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Network Hard Drives (NAS) – Replacement For Your Traditional External Drives


Computer networks are really nothing new. They have been used by businesses for a number of years. LANs (local area networks) and even WANs (wide area networks) have been a reality for a considerable amount of time. However, during that time, they have evolved considerably. In addition to changes in the way that businesses and organizations use and interact with networks, there have also been developments on the consumer end of things.

In the world of consumers, it was once normal to have only one computer per household. However, as desktops and laptops became more affordable, more and more homes found the need for multiple computers. Today, it is quite normal to see a home with two, three or even four computers. In addition, the home network has continued to evolve as new technology has come about.

One of the driving factors behind the evolution of the home network has been the continued development of home entertainment solutions that rely on the Internet, or offer other technological capabilities. For example, it is now possible to find Blu-ray players and TVs that can connect to the Internet over both wired and wireless connections. In addition, streaming media within a home can also be a reality here.

However, there has always been one hurdle that needs to be overcome in both consumer-end networks and within business networks – data storage. Traditionally, storage has been accomplished via internal hard drives in computers and in servers. However, this is no longer the best option on the market.

Enter the NAS external Network drive. NAS stands for network-attached storage, and external hard drives are able to accomplish a number of goals for both consumers and home users here. What might you find with these types of setups?

What Is a NAS Network Drive Unit?

In its simplest form, a NAS unit can be any unit attached to a network for storage purposes. Once upon a time, this was a server – a computer specifically setup to serve data. However, servers were very expensive. Most homeowners could not justify the costs of these devices, limiting their effectiveness to business applications in most instances.

There is a difference between a NAS unit and a SAN unit. SAN units are “storage area networks,” and do not have a file system of their own, offering only block-based storage. NAS units, on the other hand, have a file system of their own, as well as storage. The file system (operating system) within a NAS unit might be Windows or UNIX, or even another operating system. However, it will interface with the operating system of client machines regardless, in most instances.

Uses of External Network Drives

Numerous uses for these types of external hard drives can be found. They play a significant role in smaller business networks where a full server system is not necessary. They also play a role in home networking. It is this latter area where the most growth potential has been seen.

Once upon a time, a home network was really nothing more than a means by which several computers within a home shared an incoming Internet connection. This was typical with DSL and cable connections. However, times are changing and the needs of the modern consumer are a bit different from those of consumers in the past.

Types of Network Attached NAS Drives

Consumers and businesses will find several types of external hard drives for use with NAS systems. USB connectible drives are probably the most common. USB 2.0 technology currently makes up the bulk of these devices. However, USB 3.0 has come online, and newer hard drives offer this technology.

Of course, there are also eSATA and FireWire connectible hard drives available for use. Both of these technologies offer different benefits and work with different computer/router configurations.

Understanding the Modern Home Network

As mentioned, it was once considered normal for a home network to do nothing more than allow several computers to share a single Internet connection. This is still the case with many home networks. However, more and more home users are finding the need to share data between those computers, as well as with connected devices in their homes.

This has been most noticeable since the rise of multimedia data. Movies, music and even applications can be shared across a home network with an external hard drive connected to the home network, today. As more and more consumers make use of digital media, this need grows, as well.

In a typical home network that utilizes such an external hard drive, the storage device is actually connected to the router. This allows any device that can connect to the router (whether through an Ethernet cable or wirelessly) to access the files stored on the hard drive. Now, the typical picture here is one in which individual computers access the storage device, opening files and storing new ones as needed.

However, this is far from the only setup in home networks. As more and more peripheral devices are manufactured to make use of wired and wireless home connections, more and more consumers are able to benefit from streaming media. For instance, a new HDTV might connect to the hard drive and allow home users to watch videos or look at family pictures. Others might choose to use these systems to stream games, to facilitate online chat or email through their TV or to download new entertainment through a Blu-Ray player or other connected device.

Many other devices can use this type of setup, as well. For instance, whole-home music systems are becoming more common. These might stream online music from a service like Pandora or Last.fm, but they can also play files that users have stored on their external hard drive connected to the network. This allows consumers to listen to the same songs throughout their entire home. More advanced systems actually allow different music to be played in each room, while using the same control unit.

A Bright Future for Network Drives

Network-attached NAS drives will become more and more common as home networks continue to evolve. In fact, the ultimate evolution might just be the whole-home computer system touted in science fiction books. The external hard drive will continue to play an integral role in decentralizing data storage away from individual computers and making data more accessible throughout the entire home. What we have seen thus far is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of potential, but there is no doubt that these solutions offer some innovative benefits for consumers.

Ed Molino is a staff member of smalldrives.com specializing in the support of their network hard drives. Fancy a Network Hard Drive? Find quality drives at www.smalldrives.com