Personal Cloud for the Home in 2017

Has your laptop or desktop computer run out of storage space?

Do you want to have shared access to media and files from multiple tablets, phones and computers?

For creative professionals, prosumers, families and small businesses, the most feasible and effective solution is NAS - Network Attached Storage device. NAS devices act as the core storage device and media hub for many of the tech tools we use now and will increasingly learn to rely upon in the years ahead. These devices are becoming central to our lives saving us from moments of frustration and absolute chaos when technical issues or essential security measures restrict or prevent access to important files and media.

Network Access Storage  - Personal Cloud for the Home in 2017

An external storage drive that connects by the USB connection is generally referred to as a Direct Attached Storage (DAS) and is designed to be accessed by just the computer it is connected to. A NAS is different because it is designed to be shared by all the computers on a network. It serves as a secure location, allowing you to store / backup your data and access your documents/files. NAS devices can be connected to various devices such as television, media player, console and gaming devices. Unlike laptops and desktops, a NAS device operates on a simple OS which focuses on performing small subset of operations as securely and efficiently as possible. The efficient OS encourages easy setup of a NAS device, with improved flexibility, providing users a variety of facilities, such as sharing a printer through NAS.

With NAS you can develop private clouds for small scale businesses; however, these devices are also very popular at home. NAS devices can be used by home users to develop a personalized media library which they can easily access from any location. Load movies, digital music, video and photos through the NAS system.

The last few years have seen the growth in adoption of NAS devices, significantly increase in Australia. One of the major advantages of any cloud system is its potential for storing data that can be accessed anytime, anywhere. Network Attached Storage has become a proven and powerful technology for sharing and storing data in a home network.

What you should know about NAS/DAS devices:

Cost is really the most obvious advantage for DAS (there is less to it so it's cheaper).

A DAS is mostly a drive, controller and an enclosure, there is not much additional technology required.

A DAS device is most commonly connected to a PC, router or server and gives you additional storage on that device. With that additional storage you might make copies of files to protect you against loss. If you also purchase sync software product (such as AllwaySync) this copy can be scheduled. This assumes your PC and DAS are both turned on and available at the time the copy is scheduled. Leaving the PC and DAS turned on may appear to be a reasonable compromise at first but if the PC drives are and fans are not designed to remain powered on the power heat, noise and equipment failure may become an annoyance. Then you have Windows updates to work around and manage.

After your DAS has been in operation for a while, you will realize that should your machine be infected with Malware, Virus or Ramsomware, or it's files be corrupted by a disk error (remember you may of been leaving the PC powered on 24x7 so the backup would run), the trusty sync of files to the DAS is efficiently copying your damaged files to the DAS writing the damaged files over the top of the good files on your DAS! ... ensuring you loose everything (including that backup you were relying upon).

If using DAS you really should invest in Sync and Backup software

Allwaysync offers a free version that imposes a quota on the amount of data that can be copied using automated sync in a day. This free is enough to learn the product but you will need to buy the paid version for backup of even a small collection of files and movies.

NetBack replicator and AOMEI backupper are alternates that offer both paid and free versions. These products are for both backup and sync and I will go into the difference between these two techniques and the circumstances where each is used in another post.

For this discussion, the key difference is using scheduled backups as a part of your backup plans. Products with backup capability create multiple backups of your files, stored in separate folders in date order.

Using backup (not sync), means if your files are infected your backup is not overwritten by corrupted files. Each daily/weekly/monthly backup has its own folder so you're able to go back and cherry pick files for recovery.

HOWEVER, this now means that you will be storing daily / weekly / monthly copies of your data and your backup device needs to have more storage space!

Backup uses more storage space than Sync software

For example using scheduled backup the DAS storage might need to have an available storage space of between five and twenty times the size of what it is backing up from PC's!

It doesn't stop there because lets consider the unfortunate possibility that the DAS itself is lost. Failure or loss of either (theft or fire for example) and you loose it all.

Don't fret, the answers are coming read on.

Is DAS Faster or slower than NAS?

There is some speculation amongst our subscribers over speed of DAS, is it faster?

To set the records straight, neither DAS nor NAS is faster. The speed is and will always be related to what you're doing and the technologies used to connect to the DAS or NAS.

For example I notice that when copying a large file the copy speed is significantly better than copying many small files.

