In the past fifteen 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. I recently purchased a three-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.
In fact, if that computer is on a network, such as an in-home network, it is possible to share that drive on the network and let other people who are on the network access storage space and even share files on that same drive. 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.
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, 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 "MyBook Live" NAS drive with three terabytes of storage space. The normal "street price" price of this drive is about $190. I purchased mine at Amazon at http://goo.gl/Rp4ns for $188.68 although you can find the same device in many computer stores. If you do not have a discount computer store near you, start your online search at http://goo.gl/CZI6u.
All the disk drive manufacturers also sell NAS disk drives of lesser capacity for lower prices. However, if you calculate the cost per gigabyte 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 Book Live 3 TB Home Network Attached Storage Drive is about six 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. A future project will allow me to 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 my cloud-based backup service. I still believe in multiple backups, stored in multiple locations. This NAS disk drive is only one of those locations.
Whatever the configuration, I can use this three-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, iPod Touch, 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 "MyBook 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. A CD-ROM disk is included with set-up software for both Windows and Macintosh as well as the user’s manual. I inserted the CD into the Mac and clicked on the set-up application. 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 moved to the MacBook Air computer and hit a minor problem: that 2.5-pound laptop computer does not contain a CD-ROM drive! I moved back to the iMac desktop, copied the entire CD-ROM disk to a flash drive, and then plugged the flash drive into the MacBook Air. Everything worked on the laptop in the same manner as it did on the desktop system.
I then moved the same CD disk to a Windows desktop computer owned by a family member and repeated the process. 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.
In fact, you probably don't need the CD to set up the additional computers. You probably will need it for the first computer in order to create user names and passwords and to assign the various folders. After that, a knowledgeable computer user can attach additional computers without use of the CD. However, I would suggest novices will find it easier to use the menus on the CD disk.
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. I know that I can access these files in the future from any Internet-connected computer or iPhone, if I allow.
Not bad for $188!
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."
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