We collect a huge amount of data every day, be it the videos and photos on your smartphone, or the documents on your office system. There is a growing need to be able to centralize all this data, protect it, and make it available across various platforms and devices. An excellent method to achieve these results is with a Network Attached Storage server or NAS.

Network attached storage (NAS) refers to dedicated file storage that allows multiple users and heterogeneous client devices to access data from centralized disk capacity. Users on a local area network (LAN) access the shared storage via a standard Ethernet connection.

It allows multiple devices on a network to wirelessly share and access files, stream multimedia data, and backup all devices from one central device.  What most characterizes NAS is ease of access, high capacity, and relatively low cost.

NAS is one of the three primary storage architectures, along with storage area networks (SAN) and direct-attached storage (DAS). Also, it is the only one that is both inherently networked and fully responsible for an entire network’s storage.

In this article, we will discover more about NAS, how it operates and the benefits it provides.

What is a NAS? – Further Explained

NAS allows you to store and share file-based data, similar to any storage volume.

While using an external hard drive to increase storage is not a bad option, it can only establish a connection with one device at a time.

On the other hand, a NAS is networked to support many devices simultaneously. That means any number of devices can access a NAS as long as they are also on the same network.

NAS is OS independent

Ideally, NAS is platform and OS independent.

It appears to any application as another server, requires no changes to other enterprise servers, and can be brought online without closing down the network.

NAS units are designed to serve data as files. Although they are technically able to complete general server tasks as well, NAS units run software that protects data and handles permissions.

That’s why NAS units do not require a full-featured operating system.

Instead, most NAS units include an embedded, lightweight operating system fine-tuned for data storage and presentation.

NAS provides Data Redundancy through RAID

A NAS device that is having more than one hard drive has RAID capabilities for data redundancy.

RAID is an abbreviation for Redundant Array of Independent Disks and is the most reliable backup solution. It enables data duplication across multiple hard drives.

If anything goes wrong with one drive, you could replace it, and your content would repopulate the new drive automatically.

Is NAS the same as a cloud-based storage service?

All cloud-based storage services like Dropbox allow you to rent space on someone else’s network-connected drives. With an internet connection,  you can access your data from anywhere.

NAS offers similar functionality without handing your data over to a hosting company, thus alleviating any concerns about privacy or cost.

If you put local storage on one side of a spectrum and cloud storage on the other, NAS is somewhere in between.

NAS has some local storage features such as onsite, hardwired connections and some cloud storage features such as self-service, networked access.

However, it does not include the management and automation software necessary to scale and provide metered service rapidly.

NAS is not a cloud, but it can serve a fundamental role in cloud computing.

How does NAS work?

Similar to other file servers, NAS also follows a client and server model.

A single hardware device, i.e., the NAS box or NAS head acts as the interface between the NAS and network clients.

A NAS box does not need any monitor, keyboard, or mouse and runs an embedded operating system rather than a full-featured OS.

A general-purpose server uses a full-fledged operating system, sending and receiving hundreds or thousands of small, unique requests every second.

On the other hand, a NAS operating system takes care of just two things, data storage and file sharing.

Additional disk drives can be attached to many NAS systems to increase total capacity. However, clients always connect to the NAS head, rather than to the individual storage devices.

Normally NAS functions on TCP/IP Ethernet networks and provides controlled access to your data over Wifi and the Internet. It appears on the network as a single node that is the IP address of the head device.

NAS Protocols

A NAS head is formatted with data transfer protocols, which are typical ways of transferring data between devices.

Clients can access these protocols through a network switch, which is a central server that connects to everything and routes requests.

Data transfer protocols help you to retrieve another computer’s files as if they were your own.

There are multiple data transfer protocols, but two are fundamental to most networks, the internet protocol (IP) and the transmission control protocol (TCP).

TCP combines data into packets before transmitting through an IP.

Clients employ any of several higher-level protocols (application layer protocols in the OSI model) built on top of TCP/IP.

Sun Network File System (NFS) and Common Internet File System (CIFS) are the two application protocols most commonly associated with NAS. Both NFS and CIFS work in client/server mode.

The initial purpose of NAS design was only sharing of files over UNIX across a LAN. After that, support for NFS soon expanded to include non-UNIX systems.

But, most NFS clients today are computers running some flavor of the UNIX operating system.

