NAS Buying Guide
Table of contents
A desktop NAS device is similar in design to a computer tower. The device is a standalone component. It can be placed on a desktop or in any other convenient location. Desktop NAS devices tend to be the top choice for small businesses and home users.
Rack-mounted NAS devices are not standalone devices, such as a desktop NAS. Instead, rackmount NAS devices are to be used in a rack environment, much like servers. Rackmount NAS devices tend to be more expensive than desktop NAS devices, but offer more power and versatility. Rackmount NAS devices also tend to be the top choice for mid-size businesses to large enterprises.
Diskless NAS vs. Populated NAS
In a populated NAS device, the drives are already installed, along with software to operate the device. A diskless NAS device, on the other hand, does not come with pre-installed disk drives. Instead, users purchase the disk drives separately and install them into the NAS device. Diskless NAS devices tend to make it easier to swap out and replace individual drives. With a populated NAS device, the changing of a drive may have to be done by the factory or a repair center. If price is a concern, populated NAS devices tend to be more cost-effective than diskless NAS devices.
Once one begins to understand the different types of NAS devices that are on the market, the next step is to understand the specifications and features that the various NAS devices have to offer. It is not uncommon for consumers to be unfamiliar with the different features of today's NAS devices or why these features should matter. Below, specifications and features to focus on when purchasing a NAS device are discussed.Connectivity
The term "connectivity" refers to the way the device connects to a network. Some NAS devices connect to a network using Ethernet ports while others will use wireless connectivity. Some devices can support both wireless and Ethernet connections. If a wireless system is preferable, look for a NAS device that offers wireless connectivity. If the security and stability of an Ethernet connection seems more desirable, forego the wireless connectivity option and opt for a device that connects via Ethernet.Drive Bay Limits
The drive bay limit refers to the number of bays within the NAS device. The number of bays will directly affect how much data a NAS device can store. The more bays available, the more data the device will be able to hold. For example, if a NAS device has 5 bays and each bay can store up to 4TB, then the NAS device will be able to hold a total of 20TB. If, on the other hand, a NAS device has 8 bays and each bay can hold up to 4TB of data, then the storage capabilities expand to 32TB of data. The question to ask when deciding how many bays are needed is, how much storage is actually needed? The total amount of data that the device can hold across all of its bays should be greater than the amount of data that you need to store on the NAS device.Interfaces
Most interfacing with a NAS device will be done over the network. That being said, it is important to understand the actual interface capabilities of a NAS device before making an investment. Most NAS devices will have at least two different types of interface ports including USB and RJ-45 ports. Ideally, a NAS device has at least two of each type of port. Additionally, with a top-of-the-line NAS device, look for one that also has an HDD interface.Speed
If the rate of transfer data and files over a network is crucial, a NAS device that has a decent processing speed will be best. There is a wide range of processors used in today's NAS devices. The faster the processor, the better the NAS device's performance will be. Look for a dual-core processor. At a minimum, a NAS device with an 800 MHz CPU processor will provide the necessary rates.Hard Drive Performance
Hard drive performance is another factor that to take into consideration when selecting a NAS device. The included HDD capacity and whether or not the device has RAID technology are important factors to consider when selecting a device. RAID is an acronym for Redundant Array of Independent Disks. RAID technology combines multiple small-capacity disk drives into a drive that will be seen as a single drive to the computers and devices on your network. This allows you to utilize multiple and less expensive drives to store your data, rather than investing in a single larger (and more expensive) drive.Operating System Compatibility
Make sure that the operating systems that your computers and devices use are compatible with a NAS device. Most NAS devices are compatible with most operating systems. However, as a general rule, choose a NAS device that is compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems at minimum.
When purchasing a NAS device, some specifications and features will be more important than others. The specs and features that to look for will vary depending on storage and data access needs. For example, someone who is using NAS for home cloud purposes will need different features than someone who uses NAS for a business enterprise. This is addressed in the next section, "Which NAS Is Best for Me?"
Which NAS Device Is Best for Me?
For some consumers it can be hard to decide which NAS device to purchase. It may be difficult to decide which features require the most attention and which specs will serve your particular needs. There is an array of NAS devices on the market and what's great for one buyer may not be so great for the next one. We have broken down the most common NAS purchasing groups, helping you understand which NAS device will best serve you and what specs and features you need to be looking for. If you identify with more than one of these groups, don't worry – search for a NAS device that covers the features and specs needed for both purchasing groups.
