Most home computer users/home office users store their data locally on their PC/and or laptop.
Storing data this way is simple but it does have many limitations such as :
- What happens when you upgrade PC/laptop
- How do you backup Your Data
- What happens if your PC/laptop breaks
- What happens if you loose your laptop?
- What happens if you run out of disk space?
- How do you share data/files.
In the corporate world data is held centrally on Network servers where it can be easily shared,administered, secured and backed up.
The same trend is now moving into the home and home office as more and more people have multiple computers.
There are five main ways of providing storage and sharing on a home or small office network.They are:
- Use an External Hard Drive
- Use a file share on an existing machine
- Use cloud storage.
- Use a Hard Drive on a home Router
- Use a dedicated NAS box.
Use an External Hard Drive
This is by far the easiest and probably the most common solution.
A Hard drive over a USB 3 port is convenient and fast and doesn’t require any complex setup and maintenance.
The main disadvantage of this is that is not usually useful when there are multiple machines and you need to share data.
Use a Share on an Existing Machine
To be useful this machine must be on permanently. Windows lets you share any folder on your machine including an entire drive.
Linux when running SAMBA also provides this capability but is a little more difficult to setup. See how to share files between Linux and Windows
Because of the requirement to be always on a raspberry pi makes an Ideal candidate for this purpose when dealing with only small amounts of data.
An old PC configured as a network store can be used for sharing and data backup just like a dedicated NAS box but will require more knowledge to setup.
Use Cloud Storage
Many ISPs provide free cloud storage as part of the ISP contract.
In addition Google also provides 15GB free cloud storage with each Google account, and so do Microsoft
The amount of free storage provided by ISPs is usually larger than providers like Google and additional storage can be bought easily as it can be made part of the contract.
The main disadvantage with ISP storage is that it does tie you to the ISP.
Cloud storage is the ideal solution for small amounts of data and especially for personal usage.
Use a Hard drive Attached to a Router.
Routers like TP-Link allow you to attach a hard drive to them and share it on the network.
Below is a screen shot of my TP-Link router that has USB storage
If your router supports this then this a very easy,cheap and effective way of providing network storage, but only for small amounts of data.
They will also often act as a media server and support the DLNA standard.
They are also much easier to setup than a share on a PC.
Dedicated Network Storage (NAS Box)
This by far the more expensive option but the much better option.
NAS (Network Attached Storage) devices are basically computer systems whose sole purpose is to store data.
They are effectively external hard drives attached to the network and not a single computer.
They use standard networking protocols (NFS, SMB and ftp) to allow client computers to store and retrieve data.
Network connections are TCP/IP over Ethernet and Wireless
(WI-FI) as for standard computer systems.
They are usually managed via a web browser by connecting to the IP address of the device just as you do for managing other network devices like routers/wire access points.
A dedicated NAS box starts at around £150 (box only no drives) and goes to thousands depending on the size and type.
The Synology name has become widely associated with home/small office NAS solutions.
NAS and Raid Disks
The more expensive NAS devices use raid disk arrays to store data. Raid disks are used to provide data backup as the data is stored on more than one disk, and improved speed depending on the raid configuration.
Devices with Raid disks are recommended for office
environments whereas the simpler single disk devices are
suitable for home use for storing photos, music etc.
Again is important that you take precautions to back up your
data to other media on a periodic basis.
NAS and Media Center/Server
Although Network attached storage devices can be used for
storing audio, video etc they are not the same as media centres as they are primarily focused on storage.
However you can install media server software on them.
A media Center/server is focused on playback of media and is usually connected to a TV and controlled using standard TV type remote control.
This article is worth reading – How to use a NAS device as a home media server.
Manufacturers often supply very similar hardware but focused on either NAS or media. This is a comment taken from Amazon on the Synology DS218play
The play is intended mainly as a media server whereas the 218 is more of a regular NAS. Buy the play for media use, the 218 for home use and the 218plus for home/office, heavier usage.
By Mr PW Whitehead on 24 December 2018
NAS and Personal Cloud
There are devices that are sold as personal cloud that look like they can be used for network storage however they cannot.
This screen shot was taken from a review of the WD 4TB cloud home storage box
The Problem with NAS and Personal Cloud Storage
If you decide to store your data,pictures and videos on a network storage device then this represent the single point of failure.
Therefore you will need to ensure that you have a backup of this storage.
For small home office networks data backup will be very important and should be done on a regular basis.
The storage requirement will vary depending on the type of files . Architect files will be large and require lots of storage capacity and a fast network. This will almost certainly mean local storage.
Offices that deal mainly with word type documents will require much less storage and can probably be backed up to the cloud if needed.
What Do you Need?
Choosing the solution isn’t always straightforward so I have created a few example scenarios and what I would use a solution.
These may make choosing the best solution for your requirements a little easier.
You have a small home network with a single computer and a tablet and phone and need to safely store the photos from the phone.
Storing in the cloud using Google,Apple or your ISP would be my preferred solution but I would also consider using a personal cloud solution.
You need to store video surveillance from several IP cameras.
Use a dedicated BAS server.
Do You Really Need A NAS?
If you are still unsure of whether or not you need a NAS then this video explains quite well the pros and cons of various solutions.
Common Questions and Answers
Q- Can you use cloud storage as a backup?
A- Yes but only for small amounts of data as backup will be slow and so will a restore.
Q- Does A NAS server need Internet access?
A- No but it will require it for updates
Q What does NAS stand for?
A- NAS stands for Network attached storage.
Q- Is Synology NAS the best?
A- Difficult to say but it certainly appears to be the most popular. A quick search on Google showed these results:
The main use of network storage is for sharing data and other media and for data backup.
It is also commonly used for storing video from security cameras.
It is ideal when multiple devices need to store or access the same data.
Related Tutorials and Resources
- Documenting Your Home Network
- Home Network Topologies and Layouts For Complete Beginners
- Mobile Routers
- How to Create a Guest Network