What’s a NAS server, and does your home need one?

NAS stands for Network-Attached Storage. In its simplest form, NAS can be a hard drive that is connected to your home network rather than directly to your computer. Attaching storage to the home network allows all devices on your network to access it; think of it as the shared drive you might be using at work. Businesses have been using NAS for decades, but in todays’ homes, NAS servers excel at both work and play.

  • Storage
    With all the digital photos, music and videos in today’s households, large file sizes quickly add up beyond the capacity of the hard drives in your laptop. Storing terabytes of files centrally on a NAS provides convenient access from any smart device in your home.
  • Media Streaming
    Today’s home NAS servers are robust application servers that can stream your digitized movies and music to your smart TVs, computers and tablets.
  • Backup
    NAS servers also provide a perfect place to back up files and settings from your computers. Apple’s Time Machine and Windows Backup can be set for automatic backups to a NAS, to protect your data in case of a computer hard drive crash. Your NAS can also back up files to a cloud service like Carbonite or Norton Online Backup.


At home, I use a QNAP NAS server to store music, photos and digitized movies, and also to stream music and movies to TVs and other connected devices. The QNAP has a user-friendly web interface that includes an antivirus and an app store with over 100 apps.


How many drive bays?

Unlike the garden-variety external hard drives, NAS servers can hold multiple hard drives.  Home NAS servers can come with anywhere from 2 to 8 drive bays. This has two benefits. The first is an added layer of data protection by means of redundancy — a NAS with two or more drives can be set up to replicate the stored data across the drives, so that even if one drive fails, the data is still preserved on the other drive(s).

The second benefit is future storage expansion. For example, a NAS with 4 bays can be set up with just one drive initially, and more drives can be added later to increase storage.

A note on hard drives

Unlike the USB external hard drives, NAS servers are designed to run 24/7, which means they need more robust hard drives. Many NAS servers are sold without drives, so when you are shopping for the right drives, look for ones designated for NAS applications, like Western Digital Red or Seagate NAS hard drives.

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