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NAS (network-attached storage) explained

If you need more storage, you can buy an SSD, get a cloud subscription, or get a network-attached storage device, such as a NAS. It’s like your private cloud service that you can also use for backup and streaming. Here’s what NAS is and how you can choose the right one.

NAS (network-attached storage) explained

What is NAS?

NAS definition

Network-attached storage (NAS) is a storage device shared between multiple users and clients on the network. You can use it in a wide range of ways, but its main task is to enable you and your team to access resources in a centralized way.

NAS is a local area network (LAN) device, so users often connect to it locally via ethernet cables without the need for an internet connection. But TCP/IP can help access the NAS and transfer files remotely.

Does NAS sound like a typical cloud storage service? That’s because, in a way, it is. You can use it for data storage, file sharing, and backup, but the key here is that the control over your data stays with you instead of third-party cloud storage providers.

What is NAS infographic

NAS components

NAS has very few components, because it’s essentially a tiny computer that doesn’t need a monitor:

  • A CPU handles all the processing tasks, such as running the operating system (OS).
  • An OS is the software managing the device’s hardware and providing a user interface for NAS setup and management.
  • A network interface provides the necessary hardware for the NAS to connect to the network.
  • Physical storage, including additional expansion slots, offers the space to store the data.
  • RAM (random access memory) helps manage simultaneous processes and requests.

Types of NAS systems

There are three types of NAS storage systems based on their uses:

  • NAS for home use.
  • NAS for small businesses.
  • NAS for enterprises.

A NAS for home networks is very user-friendly. It’s built with automated backup and streaming features, so even someone who’s not tech-savvy can start using it immediately.

NAS for small and medium-sized businesses is designed to meet a business’s more demanding storage requirements. These devices have advanced security features such as encryption, data backup, and recovery. For a small business, NAS must also be ready for collaboration to allow employees to share files efficiently.

NAS for enterprises is like a small business NAS, but it’s much more equipped to handle large amounts of data. It also includes scaling capabilities and advanced security, backup, and recovery features. Because these devices are used in massive business networks, they’re built for speed and efficiency, especially when handling requests from hundreds of users simultaneously.

Network-attached storage use cases

A NAS device offers excellent versatility for home users, small businesses, and enterprises. Of course, the benefits it offers differ on the type of NAS you use. For example, in a small home network, a NAS can:

  • Store shows, movies, and photos to stream via your smart TV or console.
  • Host applications and websites.
  • Store footage from home security cameras and help manage your security systems.
  • Act as a personal server and allow users to use it as a private cloud.
  • Manage data from IoT devices, such as thermostats and sensors.

If you’re a small business with employees connecting from different places, you can use NordVPN’s Meshnet feature to create a private network. In this case, NAS can:

  • Help collaboration by storing shared documents and project files.
  • Provide secure access to work resources for remote workers.
  • Back up company data from all the devices in the network and protect it from data loss.

A NAS for enterprises can handle hundreds of computers, while their storage capacity can exceed petabytes, so it’s often more than just a storage device for documents. An enterprise NAS unit can:

  • Provide backup and disaster recovery by storing file copies in multiple physical locations.
  • Store and process large databases for big data analytics.
  • Act as a centralized location for virtualized environments.

Benefits of NAS

Here are some of the benefits of a NAS system:

  • pros
    Easy to set up. User-friendly interfaces make NAS systems straightforward to configure and maintain.
  • pros
    Relatively cheap to maintain. After the initial costs, maintenance requires lower costs than other types of networked storage systems.
  • pros
    Can be accessed remotely. Remote access provides flexibility for network users.
  • pros
    Provides automatic data backups. NAS often comes with built-in backup software, preventing the risk of losing your data.
  • pros
    Scalable. NAS can be easily upgraded with more storage.
  • pros
    Allows collaboration. Using NAS as a centralized storage makes it great for collaboration, especially because it doesn’t even require an internet connection.
  • pros
    Private. NAS works as a private cloud.

Drawbacks of NAS

Some NAS drawbacks include:

  • cons
    Not cheap to set up. NAS is more expensive initially than buying external hard drives.
  • cons
    Limited. Speed and performance depend on the network, its capabilities, congestion, and reliability.
  • cons
    Complex in large networks. NAS can be used in enterprise environments, such as serving emails and databases. But the larger the network, the more complex NAS management becomes.
  • cons
    Vulnerable. Because NAS is designed for network access, it can be exposed to a wide range of attacks.

NAS vs SAN vs DAS

Understanding the differences between NAS, SAN, and DAS might be tricky at first. Let’s break down their differences.

NASDASSAN
Stands forNetwork-attached storageDirect-attached storageStorage area network
Use casesFile sharing inside a small network or a home officeComputer storageData center and enterprise data storage
CostModerateLowExpensive to set up
AccessWithin the network but remote access is also possibleDirectly attached to a computerShared storage can be accessed through company servers
ScalabilityLimited by the NASDepends on the availableHighly scalable, storage reaching petabytes
PerformanceDepends on the network speedHigh speed, only limited by the computerVery high speed and efficiency
SetupRelatively simplePlug-and-playComplex
Data sharingEasy sharing across the networkNo sharingDesigned for shared storage in large networks
BackupRAI for data protectionBackups are set up and managed by the userAdvanced backup features

Compared to NAS and SAN, DAS is different because it’s not a network device. It’s the storage device in your computer, such as HDD and SSD, which you could also set up for network sharing if you wanted to. NAS, however, is a dedicated network storage device you can use to store and share family photos or work projects. It’s generally designed to be accessed inside the network, but you can connect to your NAS remotely, too.

SAN and NAS are similar in what they do but vary significantly in scale. Imagine this: you can have a NAS that stores dozens or hundreds of terabytes of data, but SANs often deal with storage in petabytes (that’s 1,024 terabytes at least). Also, while NAS is used more for files and projects, SAN is typically dedicated to databases and large-scale virtualization.


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