How to Set Up a Network Attached Storage System

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How to Set Up a NAS Drive

One computer and one hard drive is a fine plan, but that isn't how the world works. Just today, I would bet you accessed documents, media, or emails from multiple devices, including a smartphone and laptop, or maybe even a tablet and desktop computer. Potentially all four! This is where Network-Attached Storage, or NAS, can transform your data experience. Unfortunately, going beyond the simple USB cable can seem daunting, so here is a quick guide for why you may want a NAS system and how to get it set up in your home.

WD My Cloud PR4100
WD My Cloud PR4100

Benefits of NAS

The benefits are easy. If you are familiar with direct-attached storage, or DAS, you know that they work by plugging directly into your computer via a single cable. This could be USB, Thunderbolt™, FireWire, or even something truly old school. It's nice and it's easy. It also means that you can only use that drive with one device at a time. This can be fine if you only need your documents when you use that specific device, but isn't workable if you want to access all your files at all times using any device you have accessible. NAS can do that for you. By connecting to your network—instead of a single computer—you can have all your documents at your fingertips all the time.

Another useful option for NAS is that you can create your own media servers. This allows you to load up your movies, music, and photos for rapid access from your various devices. This could include streaming high-res music to your advanced speaker system, playing movies whenever you want on a smart TV or Blu-ray player, or a lot more.

Option 1: Pre-Built NAS Systems

If you feel uncomfortable with computers in general and don't want to have to mess with installing bulky hard drives yourself, then just pick up a pre-built NAS system. Many companies produce them and they are quite good. An example would be the WD My Cloud EX2 Ultra 2-Bay Personal Cloud Storage Server. It's pre-configured with hard drives and usually only requires minimal tech knowledge to get working properly.

WD My Cloud EX2 Ultra 2-Bay Personal Cloud Storage Server
WD My Cloud EX2 Ultra 2-Bay Personal Cloud Storage Server

Plug the NAS into your router via a fast Ethernet port and it is almost ready to go. Usually, these types of systems have software already on them and can be accessed through a special URL while connected to your network. Some even allow access through the Internet and allow for remote access anywhere. These are the critical features to look at beyond storage capacity. The proprietary software opened in the web browser should show you everything you need to know and help you reconfigure as needed.

Another important consideration is how many drives are in the enclosure, and if you are looking to create a specific type of RAID. Different RAIDs will result in different usable capacities and redundancies. And, on top of this, many NAS arrays come with their own unique features that may sway you toward one or the other.

Option 2: NAS Enclosures—You Supply the Drives!

Another not so difficult option, if you are familiar with computers: putting together your own system from a commercially available NAS enclosure and your choice of hard drives can be a rewarding experience. You learn exactly how it all goes together, how to configure it in a manner that best suits your needs, and you might be able to get a better deal on your drives compared to pre-built models.

Synology DiskStation DS918+ 4-Bay NAS Enclosure
Synology DiskStation DS918+ 4-Bay NAS Enclosure

Choosing the enclosure is the hardest part, for obvious reasons. This is the device that will host your drives and provide the method for accessing settings and data. Some, such as the Drobo 5N2 5-Bay NAS Enclosure, offer distinct features that set them apart. The 5N2 for example has an mSATA SSD drive bay in addition to the standard five drive bays that can hold your most commonly accessed files. This results in much faster read times for your files. It also has plenty of Drobo-made software features that should keep it going and let you know when maintenance is required. If you need more storage, then the bigger B810n 8-Bay NAS Enclosure might do the trick and it offers its own feature set with a Marvell quad-core CPU and 2GB RAM helping to speed up performance.

Drobo 5N2 5-Bay NAS Enclosure
Drobo 5N2 5-Bay NAS Enclosure

Next, you will want to check out hard drives. Believe it or not, you shouldn't just toss any old drive into a NAS enclosure. The specific demands of a networked storage array include long periods of uptime (nearly 24/7) and near constant connectivity to ensure uninterrupted access to your files from all your devices. Drive makers have made drives specifically for use in NAS, with our favorites being the Seagate IronWolf and IronWolf Pro. You will want drives with specs that give long MTBF, have good warranties, and, ideally, some form of health management software. Make sure that you purchase all your hard drives together to ensure maximum compatibility between them.

Seagate IronWolf 7200 rpm SATA III 3.5" Internal NAS HDD
Seagate IronWolf 7200 rpm SATA III 3.5" Internal NAS HDD

Option 3: Build It (Basically) from Scratch

This is a higher-end option and one that I would recommend only for techies. You can construct a server on your own and then install or program software that will give you the same functionality as a NAS. I'm not going to go too in depth here, but it does allow a lot more control over customization and upgradability.

There you have it. NAS can be daunting, but it can dramatically change how you work and can open the doors for more advanced setup, especially if you are planning to expand to a multi-user network in the near future. Do you have any questions about NAS? Leave them in the Comments section, below!

2 Comments

Hola buenos días, quisiera saber si se solucionó el problema que estaba dando el WD My Cloud EX2 Ultra, donde permitía que hackers entraran sin problema a la información por una "puerta trasera" con una contraseña genérica, problema que fue acusado por muchos usuarios en la red. Gracias.

¡Hola! Sí, WD solucionó el problema con una actualización. Esta actualización se realizó en enero. ¡Gracias!

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