  • Midmarket NAS — Some businesses don’t need extensive petabytes of data to be handled like more data utilizing businesses. Midmarket NAS has space for hundreds of terabytes and doesn’t use clustered NAS boxes.
  • Personal/Desktop NAS — These are much smaller than the other two types but still provide a lot of storage volume. They’re useful for households where multiple users need to share large numbers of files safely and easily. However, cloud services also fill part of this need. Also, known as portable NAS units, some are also wireless.

Some big vendors offer a wide range of NAS types — the great thing about it is the flexibility, as some vendors offer ranges of NAS from barely basic to fully kitted boxes. For example:

  • Apple Corp. — AirPort Time Capsule NAS is designed to work with Apple devices
  • IBM — Spectrum NAS, good for handling a variety of PC operating systems and for high-performance computing.
  • Netgear — ReadyNAS, good for the desktop end of NAS use.

Read more guides about computer hardware

Computer Hardware: Beginner’s Guide

What is network-attached storage?

Network Attached Storage (NAS)

What is NAS (Network Attached Storage) and Why is NAS Important for Small Businesses?