Need A NAS?

There's more than one way to access a file these days.

Years ago files sat on the hard drive of a personal computer, usually Drive C, and could only be accessed or viewed via specific software on that particular machine.

Then came the external hard disk drive and USB pen drive, which made it possible to copy or back up important files and carry them wherever you liked without having to take your personal computer with you. As long as you had access to someone else's machine you had access to your files.

Tablet computers and smart phones, like the iPad and the iPhone from Apple and the Surface and Windows Phone from Microsoft, have changed things considerably. Internet connected mobile devices have driven demand for online, or cloud, storage. While Apple, Google and Microsoft all offer a few gigabytes of online, or cloud, storage for free decent amounts must be paid for on a subscription basis.

Enter Network Attached Storage, known to nerds as a NAS, a once only cost.

A NAS is more than an external hard disk drive but less than a full blown personal computer designed for holding all your digital files.

A NAS connects to your network router via an Ethernet cable.

Microsoft Office files, such as Word documents or Powerpoint presentations, sit comfortably on a NAS alongside digital photos from your camera, music ripped from your favourite CD and home video.

Several manufacturers, such as D-Link and Synology, make NAS devices but they will not work out of the box until you have installed a hard disk drive or more. Seagate and Western Digital make most of the world's hard disk drives and it is advisable to choose a model specifcially designed for an "always on" NAS.

A single hard disk drive installed inside a NAS can become the sole repository of your digital life, much like an external hard disk drive, and the files can easily be accessed from anywhere in the world with an internet connection providing you know the remote access password. But such a configuration would not use a NAS to its full potential.

Such an installation could be configured to automatically copy files from multiple desktop and laptop personal computers around the house as well as tablets and then serve up those copies of original files to anyone logging into the NAS from an internet connected device.

Identical hard drives, installed in a double bayed NAS, can be set to RAID configuration. This means the drives constantly copy information to one another. The idea is that if one drive fails the other will include an exact replica of the data. All hard disk drives have a life, and give little or no warning before they die.

As well as traditional computing devices, NAS's can also serve up your music, photo and video libraries to more non-traditional devices such as an internet connected smart television and a gaming console.

Before buying a NAS first consider your needs and then do your research - some serve up their data faster than other - and don't be scared to ask someone who knows what they are doing to help you set it up. Some NAS's ae simpler than others to configure via a web browser.

If you do take the plunge you will soon realise how convenient it is and will begin to wonder how you ever got by without your very own NAS.