The computer world is filled with acronyms, or what some call alphabet soup. If you have been using computers for a while you've probably seen them: RAM, ROM, IDE, ATA, SATA, USB, etc. are just a few examples. One that has been around for just a little while should be of interest to those with multiple computers in their home. I am talking about NAS, which stands for Network Attached Storage.
Not too long ago, new home construction made plans for TV cable to be run to most rooms. New homes today also have CAT5 or CAT6 network cables wired to most room. The computer, like television, is our new source for information, shopping, entertainment, and even communication. Today it is quite common to find an elaborate computer network in a home.
If you use a router, or wireless router, to share a high-speed Internet connection then you have a network. While some households may have just one computer, quite a few have more than two. The most common use for a home network is to share an Internet connection. This 'home' network can do so much more. Not only can you share the Internet, but also files and other resources can be shared between each computer on the network.
Now music on computer A can be copied to computer B. Photos on computer C can be copied to computer A. While a network makes moving files amongst several computers easy, you can end up duplicating the same data many times. Now you have to know which computer has what file, plus that computer has to be powered on for you to use it. Instead of having files on multiple computers, why not have a central storage space that is always on that each computer on the network can access. This is what Network Attached Storage (NAS) is all about.
If you are using an Airport Extreme wireless router then you already have a NAS, almost. On the back of the Airport Extreme base station you will see the WAN and LAN Ethernet ports, for your Internet connection and internal network connection. If you look closer you will also see a USB port. This port gives the Extreme the ability to share devices, mainly a USB printer but it also works with an external hard drive. By connecting an external USB hard drive to the Extreme you now have a very capable NAS solution.
Setting up an external drive on the Express is done through the Airport Utility program built into OS X. When finished, any Mac or PC on your network should have access to this shared drive. If you are worried about security just make sure you are using a WPA (WiFi Protected Access) password on your Extreme and you and your data will be secure (remember to use good passwords). The Airport Extreme, without an external drive, is price around $180.
For those who would like to setup a WiFi network and also want a NAS solution, take a look at Apple's Time Capsule. Apple took an Airport Extreme, made it a little bigger, and installed an internal hard drive. This unit is the Swiss Army Knife of routers. It is a wireless 802.11n dual band router, three port wired router, wireless print server share a USB printer with all connected Macs and PCs, multiple OS X Time Machine backup server allows all Leopard based Macs to have there own Time Machine storage space, plus an easy to use NAS system. Apple has just recently updated Time Capsule's storage and is available with a 1 or 2 Terabyte hard drive. Prices start at $299.
For those who already have an existing WiFi or wired network and don't have the need for Time Machine backups then a simple stand-alone NAS unit will work just fine. Most of the major drive makers have simple NAS solutions that are not much bigger, and sometime not much more money, than a standard external hard drive. Buffalo Technologies, Iomega, LaCie, and Western Digital are just a few that have excellent NAS solutions.
These simple NAS boxes usually just have a power and Ethernet port. Just connect up the power, plug them into your network, and turn them on. Setup is usually done through your web browser but some have software to install. Some simple NAS solutions will have a USB port for additional storage, while some can also be used as an external USB drive solution.
The first thing to decide on is size. Most small NAS drives start at around 500GB. This should be more than enough storage for things like office documents, mp3 music, and jpeg photos. For those who do a bit more with their Macs you might want to think about a 1TB or larger drive (1 Terabyte = 1000GB). If you start working with larger files, like video or RAW format digital photography, then bigger is always better. Also remember if you want to use the NAS for backups, each Mac or PC will need its own space.
The LaCie 301387U, great name right, looks like an ordinary external drive, measuring in at 4.6 x 7.6 x 1.8 inches. It is compatible with both Macs and PCs and can also work as an iTunes media server. If you have a UPnP media player (Universal Plug and Play), like an Xbox 360, the LaCie can stream audio and video to your home theatre system. This drive can also be accessed from outside your network by using FTP (File Transfer Protocol). It also has a USB port for expansion allowing for additional storage. The LaCie is available with 500GB or 1TB of storage and has a street price starting around $110.
A simple NAS solution is a useful addition to any home network. The ability to have a central location for storing photos, music, and video is very convenient. No longer do you have to remember which account on which computer has certain songs, they can all reside in one place. Using a NAS also makes those ever-important backups an easier job. It's just easy to say that NAS is nice.