Home users have specific needs when purchasing a NAS device. Fortunately there are devices made specifically with home users in mind. When purchasing a NAS device for a home, make sure that it is easy to install since an IT department won’t be setting up your device and connecting it to your network. This means that a device with plug-n-play installation will be best.
The drive bay limit is another thing that to take into consideration when purchasing a NAS device for a home. The number of bays that a device can hold will directly affect how much data can be stored on it. As a home user, an 8-bay NAS device is likely too much. Consider a device with up to five bays to ensure that it can continue to keep up with increasing storage needs over time.
The device style is another factor that to keep in mind when shopping for NAS. Desktop NAS is probably the best bet, unless a rack is available that will allow for a “Rackmount” NAS device. The price of a rackmount NAS is usually outside of the budget realm of home users, however, so a desktop NAS is often a home user's best bet.
Home Office Users
In a home office, a NAS will be a bit different from the needs of the average home consumer. Make sure that the NAS device accommodates the needs of a business while staying within your home office budget.
Consider a NAS device with secure remote access. This will allow access to the files on a NAS device while on the road or attending a client meeting out of town, for example. Also, make sure that the NAS device performs automatic backup. Home business owners are usually responsible for overseeing all of the tasks associated with managing a business. Sometimes data backup can fall to the wayside. Purchasing a device that performs automatic backup will eliminate the likelihood of lost data due to a lapse in performing backup tasks.
Look into the speed of the processor of the NAS device as well. When running a business from home, time is money, and it is essential to have a device that performs up to your expectations. Lags in performance will slow down productivity. Look for a device that has a dual core processor and high processing speeds to ensure that it can keep up with business demands.
Small Business Users
Small business consumers have needs that differ significantly from home users. When purchasing a NAS device, focus on the cost of the device, operating system compatibility, and hard drive performance. Small businesses usually have a set budget that they must adhere to. Because of this, consider the cost of the NAS device when comparing different devices to choose from. The most expensive device is not necessarily the best choice. It is possible that the better choice will be a desktop device over a rackmount device as desktop devices tend to be less expensive.
Also consider operating system compatibility when selecting the right NAS device for a small business. Make sure that the device will be compatible with the various operating systems that employees use. If an incompatible device without the proper operating systems is implemented, employees may not be able to access the files that are stored on the NAS.
Hard drive performance should also be a priority when shopping for a NAS device for a small business. Consider a NAS device that employs RAID technology. This technology will allow the installation of multiple drives, while the computers on the network will view the RAID configuration as a single drive. This achieves higher storage volumes on a smaller budget.
Corporate users have unique needs when it comes to NAS devices. A device with fast processing speeds for heavy workloads is best. You will likely have multiple employees trying to access the stored files at the same time. Therefore, be sure that the device will be able to handle the demands that employees will place on it by way of a powerful processor.
Also, make sure that the device will allow for expansion of storage. As a business grows, its data storage needs will likely grow with it. The amount of storage initially purchased may not be enough two or three years down the road. Rather than having to buy an entirely new NAS device, consider a device that allows for upgrades and expansion of storage space.
Web access will also be important to corporate users. Employees need to be able to access the files on the NAS from any computer in any location for productivity purposes. The only way to ensure this is to ensure that the NAS allows for web access to the files on the device. By allowing for web access, corporate employees will have easy access to the files they need, wherever they may be.
When consumers decide to purchase a NAS device, there are a number of questions that they frequently run in to. Some of these questions are more commonly asked than others. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions that we receive regarding NAS purchases.
What is the Difference Between a NAS Device and Cloud Storage Such as Google Drive or Dropbox?
When storing files using a cloud storage solution such as Dropbox or Google Drive, the data is stored on a remote server that you neither control nor own. If something goes wrong with the service, you have no ability to correct the issue. You do not control when maintenance is performed. To make matters worse, if the service goes down, your files won't be accessible during the outage. Having your own NAS device eliminates this problem, putting you in complete control of data storage, safety, and accessibility.
Why Does the Number of Bays Matter?
The number of bays in a NAS device directly correlates with the amount of data a device can store. The fewer bays a device contains, the less storage it will be able to provide. If you are only storing personal files, the number of bays may not be as important. If, however, in a growing business which needs quite a bit of file storage, consider multiple bays with room to increase the amount of storage the device can provide in the future.
Why Does an NAS Device Need a USB Port?