Some NAS systems also support Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) allowing clients to download files in their web browser.

NAS systems also use HTTP as an access protocol for web-based administrative user interfaces.

Where can you use NAS?

You can use NAS in a home or big enterprises.

In the home, you can use it for multimedia storage, or to provide central storage for smart TV’s, CCTV files, etc. throughout the home.

In an enterprise, you can use a NAS array as a backup and archiving appliance, as well as disaster recovery. Enterprise NAS offers rapid access and NAS clustering capabilities.

What is the purpose of a NAS?

Now that you know about a NAS device and how it is different from traditional external hard drives, it is essential to highlight the benefits you can get from using one. Let’s take a closer look.

Centralized and Additional Storage Space

NAS enables Centralized storage of data.

It keeps all your data in one networked location and serves data to multiple devices from a single source. Thus, making it easy to maintain continuity between computers and to share files with friends, family or colleagues.

You can also get a NAS device to add storage space to their local computer in a more cost-effective way.

Hard drives have a specific range in capacity. But, you can always increase the size of your NAS by attaching additional hard drives instead of upgrading the whole system.

Private Cloud Storage

Cloud storage is incredibly convenient, that’s why so many of us use it. But it is vulnerable to security and privacy.

What if you can get the benefits of cloud storage but without any of the potential snooping? That’s one area where NAS devices win over cloud storage.

Most NAS devices have software options that enable remote access configuration so that you can get to your files and data wherever you are in the world. In other words, you can have your private cloud storage.

Automatic Data Backups

You may know the importance of backing up your data regularly, but manually backing up your documents can be challenging.

With NAS you can set up automatic backups which can mirror any changes made locally on the computer. As soon as a change occurs to a document or folder, this change can be reflected immediately on the NAS.

If you need a more reliable data backup solution, then you can use the NAS RAID setup as mentioned earlier. 

Reassuring Data Protection

NAS does not isolate data on each computer. Rather, you can put the data on a secure network-attached drive that is not prone to local hardware failures.

Depending on the device you purchase, as NAS devices often have their OS. It might also offer built-in data encryption, which protects your data from prying eyes outside of your network or unauthorized users.

Easy Server Setup 

One of the most significant benefits of NAS devices is that they are easy to set up. It uses a simple web-based interface allowing you to set up the device and access settings.

Also, many major NAS manufacturers provide mobile apps that make the experience even more similar to more traditional cloud storage providers.

How is NAS different from SAN?

Network-attached storage handles I/O requests for individual files, whereas a SAN manages I/O requests for contiguous blocks of data.

SAN offers only block-based storage and leaves file system concerns on the client side. Fibre Channel, HyperSCSI, ATA over Ethernet (AoE) and iSCSI are some of the SAN protocols.

Although they are different, SAN and NAS are not mutually exclusive.

You can combine them as a SAN-NAS hybrid, offering both block-level protocols (SAN) and file-level protocols (NAS) from the same system.

How is NAS different from DAS?

Direct-attached storage (DAS) is a dedicated server or storage device that has no connection to a network. A computer’s internal hard drive is the purest example of DAS.

You must have access to the physical storage to access files on direct-attached storage. NAS is an accessible and self-contained solution for sharing files over the network.

Both DAS and NAS can potentially increase the availability of data by using RAID or clustering.

The critical difference between DAS and NAS is that DAS is merely an extension to an existing server and is not networked.

Performance wise DAS is better than NAS, especially for compute-intensive software programs. It may involve nothing more than buying the drives to be inserted in a server.

But, in DAS, the storage on each device has to be separately managed, adding a layer of complexity.

Conclusion

The NAS primarily offers the data-storage capability to a wide array of devices, providing users the ability to centralize their data in one convenient location. They are easy to set up and provide increased storage space, private cloud storage, and even automating backups.

Plus, they are often as cheap as purchasing additional hard drives for your local computers.

NAS devices are rapidly becoming popular with enterprise and small businesses as an efficient, scalable, low-cost storage solution. It is perfect for massive network systems, which may be processing millions of transactions per minute. 

To summarize, if you would like all the users in your business or people at home to have access and share files over the network, then do consider implementing a NAS to your network.

NAS refers to dedicated file storage that allows multiple users and heterogeneous client devices to access data from centralized disk capacity. Users on a local area network (LAN) access the shared storage via a standard Ethernet connection.