Why you may ask? Answer: Because when copying small files the receiving side must be constantly updating indexes to these new files and this slows the process down (and this is why a NAS with good specs can maintain high performance under load).

However: If you have a DAS with faster drives and / or faster network connection than the NAS it will be faster and vise versa.

Next: Does the network or USB connection make a difference?

  • USB 2.0 is around the same speed as 2.4GB wireless (without the drop outs).
  • USB 3.0 can in theory sustain 5gb/s but that doesn't mean you're sending and receiving devices will do the same.
  • Fixed Ethernet connections can be 10/100/1000 mb/s (i.e. 1000mb = 1gb Ethernet).
  • Some NAS devices support high speed cards.
  • For example: QNAP offers models with
    • 10GB/s cards and
    • Apple Thunderbolt cards for 20GB and 40GB connection.
    • More importantly these NAS devices have the processors, cache and memory needed to sustain and fully utilise these high transfer speeds.

But do I really need this speed?

For me the answer is yes, I will have as much speed as possible. Do I need 10/20 or 40GB at this stage for normal file copy and backup? Perhaps not.

However, those who would need to edit video's /  images such as photographers, action cams enthusiasts and droid camera photographers will benefit from the extra speed.

Files in excess or 20GB are more common today and BluRay files are typically 10 to 30 GB. 4K video footage could contain files of greater size in the order of 100GB. When you are moving files of this size around, keeping a backup of them in a safe place when editing, then believe me you will quickly appreciate the importance of network speed.

Another group of people are those using virtualisation technologies. This is where an entire PC or server is run inside the NAS and you connect to it over the network from anywhere, unlike a physical PC that is a physical device and can only be used when you sitting in front of it. A virtual machine is retained in a very large file, which are typically quite large. Copying these around for backup and cloning is tedious in slow speed networks.

 

Test#1 - DAS - Copy using USB 3.0

In one example conducted as a test in our lab, we connected a DAS device to a laptop with an i7 processor and 7GB of memory.

As we started to copy files the network speed jumped to 110MB for a few seconds and dropped to a still impressive 100MB/s for the remainder of the copy.

Network Access Storage  - Personal Cloud for the Home in 2017

Copying files back was slower because the Laptop was slower at write owing to its disk speed, cache and general processing overhead limiting the speed.

Network Access Storage  - Personal Cloud for the Home in 2017

Test#2 - NAS or DAS copy over network

Then in a second test using the same laptop we copied the same files to a QNAP NAS with i3 processor, 8GB ram over 1gb/s LAN. The same file was used as in test#1 and the speed of copy to the NAS drives was almost identical to that of when we connected the DAS to the NAS and copied onto the DAS using the NAS to control the transfer.

Copies to /from NAS or DAS connected to NAS where in the order of 60MB/s using QNAP TVS-682 that speed increases to around 70MB/s

Network Access Storage  - Personal Cloud for the Home in 2017

Strangely copying from the NAS to the Laptop was in the order of 30MB/s

HOWEVER: Copying from the NAS to the DAS connected to the USB 3.0 port of the Laptop was again bordering on 100MB/sNetwork Access Storage  - Personal Cloud for the Home in 2017

Test#3 - Western Digital MyBookLive

WD MybookLive have 100/1000 gB Ethernet and USB 3.0 connections. Using the older version I transferred the same file by 1GB LAN for the following results.

Network Access Storage  - Personal Cloud for the Home in 2017

The copy onto the WD MyBookLive was fast staying around 40MB/s.

Surprisingly, the copy from (read from WD MyBookLive) was quite slow at 20MB/s, which is the same type of performance I am getting from an old USB 2.0 DAS drive I had laying around.

NAS devices employ technology to make them faster

The firmware, memory and cache used in NAS devices will dramatically improve sending and receiving speeds. NAS devices are in most cases equipped with more memory, faster drives, more cache and a faster processors. These technologies make a difference when your network is busy, but the speed is still subject to the speed of the disk, the network used to connect devices .

NAS devices with multiple network connections

Some NAS devices can simultaneously connect to other devices using Ethernet, Wireless, 10GB, 20GB and 40GB network and / or USB 3.0.  As a result they could for example be performing a backup to another NAS or an external DAS disk, streaming video and providing connection to virtual machine, Wireless and PC network without any measurable drop in performance.

