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NAS, for Network Attached Storage, is a device that provides shared disk space on your network. You may already have one of a sort: your PC.
I have been reading about NAS devices lately. I like the idea of using one and would like to deploy one on my network. I have an external 250GB drive that I would like to convert to a NAS device. I was wondering if this was possible to do or not? Would I have to buy a NAS enclosure or something else?
NAS stands for "Network Attached Storage". Basically it's a device who's primary function is simply to provide storage in the form of disk space, often lots of disk space, to other computers on a network.
I, too, have been looking at NAS, and find the subject fairly fascinating. I was running a dedicated NAS for a short while, but then took it down. Once I understood what it really was, I decided that I didn't need another one.
Yes, another one.
The way I like to describe a NAS device is as a PC without the PC.
From a hardware perspective, NAS devices are very often nothing more than modified or stripped down down PCs. For example, they may not have a video display, keyboard or mouse. But inside, they're easily implemented using hardware that in other respects looks very much like a standard PC.
The "problem", if you want to call it that, is that a hard disk, by itself, doesn't really "do" networking. So additional hardware is required to interface between the network, and its many configuration options and the hard disk.
The hard disk doesn't really "do" filesystems either. That means in order to read and write files and otherwise maintain the organization of the information on the disk, some software is required to implement the file system. Again, there are various options that you're already familiar with: NTFS, FAT32, and so on.
The most common device on the planet that knows how to interface a hard disk to a network and create a file system and of course provide power to all the components is your run of the mill PC.
An excellent approach to creating a NAS device is to take an old PC - it can easily be a 500 megahertz machine from a few years ago (mine was) - and install FreeNAS. FreeNAS is exactly what you might expect: a free operating system based on FreeBSD that is designed to turn a PC into a high performance and easily configurable NAS device. It works very well. As I indicated I had an old PC that I tried it out on, and system was both easy to configure and very responsive, even on that old 500 megahertz machine. I had it running both an internal IDE drive, as well as an external USB drive. Quite nice.
And then I got rid of it.
You see, particularly with external drives, it was just as easy to plug that drive into one of my other computer and share it out. This has roughly the same effect, and doesn't require that I have, set up or maintain an additional PC or other device.
In a sense, every PC that can share out disk space is a NAS device.
I ended up dismantling that old PC and putting its hard drive into an external USB enclosure. I then plugged that into the same PC as the other, and now both are shared out and available as storage to any computer on my network.
So if PC's are just as good at sharing out hard disks, why even consider a NAS?
Well, certainly using something like FreeNAS is an excellent way of extending the life of a PC. If you're upgrading a PC, but still want to provide a central storage repository on your network without impacting any specific user's PC, FreeNAS is a pretty nifty solution.
The other end of the spectrum would be in high performance, high reliability situations. Much like the FreeNAS software, a dedicated NAS device might well optimize the hardware for the single purpose that it's intended for. For example, it might include very high performance hard drives, RAID or other forms of data protection and redundancy. The types of hardware that might be overkill on a desktop machine, but that makes a lot of sense in a centralized server with many users.
But ultimately, even that NAS device may still look like a PC. If not on the outside, quite possibly inside the box.
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