Synology NAS side view of logo on the casing

Why get a NAS? My reasons for choosing local storage even in the Cloud age

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Benefits of a NAS (network-accessible storage device)

Black NAS box with 4 HDD bays on a shelf with the Synology on the side
A big black box with hard drives in it. That’s a NAS right there.

Many, many years ago, I used to have a couple of external Western Digital hard drives. I think there were 500 gigs each, which at the time, and we’re talking somewhere in the 2000s was an enormous amount of storage.

These devices held all of my files, all of my photos, all of my music that I had ripped off CDs, and anything else you can think of in a digital format.

I had an enormous amount of photos that I’d collected over 10 years of travelling around the world. And these were very, very precious. I only had the photos on one specific hard drive, and they weren’t stored anywhere else.

Unfortunately, one day, the Western Digital drive that had the photos on it died. And I had that sinking feeling that I had never considered backups for my backups. #fail

Back in the day, external hard drives were the most available and the most developed storage you could buy. Cloud storage had not been invented at this time.

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So, what to do with a broken external HDD?

Fortunately, there was a company in Vancouver where I could take my external hard drive.

And they took it into a sealed room and managed to open and restore the data on the drive, meaning that I managed to get my photos back. Unfortunately, it cost me about $1,200, which at the time was an enormous amount of money, and to be honest, still is to get some files back, considering the cost of online storage these days.

In those days, working at media agencies, or even for your own personal use, it was imperative that you had external hard drives. And if you were working at an agency on video, then you went buying external hard drives in a seemingly never-ending cycle.


What is a NAS?

Synology NAS sitting on a shelf with all the hard drive lights lit up

It’s a box that holds hard drives and a simple operating system. It does not have a screen or keyboard to manage it. It is managed remotely from another computer or application on the same network.


Flash forward a few years to my next experience stuffing up my storage – I have a Mac mini where I have all of these same photos (plus many more) stored on the hard drive as well.

The online storage abilities of that time in the world’s history was that you could back up entire chunks of data to the cloud (I used Backblaze), but not in a very accessible way.

This meant that if your local computer did die, then you were able to download one big fat ZIP file or the company would download the files, put them on an external hard drive for you and mail it to you.

Thank goodness we had this in place because, at some point, my Mac mini died also. And I was able to retrieve and pay for an external hard drive to be mailed to me with a few hundred gigabytes of data on it.

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Photo of a black Toshiba external HDD with a Backblaze logo on it.
The Backblaze HDD that was posted to me with my Mac Mini data on nit.

If we flash forward one more generation, we reached the era of cloud storage where iCloud, OneDrive, Google Drive now dominate the market in terms of online file storage. I would say for anyone born in the last 20 years, it would be assumed that cloud storage is probably the only way that people manage and store their files.

By having their files synchronized up into space.

This means at any time you switch devices or change computers, you will have access to those files anywhere in the world. This is an amazing advancement in terms of the confidence people can have and the fact that it means they won’t be like me and stuck staring at a hard drive wondering how the heck you’re gonna get files back when the hard drive dies.

Drawbacks of Cloud Storage

There are a few drawbacks to cloud storage though or a few limitations.

This suggests that local storage, either with an external hard drive, or a NAS, makes a lot of sense.

For a lot of people like me who have had to move countries a few times, there’s often an insecure feeling when Apple makes you change your account to a different country that you might lose some of those files stored in the cloud, especially photos.

Or, when switching from one device to another, such as having the photos stored on a computer then moving them to the cloud and making sure you have access to them from your phone.

There’s always this feeling that you’re not 100% sure that when you make that transition, that all the photos and all the files will arrive as you would like.

The idea of having those files available locally as well seems to make a lot of sense.

Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is also a consideration as we move through the 21st century in that more and more people seem to be getting hacked. And while it’s wonderful to think that all your files are in the cloud, available to you, and will be stored on so many hard drives that if one dies, your files will always be there, it also means that they’re available to hackers and one day those files may be subject to some sort of blockage.

If you’re a business, then it’s crucial that you consider business continuity. That, if the internet goes down, or a cloud storage facility becomes blocked, or temporarily or permanently, that you have a way to continue working. And this is the nature of working digitally.

If we’re talking about storing our files locally, we have key two options.

We can either:

  1. buy external hard drives or
  2. we can go for a NAS (network-accessible storage) system.

These, to me, stand out to be the most obvious choices. And there may be others that IT professionals can tell me about. I’m not an IT professional, but I can tell you this journey has certainly taught me a lot of things about storage options and reminded me how important it is that you have copies of your really important digital files, memories, videos, photos, etc., available locally to you.

Many of you know that I do a lot of video work with the Make Life Click YouTube channel that supports the website. This means that I’m working with very large files.

A limitation of cloud storage is that you can’t always access the files fast enough when they’re large video files. This means that cloud storage isn’t really a practical solution.

Another impractical part of cloud storage, if you’re not syncing between devices because of the size of files you have is that you can’t always access your files if you’re offline.

There are some solutions to get around this but, if we’re talking about having two or three terabytes of data, you’re not gonna always be able to have that available locally to you unless you set up a very efficient syncing solution.

So back to the two solutions of external hard drives or NAS, I have many external hard drives, which I’ve continued to add to by adding a USB hub off the side of my computer.

When I plug in my computer, I plug in the hub, and I have access to about four external hard drives. Personally, I hate this. It’s messy. There’s cables everywhere, there’s drives for miles. And it’s a little frustrating having to jump between all the different drives to find the files that I need.

The other frustrating thing about the solution is that I have to be connected to the hub at all times around the house. So if I wanna take the laptop and sit on the couch, it means that I’ve unplugged the drives and can’t access them because they’re on my work desk.

Now, while this means that external hard drives are portable, if you’re buying a USB-powered drive, which is wonderful, for the bulk of my files, I don’t need them portable. So I have a portable SSD HDD, if I need to take it on the road, and my laptop has plenty of storage.

Most of what I do is in the cloud but for those big files that I wanna access or for a Plex server that I wanna run locally or for video files that I need to work with and I don’t wanna be tethered to my desk, it seems a NAS solution is the only solution.

So this is really part one of a two-part post.

The first part is this, which is me, explaining the journey of how I got to realise why you should get a NAS. It’s an excellent solution for my house and probably for a lot of people’s homes.

And, despite the cost, there are so many benefits to knowing that you have a local copy of important data, which should also be stored in the cloud just in case something burns down. But to have that redundancy and ability to know that you have files locally and remotely is a really great solution.

If you’re running a Plex server, then a NAS also makes a lot of sense, or a media server where you can put all your photos and videos on the NAS and then access them and music and then access them through a service like Plex.

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In the next part of this series, I will explain the journey of what NAS I chose, why I chose that NAS, and I’ll give you a little bit of a rundown on the Synology NAS 920+, which I purchased and tell you a little bit about setup and how it performs on my local network, including its ability to handle remote editing within the house.

The conclusion of this post really is just to say, as I’ve said, consider having local storage in your house that contains all the important files that you could ever imagine, as well as storing these in the cloud.

Questions? Fire away in the comments below.


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