There are a number of reasons to use a USB port with a NAS device. The primary reason should be for backup purposes. If a NAS device features a USB port, backup of the device can be made very simple. Without a USB port installed on the NAS device, backup can be a bit more complicated. Another method will be necessary to back up the data on your NAS. If you purchase a NAS device without a USB port, you will likely have to connect a USB HDD to the "share" port on your router or connect the HDD to a network-attached computer to perform backups. A USB drive makes backup of the data on a NAS much easier.
How Does NAS Differ from a Hard Drive Connected to a Computer?
Simply connect an external hard drive to a computer and added storage capacity has been achieved. However, this method of storage only offers a one-to-one cable connection between the external hard drive and the computer. It can be hard to share the files on the external hard drive with other computers on the network. With a NAS device, you can store large volumes of files in a single location that can be visible to every computer and device connected to the network. Even networked televisions and game consoles that connect to the network can access the files on a NAS device.
What Do I Need in Order to Set Up an NAS Device?
In order to set up NAS on a network, you’ll need a network router to create a local area network and a computer. The NAS will connect to the router via a wired Ethernet connection or via a Wi-Fi wireless connection depending on the type of NAS device. Once the NAS device is connected to a router, whether wirelessly or via an Ethernet connection, all of the computers and devices on the network will be able to access the files stored on the NAS.
What Are the Benefits of NAS?
In addition to added network storage, NAS provides numerous benefits. NAS allows for easy backup of files and continuous file sharing. It also allows media streaming that is stored on the NAS to all of the computers and devices on a network. NAS allows for remote access, allowing access to important files from any computer connected to the Internet.
NAS devices usually come with at least some level of instruction to help set up and use it properly. There are some basic how-to's, however, that are not usually covered in these manuals. The following information will help you understand the basics of how to use and take care of your NAS device.
How to Install NAS Hard Drives
If the NAS server does not come with a hard drive or if additional hard drives are needed, you will need to know how to install the drives properly. To add a hard drive, unscrew the cover of the bay. If a hard drive is already there, detach the power cable and any other cables that may be connected to the drive, such as a SATA III cable. Then attach the new hard drive to the cables and replace the bay cover.
How to Set Up the RAID Format
RAID technology combines multiple hard drives together. There are different RAID levels depending on how many hard drives in use. The three common RAID levels include RAID 0, RAID 1, and RAID 5.
RAID 0 offers the maximum amount of storage, but does not offer data backup if one of your drives fails. RAID 1 allows you to mirror data between two hard drives. If one hard drive fails, you still have the data secured on the other drive. RAID 5 spreads data and parity information on three or more drives. It provides good performance and will continue to work if one drive fails.
To set up a RAID 1 format, which tends to be the easier and more common, you will want to mirror data between two hard drives. While this will reduce the amount of available storage, it will ensure continuity of your system.
How to Clean Your NAS Device
Never clean a NAS device with water or a spray cleaner. If necessary, use a slightly damp cloth to remove any dirt spots that may be on the outside of the device. Canned air can also be used to clean a NAS device.
How to Access the NAS from Your Computer
To access the NAS device from a computer, locate the drive(s) in the network folder. Open the drive from that location. If the drive has web access, go to the IP address of the network drive and enter your credentials to access the files on the drive. Also, one can access the contents of a drive using FTP protocol if the drive is FTP enabled.
NAS vs. Traditional File Servers
NAS offers a number of benefits over traditional file servers. Some of these benefits include lower cost, less downtime, and better security. NAS products are simpler than traditional file servers. They strip out all of the unnecessary capabilities of a traditional file server, such as server applications, daemons, and hardware components. Because of this, NAS is less prone to crashing and is more secure than a traditional file server. In addition, if a crash does occur, a NAS device can be rebooted in much less time than it takes to reboot a traditional file server.
NAS vs. SAN (Storage Area Network)
The biggest difference between a NAS and a SAN is that a NAS is one single storage device whereas a SAN is a network of multiple devices. NAS also tends to utilize TCP/IP and Ethernet connections, whereas a SAN utilizes fiber channel interconnects. NAS devices are better suited to individuals and small business users who do not need massive amounts of storage. Since it is impractical to utilize numerous NAS devices, those who need such vast amounts of storage tend to opt for a single SAN. Another key difference between NAS and SAN is that individual users can access the files stored on a NAS device, whereas SAN does not allow for this capability.