Network Attached Storage devices (“NAS”) are starting to appear regularly at small businesses. An NAS device is a small box with one or more hard drives and a simple operating system that can add huge amounts of storage space on a network just by plugging them in. They’re frequently designed with multiple hard drives that can use RAID drive management to hold data very safely, but without the expense or maintenance required for a Windows-based server.

This article is a useful primer on network attached storage. Every computer user should start to become familiar with this technology!

“As the name indicates, NAS devices connect directly to a computer network, rather than to an individual PC. Therefore, the files they contain can be made available to anyone on the network that needs them. Unlike a PC, NAS devices don�t use monitors or keyboards. Instead, you configure a NAS device using a Web browser such as Internet Explorer. From there you can do things like set up folders for employees to store files in, as well as create user names and passwords to control who is allowed to have access to those files.

NAS devices can be an option for any size business because they come in a variety of sizes, prices and storage capacities. Depending on the features and amount of storage provided, the cost of a NAS device can be quite inexpensive–as little as $200–or as much as several thousand dollars. Although some NAS devices can be physically large, models designed for small businesses can be easily tucked away almost anywhere. Most are smaller than an average PC and many take up barely more space than a hardcover novel.”

More expensive NAS devices will have four or more hard drives in a RAID 5 array, which allows the device to be completely functional and keep the data safe even if an individual hard drive fails. Some of them integrate with Active Directory running in a Windows domain (including a domain run by Small Business Server) so that the NAS device knows the names of users and can enforce different levels of access to shared folders.

They have quirks, of course. I’ve gotten several Buffalo Terastation Pro II devices to store backup archives for my SBS clients; on Sunday all of them refused to allow the backup program to store files, with an “access denied” message. Headscratching, memories of the setup process – ah! This weekend was the original date for Daylight Savings Time to go into effect; the Terastations mistakenly set their clocks forward one hour. When the time on the Terastations doesn’t match the rest of the network, the Terastations won’t recognize the credentials of domain users. Why? I’ve stopped asking that question. None of the quirks we face with our computers make any sense. When I set the Terastations’ time correctly, everything went back to normal.

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