DAS typically just has the one USB 3.0 connection, however the Smart NAS devices on offer today can accommodate many simultaneously connected with 3 of these technologies all at once, and that's what makes the difference. If you start to copy files to/from DAS simultaneously you will notice a measurable drop in performance.

By comparison the image below is the working load on a NAS as two devices are copying files to the NAS. Notice that the NAS has 4 x 1GB Ethernet connections and is spreading the load across two of these Ethernet connections so there is ample available network bandwidth for other users to use.

Network Access Storage  - Personal Cloud for the Home in 2017

In this way a NAS with 4 x 1GB Ethernet, 3 x USB 3.0 connectors and a Wireless dongle could in theory be sending or receiving 20 GB/s.

 

Key Benefits of NAS devices:

Personal Cloud

A growing number of manufacturers are offering very affordable NAS solutions with varying capabilities. Firstly a NAS is a server in its own right, and most NAs devices today use a variant of Linux as the underlying operating system. Today Linux is a proven and robust operating system underpinning many of the technologies we take for granted.

With the increased processing power of modern CPU chipsets, modern Smart NAS devices can now do much more than provide storage and backup and NAS manufacturers are lining up impressive features for you to choose from.

The more elegant of these I am referring to as Smart NAS devices.

These provide amongst other things the facilities required to set up a private personal cloud. With a personal cloud a home user could access their hard drive from any location, as long as an internet connection is available.

  • Personal Cloud storage allows you to access the hard drive through mobile devices while you are away from your desk. This increases flexibility and versatility to work.
  • Different models also provide a feature of file mirroring as well as Cloud backup which ensures that your files and system are always safe.

Data Sharing:

Data sharing is definitely the first feature people look for from a NAS.

  • NAS is perfect for families that own a large media library.
  • It will stream music and video simultaneously to multiple devices.
  • NAS encourages collaborative work by making it easy to work on documents simultaneously.
  • Users can share photo albums, software tools, applications and documents
  • Personal cloud comes with a DropBox style application for sharing a file as a link for people to open
  • The NAS also provides local backup and Cloud sync with you preferred cloud services such as iCloud, DropBox and Google Drive backing up files just in case you reach you quota or get locked out of your cloud account
  • NAS uses multiple connections to spread network load evenly across the available connections, making overall user experiences faster, and reducing load on WiFi network

Cost Benefit:

NAS devices provide an expandable and affordable solution to end-users who need a network shared storage for home or office.

NAS allows you to add storage without having to purchase a larger server. Hence, it is an effective option for extending the existing investment on the server technology.

For more information please visit http://smikbox.wistia.com/medias/r7nepm7b2p

Buying a NAS?

Perhaps you are one of those folk who have budget in mind for what a NAS will cost after visiting a local electronics outlet and browsing the range of DAS and NAS devices.

Buyers should however be aware a DAS is more a short term solution and does not offer the long term protection or features of a NAS. If your in the market for a DAS or NAS you would be able to find a list of resellers from manufacturer websites and make the choice of product using on line reviews.

If you're buying a NAS for home setting up the network and creating backup regimes should be very simple.

Business users typically need more from a NAS and would be best to look for a value added re-seller who will be able to set up backup, volume and image snapshot's, virtualization, iOT services and productivity tools that come with the NAS.

The table below is a summary of what you could expect when buying a NAS from on line shop verses a value added re-seller.

 

Expectations ecommerce Website Value Added Re-seller
Competitive price Yes Yes
Ships quickly Yes Yes (See below)
DIY assembly of NAS Yes No
DIY instal of NAS operating system Yes No
DIY Setup of basic features (Network/Backups) Yes No
Free firmware updates from manufacturer Yes Yes
Warranty and firmware support from manufacturer Yes Yes (See below)
Reseller assembly of NAS No Yes
Reseller install of operating system No Yes
Reseller configures networks, virtual switches, backup schedules and features No Yes
Reseller delivers to your business and trains staff No Yes
Reseller support, service, advise on best practice for backup and recovery No Yes
Reseller monitors site, pre-tests firmware upgrades and provides ongoing support and guidance No Yes

Needless to say home users might enjoy the challenge of discovering the various features of the NAS, but if your a business or a time poor working professional the value added re-seller is a better option.

 

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