Network storage is an integral part of the digital home, but choosing the right box depends on whether you’re focusing on work or play.
Network Attached Storage is basically a hard drive which isn’t attached to one computer, but rather connected to your home network so it’s available to all your devices. For some people a NAS is primarily a central storage and backup point. Others are more interested in a NAS as a central media library for streaming music and video.
If data protection is your priority then consider an advanced NAS with multiple, replaceable hard drives (known as a RAID). Depending on how they’re configured, using multiple drives can protect your data should one drive fail.
A RAID could be overkill if your data backups are also mirrored off-site. Even so you might benefit from advanced features such as FTP access and scheduled backups (including Time Machine support for Macs). NAS drives often feature USB and eSATA ports for sharing extra storage and printers on your network.
If all you want to do is stream music and movies around your home, then you might not be as concerned about data protection, but you still might be interested in a multi-drive NAS for the extra storage. You can also spread your files across multiple drives for a performance boost, but if even one drive fails you’ll lose everything.
If your NAS is primarily a media server then you’ll want advanced features such as built-in DLNA and iTunes servers for streaming content. Bonjour and uPnP discovery could also come in handy, depending on the various devices around your home.
Some NAS drives even feature a built-in BitTorrent client, which is handy although it may lack the advanced features of your favourite desktop BitTorrent client. You’ll also find NAS drives which are designed to share your content online.
Best for Work and Play:
NETGEAR READYNAS NV+ (RND4000) | $539 (PLUS DRIVES)
Netgear’s ReadyNAS NV+ configures four drives as RAID 0, 1, 5 or X-RAID – the latter being Netgear’s RAID format which allows for hot-swappable drives. For extra protection, you can replicate data to a USB drive, another ReadyNAS or even online.
The USB ports also let you share printers and allow a UPS to monitor the NAS. It’s easy to create extra volumes and set user access restrictions, so the NV+ can play multiple roles on your network. You can also configure HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, AFP, NFS and CIFS/SMB access, as well as Rsync for remote backups, DLNA media streaming and Apple’s Bonjour networking service. The NV+ is not the latest and greatest ReadyNAS, so you’ll find it cheap and it offers great value for money. If it seems like overkill, consider the ReadyNAS Duo.
Best for simple set-up:
WD MY BOOK LIVE | $169 (1TB)
The WD My Book Live features a single drive (from 1 to 3TB) and is a simple NAS with DLNA server features. Just plug it in, run the installer CD and follow the simple steps. You could probably skip the installer disc, as it pretty much works out of the box. You can easily configure the media server and remote access via your browser.
Best for business:
DROBO FS | $899 (PLUS DRIVES)
Pull a drive out of this five-bay Drobo and it won’t miss a beat, whereas most other NAS drives would still protect your data but need downtime to rebuild the RAID. The Drobo also lets you mix and match drive sizes while sacrificing less storage space in the name of redundancy. It’s worth weighing up the Drobo against the high-end Netgear ReadyNAS boxes