Even a few years ago, enabling easily-accessible storage space on your home network was a cumbersome exercise. The simplest way to go was probably taking old, leftover hardware and building a minimalistic server with sufficient storage capacity and using some preferred flavor of Linux as the OS.
With this being the case, Samba, the open source interoperability suite that adds Microsoft’s Server Message Block (SMB) protocol, was needed for Windows computers to be able to access the server. Luckily, those days are over. Today you can buy ready-made NAS servers that satisfy the needs of the home office (or even small companies). Some come with storage built-in; others give you the opportunity to pick your favorite hard drives.
NAS Devices for the End User
For a while now, storage companies like LaCie, Promise, QNAP, Synology, Thecus, Western Digital, and even Intel have been offering network attached storage devices that are easy to configure, targeting small home and office audiences discussed above. Those NAS boxes are enjoying increasing popularity, since they offer users the simplest way to provide storage space on the home network (and despite the fact that many enthusiasts would prefer to roll their own storage box). Again, the majority of these devices employ some flavor of Linux, but rather than forcing users to enter cryptic commands on the command line, they offer a comfortable Web-based interface that can be configured through a GUI.
Simple, Easy to Use, and Fully-Loaded
The majority of NAS devices are much more than just a networked location used to dump your data. Thanks to the modular nature of Linux as an operating system, which makes adding functionality quite simple, the current crop of appliances also doubles as print, Web, DLNA, and iTunes servers. Actually, the only thing holding back the inclusion of even more features is the fact that testing and validation takes such a long time, and no company is especially keen on releasing a half-baked product.
Choosing the Hard Drive: Performance or Efficiency?
NAS boxes might share very similar feature sets, but when it comes to hard drive options, their manufacturers go in distinctly different directions. On the one hand, there are units that come pre-equipped with hard drives and are thus ready to use right out of the box. On the other hand, you find models that follow the BYOD philosophy; build your own device.
This second class of storage products lets users choose the hard drives themselves. The upside to this is that you can also think about what you’re looking for in a drive (aside from capacity, of course). In general, a drive’s efficiency should rate higher than its performance. This may sound counter-intuitive. After all, higher performance is always better, right? Well, almost. In most cases, it’s not the drives that bottleneck performance. Rather, it is the NAS device itself.
That’s why we found ourselves wondering about the sort of difference we'd see if we equipped a NAS with energy efficient drives rather than fast spinning models. Samsung kindly provided the drives for our little experiment. Representing the eco-friendlier option, we have the Spinpoint F2 Eco Green with a capacity of 1TB spinning at 5,400 RPM, while the T166 drive with a spindle speed of 7,200 RPM and 320GB of storage space represents the speedier alternative. A Synology NAS server with four drive bays serves as our test bed.