Whether you're a mom, a dad, or a recent grad, you've probably wondered where to save all of your files. With many families owning desktops, laptops, smartphones and tablets, keeping everything in one place can be a major hassle! Enter the NAS, or network-attached storage.
Network-attached storage is just that. It’s some sort of storage bank, like a hard drive (or more likely, several hard drives) hooked up to a network connection. You can just set it next to your router or cable/DSL modem, plug a cable from one to the other, and boom - you’re off and running.
Can’t I just get an external hard drive?
Well, you could, it’s true. External hard drives excel when you need to take a lot of data with you to a place without an Internet connection. They’re also handy if you need to move a lot of data between two nearby computers in a short amount of time. Everything else, however, can be achieved more easily by using some sort of networked storage.
To start, you move your data onto the networked storage device. If you’re not in a hurry, you’ll be able to do this over your wireless network. Using Wi-Fi is handy, but it is definitely slower than just plugging in - so if you have a lot of data that you need to move over (such as, for example, years of digital photos), it may be easier to plug your device into the network.
The benefits of centralizing your media
By moving your data to a central repository, you gain several benefits. First of all, it’s much easier to access it from another device. Most consumer-grade (and even some small business) devices come with software that lets you connect your desktop, laptop, smartphone or tablet to your storage box. Need to find that photo you took of Aunt Ida at last year’s Christmas party? No problem - and you won’t need to remember whether you last saw it on your phone or your desktop.
You also free up space on the rest of your devices. The industry is growing increasingly reliant on higher speed flash storage for computers and related devices. This transition has major upsides - no moving parts, harder to break and, most importantly, modern flash storage is much, much faster than traditional hard drives.
It’s also more expensive, though, and that rule applies whether you’re sourcing out new drives for your desktop or notebook, or thinking about picking up the new third-generation iPad. As a result, many companies are making (and many users are buying) cheaper, less bountiful SSDs and flash chips. You get all the rest of the benefits such as speed and power saving, but you don’t get to store as much.
Employing some networked storage can let you have your cake and eat it, too. Instead of keeping all of your pictures on your desktop’s or laptop’s smaller SSD, move them onto your NAS. Those television shows and movies you downloaded? Push them over, too - most newer NAS units can act as iTunes and DLNA libraries, letting everything from your tablet to your television stream media.
Networked storage devices can also provide peace of mind when it comes to the safety and security of your data. By keeping sensitive data off of mobile devices, you don’t need to worry about who might see it should they become lost or stolen. NAS devices also tend to use more than one hard drive in an array known as RAID.
RAID arrays provide redundancy for all those files you hold dear. Barring some sort of house fire or other catastrophic event, if one drive goes down, you’ll still be able to access your data on the other one (or two or more). We mentioned above how having all of that data in one place is good for finding what you want when you want it, and that same rule applies to backing it up, too.
There are several cloud services you can subscribe to online that back up your most sensitive or cherished data files, all automatically. You can hook these services into many of the more popular networked storage devices, which can save a lot of time on your end; making sure that every individual device is connected to the cloud service and sufficiently backed up can be a time-consuming process.
Which one should I pick?
That’s a tough question? Many providers, such as Western Digital and Seagate, provide units directed at the home consumer. For those more advanced users, or others looking for extra features, companies like Brother might be more up your alley. If you want something a bit quirkier, WD’s WD TV Live Hub could be what you’re looking for - this device hooks into your HDTV and provides 1TB of networked storage, but what makes it so special is that any hard drive you plug into its USB ports can be accessed over the network (or Internet!), too.
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