In the past the desktop computer served as the digital hub in a household. It provided full functionality for storing, editing and viewing all of your digital media such as documents, music, photographs and video. As computing technology improved and became more mobile, use of laptop computers expanded. Today household members use a variety of technology to create and consume digital content, including laptop computers, mobile phones, tablets, even smart televisions. These devices no longer need to have the full functionality of a desktop computer as each serves a smaller subset of capabilities. What they do need is to have access to data. Most can access data from the internet and some of them have internal storage that they can use but this is usually fairly limited given the size of most mobile devices today. In addition, how can all of the data that these devices collect, e.g. photographs and videos, be shared amongst other users within the household. The one device that can serve as your digital hub, that can store your data and then make it available to any other device within your own local area network, is the Network Attached Storage (NAS).
In it’s most basic form, a NAS is an external storage device that connects directly to your network router rather than directly to your PC as most does most USB external drives. These are discussed in a little more detail under the Data Storage and Backup section of this website. In addition to the hard drives these devices contain CPU’s that enable data to be transferred at rates as high as 100 MBps, almost twice as fast as internal storage devices. Due to the compatibility of network protocols across all operating systems, they can be used with Microsoft as well as Apple devices. Most NAS’s have at least two drives in them, but some have as many as eight, that can be setup in different data redundancy (RAID) configurations. As the need for shared storage expands, NAS manufacturers have expanded its capabilities. In addition to storing and streaming data, newer models can automatically backup their data either locally or using on-line services or even provide secure access to internet connected mobile devices.
I have written a post on a NAS that Western Digital recently released, the My Book Live Duo. It is an affordable, yet capable NAS that can serve the needs of most households. PC World recently reviewed a number of NAS’s, five – two bay devices (including the Western Digital My Book Live Due) and six – three or more bay boxes. The My Book Live Duo is also included in those tested so you can see how it stacks up against the others. The devices tested ranged from simple boxes with little functionality to fully featured business ready network storage devices, with prices ranging from $350 all the way up to more than $2,000. Also given the recent flooding in Thailand, where most hard drive manufacturing takes place, the price of hard drives and NAS’s have risen quite significantly over the last year.
NAS devices are not readily available in Canada, as big box stores like the Future Shop, Best Buy and Staples carry only a limited selection. The best source for these devices in Canada is Canada Computers where you can find a ton of selection, they are listed in Computer Hardware under the Networking section.