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Should You Buy a NAS?

5-20-19

NAS For those who may be unaware, NAS is an acronym for Network Attached Storage device. A NAS is basically a low-powered computer with a large hard drive, or perhaps several large hard drives, that connects to a network, so that anyone on the network may have access to the files on the drive(s). This article addresses the advantages and disadvantages of owning a NAS, so that you may better understand if owning one may be worthwhile for you.

A NAS has significant advantages over a single external USB hard drive. A NAS can be set up to look just like any other drive on your computer. So, for example, if you want to watch a movie on your NAS, which you have previously mapped to drive "E" on your windows computer, you simply click on drive "E" on your computer, go to the folder containing the movie file, and click on the movie file. The movie then begins to play. Arguably, the biggest advantage of having a NAS is that several computers can connect to it simultaneously. For example, multiple people on different computers on the your home network can watch movies at the same time from the same NAS. This means that you and each of your kids can simultaneously watch any movies you all want, each from your own computer. This also means you have less work to do when you back up those computers, because you don't have data stored on them that is on the NAS. Another advantage of a NAS that contains several hard drives is that data can be stored in such a way that if any one hard drives dies, no data is lost. Depending on how many hard drives are in the NAS and how they are set up, perhaps more that one hard drive can fail without data being lost. In addition, some NASes are designed to tell you when a drive has died or is dieing and needs to be replaced, so you don't have to determine that yourself.

A NAS also has disadvantages when compared to a single external USB hard drive. NASes can be expensive. A quick check on Amazon shows that you will probably pay at least $170 for one that can hold two hard drives, without the hard drives installed. For a NAS that can hold eight hard drives, you are looking at $900 or more, without the hard drives. Another disadvantage is that a NAS is designed to run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This means you will be paying for the electricity to run the NAS and it's hard drives, even when no one is accessing it. The rule of thumb is that for every watt that a NAS consumes, you will pay one dollar for the electricity to run it for one year. So, a 50 watt NAS will cost you $50 a year in electricity to operate, or about the cost of a 1 TB hard drive. Another problem with NASes is that they don't always work the way they're supposed to. Although, in theory any one of the drives should be able to fail without losing any data, in reality there is a single point of failure, the NAS itself. For this reason, NASes have been known lose data, even when they theoretically shouldn't have. In other words, just because you own a NAS that is set up correctly doesn't mean you won't lose data. Also, many NASes require some maintenance, and they usually run Linux operating systems. So, if you don't know Linux, you may have a learning curve. Another obvious disadvantage of a NAS is that if you can't connect to your network, you won't have access to the files on the NAS. Since NASes are much bulkier that external USB hard drives, you probably won't be bringing your NAS along when you travel.

To summarize, the advantages and disadvantages of owning a NAS are:


Advantages:

  1. Can be accessed simultaneously by multiple people
  2. Reduces work required to backup multiple computers or hard drives
  3. Provides some protection against data loss

Disadvantages:

  1. NASes can be expensive
  2. Added electricity costs
  3. Sometimes NASes don't prevent data loss
  4. Many require maintenance of Linux OS
  5. Not a good solution when traveling

I see many websites touting the advantages of owning a NAS but neglecting to mention the disadvantages. Now that you know the disadvantages, you are in a better position to decide if you want to buy one. The bottom line is that, even if you have kids, you many be better off using several identical external USB drives to hold your files.



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