A simple introduction to network-attached storage (NAS)

Seagate Black Armor NAS
Image from pcworld.idg.com.au.
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Home and small business network users often need larger amounts of data storage space. Data might need to be shared between different computers and devices or might need to be available for only a certain group of users. An increasingly popular way to store, share and manage data is by using a dedicated network-attached storage (NAS) device.

Stacked HDDs
A NAS is a device managing multiple hard drives as one. Image from startech.com.

A NAS device is a stand-alone, data storage server connected to a file sharing network. It can be in the form of one hard drive or a couple of hard drives managed as one drive. These devices are usually specialised to store data and manage user access.

There are many types of NAS devices available. This post will focus more on introducing the smaller devices – typically using 2 to 4 hard drives. These NAS devices are more budget friendly and make great networked storage solutions for serving files (e.g. documents, movies, music, etc.), backups, editing large files and more.

It might also be helpful to read 7 considerations before buying a NAS device.

NAS hardware

Being specialised for its purpose, a NAS device is basically a hard drive, or a set of hard drives, managed by a processor. Although any hard drives can be used, it is preferable that they are optimised for speed, reliability and endurance. Many manufacturers, such as Western Digital, are now producing NAS optimised drives.

WD Red hard drives
WD Red hard drives are built for NAS storage systems. They are both reliable and high performing drives.

The processor follows instructions from a specialised NAS operating system to be able to manage and serve the data to the network. Hardware also includes at least one Ethernet connection port to be able to link to a local network.

The Seagate Business Storage 4-bay NAS device was renowed for its USM slot. It also has an USB 3.0 expansion slot. Image from storagereview.com.

Other features that has been seen are USB expansion ports and USM slots that allows additional storage space to be manged by the NAS and shared on the network.


When it comes to data storage, redundancy refers to the process of duplicating data over multiple hard drives so if a drive fails there will be a backup. NAS systems are renowned for their ability to manage RAID configurations.

RAID 5 configuration
Visual representation of a RAID 5 configuration using 4 hard drives. The data of each drive is stored in such a way that it will still be available when one hard drive fails.

When more hard drives are available, the device can be configured to store data in such a way that there is no data loss even if a hard drive fails. In such a case, the defective drive is simply replaced and the data will be redistributed back onto the added drive.

NAS software

As mentioned earlier, NAS devices are managed by a dedicated operating system. Apart from the RAID configuration (which is selected upon installation), the software also configure ‘shares’ (shared folders) and user access to the device. Users can also be grouped together to give group access to shared folders.

Shares, or shared folders, are the principle used to combine datatypes together. It works exactly the same as creating a directory on a PC. Shares are also created using the operating system, whereafter user access, read/write permissions and passwords can be set. Options also very often include settings for NFS and SAMBA/CIFS networking protocols.

About the author
Renier busies himself with improving his English writing, creative web design and his websites, photoshopping, micro-electronics, multiple genres of music, superhero movies and badass series.
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