Network Attached Storage (NAS) has come a long way from being enterprise-exclusive and high-cost, to being accessible to everyone (SOHO, home-user, etc) at very affordable prices. Two main differences between external hard-drives and a NAS appliances are –
- There is a network port to connect the NAS box directly to the home/office network (which is basically connecting it to a network switch)
- A NAS appliance does not have any in-built storage capacity, but can accommodate hard-drives of varying capacities
USB-based External hard-drives:
You can connect a USB-based external hard-drive to a PC/laptop for file transfer/backup and you can even share it with others in the family/office, thereby creating a centralized storage repository for files/media.
But, there are some limitations to this approach – The PC/laptop connected to the NAS device should always be ON in order to enable others to access files from it (or) the external hard-drive should be physically disconnected and moved from PC to PC in order to share the files. It’s difficult to transfer/share files with Wi-Fi based devices like tablet/mobiles. But, external hard-drives are inexpensive, can be easily carried around and come with a decent storage capacity.
NAS – Network Attached Storage Devices:
A NAS box connects independently to the network and can be used as a centralized file-storage/sharing repository, without depending on a PC/laptop. Anyone connected to the network can access the files stored in a NAS device, if the NAS device is connected to a wired port of the Wi-Fi router (for example).
Every NAS device has certain fixed slots (bays) and one can insert hard-drives of their choosing. The hard-drive inside the NAS device is different from the normal external USB-based hard-drive and they typically support higher storage capacities like 1 TB, 2 TB, 3 TB, etc. You can remove one hard-drive from inside the NAS appliance and replace it with another, anytime.
Most NAS drives on the market are DLNA compliant and they can stream media (songs, video, etc.) to connected devices. Hence, with a NAS, you can store media at one central location instead of storing multiple copies in each client device. It saves a lot of storage space in individual devices.
Other advantages of NAS include automatic (incremental) backup of data (from certain folders, if required), as soon as devices connect to the network; secure storage of data (in multi-bay NAS devices) that can tolerate single disk failures, etc.
1-Bay NAS devices:
Single-Bay NAS devices, which have one slot where a hard-drive can be inserted are rare because 2-bay and multi-bay NAS appliances can provide higher storage capacity and protection from disk failures using a process called RAID. But, 1-bay NAS devices do exist and they come at competitive prices. If you don’t want disk redundancy, and don’t want to deal with RAID configurations, etc. (which take up a lot of processing capacity, BTW), you can consider buying a 1-bay NAS device.
You can insert high-capacity disk-drives like 1 TB, 2 TB, 3 TB, etc. into a single-Bay NAS device and that capacity might be sufficient for many applications. It’s an entry-level device, and hence is perfect for testing waters – You can try this NAS device in your network for sometime before upgrading to higher capacity boxes.
Some 1-bay NAS devices come with USB-ports (in addition to network ports), which allow normal USB-based external hard-drives to connect and back-up data (manually). That way, you get security from disk-failures, compactness and competitive pricing, all in a single package.
Some 1-Bay NAS devices to consider buying (USA):
Also, have a look at some popular 2-bay NAS devices on Amazon before coming to a final decision.
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