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When you store something “in the cloud”, you are storing music, movies, documents and data on giant internet servers around the world. That way you can access your files wherever you are, whenever you want, on your laptop or smartphone or even a different computer. This is the basic concept of a cloud storage.
A personal cloud is essentially your very own cloud storage. Unlike public clouds, a personal cloud allows you to keep all your content in one safe place on your home network so you can share files, stream media, and access your content anywhere.
A network-attached storage (NAS) device is like an external hard drive, but it is connected to a network so that the data stored on the NAS is accessible to every device on your network. Moreover, it lets you back up content from all your networked computers and access that content from anywhere on your network or over the Internet. NAS is a good way to add storage capacity for large data files, such as images and videos, and make them easier to share across your home or office network. Data can also be stored more reliably via the Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) technology.
RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent (or Inexpensive) Disks. The concept of RAID is to combine multiple small-capacity (usually cheaper) disk drives into an array of disk drives which performs better than one large-capacity (usually more expensive) drive. The array of drives will be seen as a single drive to computers. By redundantly storing data (duplicating all or part of the data stored on the drives), the disk array will be made fault-tolerant because parity data will be stored on all of the drives in the array. If one drive fails, parity data from the working drives is used to re-create the data located on the faulty drive. There are a number of RAID methods where most methods provide fault-tolerance on disks. However, each method offers different trade-offs in features and performance. The most common RAID options are RAID-0, RAID-1, and RAID-5. In the event of a drive failure, the faulty drive should be replaced as soon as possible to avoid data loss if a second drive fails. After replacing the failed drive, the RAID architecture will be rebuilt to restore redundancy to the array.
RAID-0: Data Striping (with no redundancy)
In RAID-0 mode, all drives will be combined into a single array of storage where the computers will see all the drives as one massive drive with combined capacity of all drives. For example, if two 80GB hard drives are used together under RAID-0, the system will have 160GB capacity. RAID 0 is also called data striping, where data will be segmented into blocks to allow quicker access to data.
Pros: Great read/write performance having two smaller-capacity drives work in parallel.
Cons: It is not fault-tolerant. If one of the hard drives in the array fails, the entire RAID array will be compromised.
Ideal for: Non-critical data storage requiring large capacity and fast write speed, such as audio/video streaming and editing, web servers, graphic design, and high-end gaming.
RAID-1: Data Mirroring
In RAID-1 mode, an exact copy of data is created on two or more drives. At least 2 drives are required for a RAID 1 setup. In this configuration, the second drive will have the same blocks of data as the first drive. RAID-1 does not improve performance like RAID-0 does, but it improves data reliability by having a mirrored drive.
Pros: When a drive fails, the working drive will assume the role of the primary drive and the data is accessible without interruption.
Cons: The effective storage capacity is only half of the total disk capacity because all data in disk 1 is mirrored to disk 2.
Ideal for: Systems requiring high data reliability at a low cost, such as accounting and financial data storage, small database systems, enterprise servers.
RAID-5: Data Striping (with redundancy)
RAID-5 typically requires at least 3 hard drives. In RAID-5 mode, data is split into blocks and stored over all of the drives. Parity, which is a calculated value used to reconstruct data after a drive failure, is spread across all the drives. If one drive fails, the parity data on the other working drives will be used to re-create the lost data. A RAID-5 array can withstand a single disk failure without losing data or access to data.
Pros: The data recreation process occurs automatically so the user can still have immediate access to the data after a drive failure.
Cons: Setup is more complex than RAID-0 and RAID-1.
Ideal for: Enterprise database, file & application servers that require efficient storage capacity, excellent data reliability, and decent performance.
NAS devices are generally more secure than file servers that can run third-party software (and are thus more prone to malware). Most high-end NAS devices have an advanced access-rights management tool to create password-protected accounts and user groups, as well as to manage read/write access on each user or group. Security breach would be avoided as long as the NAS devices are set up correctly. NAS manufacturers often provide instruction manuals through technical documents and user forums on how to set up the NAS. A data encryption feature is also available on high-end NAS devices to add extra security when backing up data.
NAS provides these advantages over traditional file servers:
- lower cost
- better security
- higher availability (less downtime)
- easier to use and administer
NAS products improve on traditional file servers generally through the principle of simplification. By stripping out all of the unnecessary capabilities of a general purpose server, such as applications, services, and hardware peripherals, a NAS device becomes less prone to system crashes and security attacks. When a problem does occur, a NAS device can be diagnosed and rebooted much faster due to its lower level of complexity. In addition, NAS products usually provide greater operating system independence, whereas Windows, UNIX and NetWare file servers each demand specific protocol support on the client side.