For those of you who have stumbled over to this section of the forum you may be asking yourselves "what is a NAS"? Well, that is actually an excellent question and whilst it may not be important to you now there is a good chance that in the near future you will have a NAS either in your workplace or in your home.......so, let's try to break this down into easily understandable language (because at its simplest a NAS is actually quite easy to understand).
Firstly, what do those letters, NAS, actually stand for. Simply they are Network Attached Storage and a NAS device can look like these......
Yes, they can look just like those External Hard Drives that you have already but they can do a whole lot more.
Now we know what the letters mean I guess this is a good time to ask......what does it do? More than you might imagine is the answer! Plug one of these beauties into your router and suddenly everyone on your network can see, swap and use the same files and documents, you can all access the same media so no need for multiple copies of that embarrassing home video of you as a baby, face down in a bowl of chocolate mousse, oh no, now just one copy needs to exist on the NAS drive for all your family to access and embarrass you with when your new girlfriend/boyfriend comes to visit.
Is that all? I hear you ask.....well, no actually, there is more! So you have gone to visit friends at the other end of the country but you forgot to take the family photos with you, no problem! Just log into their wifi or use your 3G and access your NAS over the Internet and grab those pictures instantly. Of course, it's getting late and due to too many glasses of wine old rivalries start to emerge, to avoid the forthcoming argument you yawn and head for bed, but you are not really tired, so, you access your NAS again and stream or download that old classic movie "Bedtime For Bonzo" that should send you off to sleep!
Hopefully you are getting the idea now, everything everywhere all the time, no matter where you or your family/colleagues are, anywhere in the world, if you have an Internet connection it's all at your fingertips. But it doesn't end there, oh no, why not use it to back up all those important documents too, not just for you, but for your entire family or work colleagues.
So, all those important or embarrassing files accessible via the web, that is a bit worrying isn't it! Again, not really, firstly, it will be protected by the security on your router (remember the alpha-numeric code you had to put into your computer the first time you connected to the Internet, yes? Well that is the first level. Your modem/router may also have a firewall and then the NAS device itself will probably require password protected access.
So what about your family, well you can have a shared section on the drive that you can all access and you can also set up specific areas which are only accessible by the users of those areas, say an area for your daughter and another for your son. Your daughter will not be able to access your son's files and your son won't....I know, I know, you get it now.
Now, your great aunt Agnes emails and asks for a copy of the chocolate mousse photo, again, it's easy, send her a link, the only file she will be able to access will be that one.....unless you choose to give her more access, it's your choice, you are completely in control.
Now you are probably asking yourselves, do I need to keep my computer turned on whilst I am in the Bahamas for my two week annual vacation? The answer is no and for a very good reason, NAS drives run off their own operating system (OS), normally a stripped down version of one of the popular OS's so it is completely self sufficient, as long as it is plugged into a working router then you can access its contents. This is the most important difference between an External Hard Drive and a NAS drive, a normal External Hard Drive cannot be used independently of a computer as it requires the computers OS to make it function.
So, what types of NAS devices are available. Well there is almost an infinite number of types with singe and multiple disks and varying levels of RAID (redundant array of independent disks) levels.....we won't go into RAID levels here, that can be saved for a later guide).....for the normal consumer we are generally looking at one or two disk NAS devices sometimes bought without the disks but for ease of "plug and play" use it is much easier to buy NAS devices with the disk(s) already installed.
Hopefully you now have a better understanding of what a NAS is (there will be questions later!). So off you go now and check out the threads and see what you can find, this one shows my efforts to set myself up with a simple, cheap and effective NAS Personal Cloud Storage