In the past 18 years that I have been writing this newsletter, I think I have written the following statement at least a dozen times: “The price of disk storage keeps dropping.” Today I am writing that statement one more time. This weekend, I purchased a four-terabyte NAS hard drive and added it to my in-home network. I now have even more space for my backups and those of my family members. Best of all, the price was so low as to be undreamed of only a few years ago. You can do the same.
I elected to purchase a network-attached storage (NAS) drive, not the normal USB drive.
Most external hard drives are USB drives. That is, each of the drives is built into an external case, has a built-in power supply, and plugs into any modern computer’s USB connector. USB drives are great for adding disk storage space to any Windows, Macintosh, or Linux computer, all without requiring anyone to open the computer’s case. External USB drives are very popular for good reason: they are inexpensive (compared to only a few years ago) and they allow you to back up ONE COMPUTER easily or to add more disk storage space to one computer. If you and your family members only own one computer, a USB drive is an excellent solution.
The biggest disadvantage of sharing USB drives is that the computer it is plugged into must be left powered on and running whenever someone else wishes to access the shared drive. I believe there is a better way.
In fact, if your home computer is on a network, such as an in-home network created by a router that connects multiple computers to the Internet, it is possible to a network-attached storage (NAS) drive on the network and let other family members who are on the network access storage space and even shared files on that same drive. Most of today’s network-attached storage drives also allow for accessing the data from remote locations, protected by user names and passwords. You and other family members can access your files stored at home by connecting over the Internet, even when on a business trip or when visiting Aunt Mildred. Yet your files remain under your tight control and stored at home; you don’t have to upload them to some corporation’s servers where you lose control.
Most people who use broadband Internet connections already have a network in their home; however, I find that many people do not know that. If you have a cable modem, DSL modem, satellite modem, or fiber optic modem in your home, look on the back of the Internet modem/router to see how many connections are available for computers. Most of these routers designed for in-home use have four connections. The connectors look something like the plug-in telephone connectors used in North America except that they are larger. These are ethernet connections and are commonly referred to as RJ-45 connectors.
If your Internet router has two or more RJ-45 connectors, you have an in-home network. Most of the in-home routers I see have four such connectors. This means that you can plug up to four computers or other devices into such a router.
NOTE: You can also add an ethernet switch to connect even more computers or devices, but I will cover that topic in a later article. For the moment, let’s assume you have four connectors. The same router also may provide wi-fi wireless signals so that you can use even more computers.
Instead of purchasing a USB external drive that only connects to one computer, I purchased a NAS (network-attached storage) drive that can be shared among multiple computers on my network. Instead of having a USB connector, it has an RJ-45 ethernet connector that plugs into the router in my home. Note that it does NOT plug into a computer; instead, it plugs into the router. I can then share this one drive among multiple computers in my home, including tablet computers and “smartphones,” even though I might have my primary computer(s) powered off. The router and the NAS drive must be powered on, however.
The NAS drive looks identical to a USB drive. The only difference is the connector, a bit of different electronics inside, and roughly a $20 higher price tag.
I purchased a Western Digital “My Cloud Live” NAS drive with four terabytes of storage space. The retail price of this drive is $249.99 but the “street price” price is about $219 from the discount houses. I purchased mine at Amazon at http://goo.gl/Br0StM although you can find the same device in many computer stores.
Most all disk drive manufacturers sell NAS disk drives of lesser capacity for lower prices. However, if you calculate the cost per terabyte of each drive, you usually will find that the biggest drives provide the lowest prices per gigabyte of storage. In this case, the current price of the Western Digital My Cloud 4 Terabyte Home Network Attached Storage Drive is about five and a half cents per gigabyte. That was unheard of a few years ago or even last year!
I attached the NAS drive to the router in my home and immediately started backing up files from my primary desktop iMac computer. A few minutes later, I turned on my MacBook Air laptop computer and started backing up files from it. Then one of my family members connected to the big disk drive from her Windows computer and started her own backups. If I had more family members with more computers, we could back up still more files. It will also back up files from Linux computers and most any other operating system as well.
Of course, backups are not the only purpose of this disk drive. We can save any files we wish on the NAS drive. Even better, we can (optionally) share files. I gave each user their own space and protected it with user names and passwords. Then I created one more section called PUBLIC, and I allow all in-home users to access it without entering a user name or password.
I use the PUBLIC folder to store pictures, music, and video files that I wish to share with the family. Using the Mac, I can even stream the videos through the television set in the living room and stream music through the hi-fi system in the same room.
Now for the best part: the Western Digital drives as well as some other brands allow you to access files on the drive from other locations. Because my new disk drive is attached to the router, it is (optionally) possible to access some or all of the files on that device through the Internet. In effect, I have my own cloud storage on the Internet.
NOTE: Computer experts will protest that this isn’t true cloud storage. This one disk drive does not distribute its contents across multiple data centers in different locations, so it does not provide the redundancy expected of cloud storage. It has a single point of failure, unlike a true cloud service. If the one disk drive fails, my “personal cloud” stops working. It is also susceptible to disasters in my home; if a fire or flood or burst water pipe or other in-home disaster destroys my computer, it will probably also destroy the NAS disk drive. Therefore, it is not true cloud storage. However, I can use it in the same manner as cloud storage.
This one disk drive will never replace a true cloud-based backup service. I still believe in multiple backups, stored in multiple locations. I still back up my files to an online storage service in addition to the Western Digital NAS drive in my home. This NAS disk drive is only one of my backup locations. Never, ever depend upon only one backup stored in one location.
Whatever the configuration, I can use this four-terabyte disk drive on the Internet in much the same manner as a cloud storage service. For example, if I am traveling and find that I forgot to copy an important word processing document to my laptop computer, I can use my laptop (or any other computer) to log onto the Internet, connect to the NAS disk drive in my home, enter the user name and password, and then copy the needed document to the laptop. In a similar manner, I can also connect to the same NAS disk drive from my computer, iPad, iPod Touch, Android device, or iPhone and stream my own MP3 music files so that I can listen to my own music, all without commercials.
You can do the same. I was impressed with the simplicity of installation and set-up of the Western Digital “My Cloud Live” NAS drive. After unpacking the drive, I found two connectors on the device. One is for the ethernet cable that plugs into my Internet router, and the other is a “wall wart” that plugs into a power outlet. Simple. The required software is downloaded from Western Digital’s web site. The users manual is also available on the same site as a PDF file. The software quickly located the NAS drive on the network and allowed me to create user names and passwords, assign disk space, run diagnostics, and more.
I then installed the same software on the MacBook Air computer and the Windows version of the same software on my family member’s Windows system. The Windows set-up procedure was almost identical to that of the Mac. The Windows system was on the network and using the NAS disk drive within minutes.
As I write this, I am copying several thousand MP3 music files to the Public folder on the new shared disk drive. I also have a few videos I plan to copy as well. Then I will make a backup of both Macs and of the Windows computer. My computers automatically make new backups every hour, even if I am sleeping at the time. The computers do need to be powered on, however, in order to make backups. I know that I can access these files in the future from any Internet-connected computer or tablet computer or iPhone, if I allow.
Not bad for $219!
You might elect to use a different configuration or to use a disk drive of less capacity. Not everyone has a need to share a disk drive among multiple computers in their home. Whatever your needs, I would suggest you think about your own requirements and then plan accordingly to have sufficient storage space to meet those needs.
“The price of disk storage keeps dropping.”