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NAS - An Easy Solution for Secure File Server for SOHO

If you need a secure file server on your network and space and budget is limited, a good alternative to consider is a stand-alone network attached storage (NAS). A NAS is a dedicated appliance that includes hard drives, processor, memory, a built-in operating system and a variety of features to serve as a stand-alone file server. In addition to file share, many include other features such as RAID support, encryption, cloud integration, and redundant power supply.

NAS are available in either desktop or rack mount form factors. Generally, desktop version are less expensive and takes up less physical space. If rack space is limited, a desktop NAS can be place on a shelf or table in your server room. Many will have a web interface you can log into via a browser on a remote computer to administer your NAS. Thus, you do not need to plug in a monitor, keyboard and mouse into your NAS to interface with it.

NAS are truly a quick, easy and more economical way to deploy file sharing service on your network.  This is a good option for a small business that don’t have or don’t need a Microsoft Windows Server platform for file sharing. As many of us know, while it offers many other benefits and features, Microsoft Windows Server does require a dedicate person on your staff with the required skill set to administer, support and maintain it.

Two NAS solutions I’ve used are the Western Digital (WD) My Cloud Pro Series PR4100 and the Synology DS1618+.  Both offer the fundamental features expected from a NAS. The Synology DS1618+ supported a larger storage capacity that I needed for a particular project. My experiences with both have been very good.  The WD PR4100 consists of four drive bays and come in either 8TB, 16TB, 24TB, 32TB, 40TB raw storage capacities. For the client project I worked on, I used the PR4100 with 8TB capacity. It cost approximately $800 dollars and was a turnkey solution. It offers RAID support, the ability to create multiple file shares (e.g., network folders), and ability to granularly define which network share each user has permission to. Overall, I was able to deploy and configure the WD PR4100 within a few hours.

The Synology DS1618+ is larger in size, but it consists of six drive bays. You are able to place it on a shelf or a counter top if physical space is a concern. Unlike the WD PR4100, the DS1618+ does not come with hard drives when you purchase it.  What you get with the D1618+ is the chassis and the supporting hardware (such as power supply), the operating system and feature set. You will need to purchase hard drives separately. This isn’t a bad thing though. This gives you the ability to choose the specific make, model, and capacity hard drive to match your requirements or preferences. For my project, I opted for the WD Red Pro enterprise-grade hard drives. I installed three (3) 12TB drives into the Synology DS1618+ for a total of 36TB of raw storage space.  The remaining three empty drive bays will be used in the future to add more storage capacity if needed.

If you decide on a NAS solution that requires you to purchase hard drives separately, I would recommend enterprise-grade over consumer grade. Your NAS will likely be on and running 24x7 with the intent of it lasting many years.  From my perspective, consumer-level drives are not built to have this level of endurance and reliability. Enterprise-grade hard drives do cost more, but sometimes not by much. As an example, at the time of this writing, a WD Red 10TB WD100EFAX consumer-grade 3.5-inch hard drive cost $279.99 whereas a WD Red Pro 10TB WD101KFBX enterprise-grade cost $372.52 from the same online retailer. This is a difference of less than $100 per drive. Personally, I think it’s worth it for the added peace of mind.

You can certainly set up a RAID array on your NAS to protect yourself from hard drive failures. Regardless, hard drives, at least for my implementation, are mechanical drives. As with anything mechanical, it will eventually fail. When it does, you’ll have to drop what you are doing and dedicate your time to replace it. Personally, if it can be done with minimal pain, I rather prolong that eventuality out into the future as much as possible with the use of more robust hard drives. In total, my Synology DS1618+ project with three 12TB drive cost less than $2200 and will provide my client years enough secure storage for years.

Overall, NAS are quick to deploy and easy to maintain. If you are a one-person I.T. department for your employer and wear many hats, a NAS solution might help reduce the amount of administrative effort you need to devote to a file sharing solution.