How to choose the right NAS for home

By Elena Pakhomova, co-founder of ReclaiMe (a data recovery software company)

The home network storage market can already be considered quite settled. Five years ago, here and there small or medium companies used NAS devices, but nowadays such devices are increasingly found in the homes of modern families.

Since network storage devices of different brands and models can perform different functions, you should take your time to choose your first NAS and take the pros and cons of a certain model into account.

This article doesn't contain any NAS device comparison but provides useful information and tips on how to choose the right NAS device for your home.

What is a NAS?

A NAS (Network Attached Storage) is a file storage device connected to a network and because this storage device is connected to a network the data stored on the device is always available and can be accessed by multiple people at the same time.

Usually, a NAS device consists of several drives (although, there are 1-bay models) that are combined into a single storage by means of the NAS operating system.

how to choose a nas

Why you might need a NAS?

The set of available functions affects the price a lot, so you should clearly understand for what purpose you need a NAS.

Talking about the home usage of a network storage device, you may need a NAS for:

Different purposes require different NAS capabilities.

To organize video surveillance, you should choose a NAS with IP video surveillance server function. In this case, the NAS will provide video recording and playback of data from the IP camcorders that are on the same network.

It's still important to have the ability to expand the storage on the fly - this makes the video surveillance process continuous.

If you want to use a NAS as a centralized home storage hub for playing movies, TV series, homemade videos, documentaries, or other videos, you should choose a model that supports UPnP/DLNA standards allowing to organize the transfer of audio and video streams from the NAS device to a TV, media player or stereo system.

If you just want to use it for storing backups of your files or system images, these functions are not obligatory, so you can choose a simpler NAS model.

How many drives do you need?

NAS devices can accommodate a different number of drives: 1, 2, 3, 4 and so on up to 16 drives.

There are storage devices with much more disk bays, but these devices are not pure NAS but so-called rackmount servers.

2-5 bay NAS devices are quite an optimal choice for home users.

The number of disk bays affects not only the maximum storage capacity you can get but also the supported RAID levels.

RAID (short for Redundant Array of Independent Disks) is a technology allowing to combine several hard drives into a single storage. Typically, the more disks in the device, the more RAID layouts the NAS supports.

For 2-bay NAS devices, you can choose between JBOD, RAID0 or RAID1; 3-disk NAS devices support JBOD, RAID0, RAID1 and RAID5; in 4-bay and more NAS devices, the list expands to RAID6 and RAID10.

Different RAID levels provide different performance in terms of read/write operations and the level of fault tolerance, that is, how many disks can fail without data loss.

The topic of RAID levels is too broad for this article, so, if you want to learn more about RAID levels, then you can read more about it on Wikipedia.

How to choose the RAID type

For a 2-drive NAS, choose RAID1 (sometimes called mirror) because this is a redundant array type meaning that you won't lose your data in case of one disk failure. However, note that with a RAID1 you get only half of the NAS capacity for storing data because another half goes for redundancy – mirrored copies of data.

For a 3-drive NAS, choose a RAID5 level. This array type gives you good performance and can survive one member disk failure.

For a 4-drive storage, RAID5 is also a good option. For 4-disk NASes, RAID6 and RAID10 layouts are available as well, but these RAID levels require more disk space for redundancy. So, choose a RAID5, if you are going to look at the NAS box on a regular basis and launch the NAS control panel from time to time because doing so you can notice that something is wrong with the NAS and take actions not to lose data.

NAS hardware components

Different NAS devices use different processor models and a different number of processor cores. Different devices consume a different amount of power but these are usually so insignificant differences (if we are talking about a home NAS) that we should not focus on discussing all these characteristics.

Random-access memory (RAM) is a component you have to pay attention to because the amount of RAM directly affects the performance of the NAS device. The more, the better.

NAS reliability

Among all NAS vendors, the most popular for home users are QNAP, Synology, NETGEAR, and Buffalo. Actually, NAS is a reliable device, especially, if you use a fault tolerant layout.

But:

Unfortunately, bad things can happen and your NAS can fail cand cause data loss.

There is little information about the reliability of NAS devices, but you can find a research devoted to this subject on Reclaime.com.

Reliable NAS Devices

Elena Pakhomova, Co-Founder of ReclaiMe (a data recovery software company) will share her opinion about which NAS models are considered to be the most reliable.

When they ask me which NAS to choose, the first thing I think about is how a particular NAS combines the drives and what file system is typically used. Because mainly these are the factors that affect the recovery result.

Being data recovery specialists, we "like" QNAP devices, since these devices use typical array levels and EXT4 file system.

However, there are difficulties with file undelete, because EXT4 discards the inodes (file metadata records) for the deleted files and, therefore, the recovery of deleted files is almost impossible.

Buffalo devices use XFS file system that is also quite recoverable. However, 2-disk Buffalo NASes are peculiar in using RAID0 layout by default that can't be recovered if one of the drives fails.

As for the NETGEAR devices, they have recently switched from EXT to btrfs which at that time was still under development. Actually, btrfs isn't a typical file system but a hybrid of a file system and RAID controller.

Synology also uses btrfs in many devices. Besides, Synology uses its own technology for combining the drives of different size into a single storage – they call it Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR).

It's often impossible to recover data from devices where SHR was used within a DIY approach.

Also, we often deal with Drobo devices that are completely different from other NAS devices in terms of data storage organization.

Drobo's recovery is very difficult, so, almost every case we faced required technicians' help for the customers.

So if I would choose a small NAS for home, then I recommend a NAS from Buffalo with RAID1 or RAID5 array type.


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References:

YouTube: What is a NAS as fast as possible

Wikipedia: Network-attached storage