NAS Is Everywhere!
It seems like, everywhere I turn, I’m reading about how people need a NAS and why it’s so important. Many companies sell enclosures with their own software: QNAP, Synology, and Asustor are just a few names you may come acrcoss. Open Source software like FreeNAS, UnRAID, NAS4Free, or Open Media Vault can allow you to leverage NAS features in both NAS and non-NAS enclosures (like an old PC or server). Certain NAS features can be leveraged from operating system level features that allow drive pooling and/or mirroring.
You Need One
Planning on running a media system like Plex or Emby? Looking to set up a system in the house to store and share media files? Then you absolutely need a NAS – just ask the people on the product support forums or in the related Facebook groups for the multi-media software setup you’re building. Ask them -ANY- question related to storage like what brand of hard drive, whether to use spinning drives or SSD, how much space you’ll need… doesn’t matter. You will invariably get plenty of responses that either go off on one diatribe or another about how using a NAS is critical or you’ll just meaning responses with one word in them like “Unraid” and nothing else. The world has spoken – you need a NAS.
What is a NAS, Anyhow?
At its base, a NAS is a File Server. File servers are computers that have a lot of storage space in them and make that space available across a network for others to use. In a nutshell, you can think of it as a Private Cloud.
The term NAS, which actually means Network Attached Storage, was originally used for specialized file servers that had some valuable features for backing up and protecting data. They were developed specifically to meet the needs of the Small and Medium Business (SMB) segment as an answer to the massive data centers and seemingly unlimited file server space of the large companies (the “Enterprises”). Today, however, the term has become extremely generic in that it’s basically used interchangeably with File Server.
Do You Really Need One?
This is a fairly open-ended question that has a lot of disclaimers attached to an answer. I have a pretty beefy workstation-class machine that I’ve installed three high-capacity hard drives into. That machine is connected to home network and holds all of my movies, pictures, music, and recorded TV shows. I also have all of the various documents and letters and such that I written, forms that have been sent to me by various service providers, and a whole host of miscellaneous software that I’ve downloaded over the years to build linux servers or for installing things like web browsers onto my computer. In all, I have about 30TB of drive space available with about 20TB of space used. Across all of that, I would estimate that less than one half of a terabyte is genuinely “important” enough for me to have backed up somewhere.
If I were to modify my File Server to leverage “on the fly” backup functions for data, it would essentially become a NAS. For most people, though, copying their photos and other important files from the local machine to a File Server, thus creating a backup, is enough. You end up with a second copy of everything stored on a different machine. You’re protected if the first machine crashes for some reason.
Whether you actually need a NAS would depend on a few things:
- Are you comfortable taking the cover off of a PC to remove / install a hard drive? If not, a NAS may be easier for you to work with.
- Are you comfortable with re-purposing a PC into a file server, installing a new operating system, and setting it up on your home network? If not, a NAS may be easier for you to work with.
- Do you have the budget? If not, a NAS may not be the best path forward and you should look at the previous two items to get a better sense for how to build a file server on a budget
While it boggles my mind why seemingly everyone is advocating for everyone else to buy / have a NAS, I can and do appreciate that they can bring some simplicity to the world for folks. But, like everything else in this world, it’s up to the buyer to do their research and genuinely understand what they may potentially be spending their money on before opening their wallet. And, when it comes to home tech, there are a LOT of low and no-cost options out there that might be just as good as something you buy from someone else.
What are your thoughts? Do you know the technical differences between a File Server and a NAS? What are your thoughts about whether home users generally need a NAS or not?