This is the second post trying to explain the why’s and how’s of choosing a NAS for your home computer network. If you missed the first installment, you can find it here. Today we are going to try to define the NAS we need.
It’s All about the Software
All computer programmers and software geeks will say that is true, of course. But for the typical person who just wants to use a computer and their digital devices as appliances, like the kitchen range, this is absolutely true! First decide what you want do, then which software gives you the features you want, and only after you have chosen your software do you start looking for the hardware, or computer system.
Begin with What You Have
In my case, I live in an all Apple “eco-system”, so I know I want a NAS that will play nicely with MacOS and iOS. In particular, I want to take advantage of Time Machine to manage the backups for my computers. So the first stem is taking an inventory of your complete digital device landscape. Here’s mine:
- 1 MacBook Air (laptop)
- 1 MacBook Pro (laptop)
- 2 iPads
- 2 iPhones
- 1 Apple TV
- 1 Sixty-five inch, internet capable TV
- 1 Bluray player
- 1 Combination tuner & amplifier, aka receiver
- 1 Six speaker sound system
- 1 subscription to BackBlaze
Notice I include the “entertainment system” as part of the computer network. If you own an internet capable television, you understand why; and if you do not, a NAS is not on your radar in any case. Briefly, your entertainment system is connected to your network, and potentially is affected by anything you add to your network.
About the BackBlaze subscription: It is the only way I am currently backing up the 2 computers and 4 iOS devices. The iOS devices are backed up to the computer of the device owner, and then that computer is backed up to the cloud using the BackBlaze service. As noted in the previous post, this is an inadequate backup plan.
BTW: if you don’t have an off-site backup service, you should seriously consider one. There are a number of them available, and you can find reviews of them from reputable sources like PCMag.com, Wirecutter/NYTimes, TechRadar and MacWorld, and similar sites. These backup services run in the background any time your computer is connected to the internet, and automatically keep your “off-site” backup up to date. Many of them operate by creating incremental backups similar to Time Machine, so you can recover past versions of files if needed. BackBlaze is my second cloud service. I moved to BackBlaze from my first cloud backup service due to BackBlaze’s ease of use, explicit acknowledgement of the Apple eco-system, and low cost. Your constraints may be different.
Define Your Use Goals
This is a bit different from defining your existing eco-system, or your “constraints”. This is defining your ideal interactions with your overall system. It may not be possible to get everything you want, but it pays to have a clear idea what you want before you start deciding what you can purchase. My goals are few, but not necessarily simple:
- The NAS needs to be Apple friendly. This means it needs to support the Mac file system, which is different from the Windows file system, and it needs to support Time Machine backups. There are ways to make any generic NAS work with Apple products, but honestly, I’m too lazy to make that kind of effort, however limited it might actually be. Besides, why do something myself, with the potential for errors that creates, when someone else had done it and tested it already?
- The NAS needs to be able to host our shared files. We have only a few files that we share, but they are pretty significant. The main file is our shared Photos library – this library was created when we first went from Apple’s iPhoto app to the current Photos app. It contains years and years of photos, and it would be nice to be able to reach them whenever we want, without passing a hard drive back and forth to dangle off our laptops. Of course, there is no way for the phones or tablets to access the photos at all when they are only on an external hard drive.
- If possible, the NAS should be able to support streaming music to the entertainment system. Since the primary purpose is to have local backups of our devices and storage of shared files, this isn’t really mandatory. Still, we have a huge collection of music files from the CDs we purchased back when vinyl first went out of style, and it would be cool to have them playing in the background as we mess around with other stuff. Currently, those files are mostly on Larry’s computer and his iPhone. It isn’t that convenient to be streaming from either of those devices all of the time.
- The NAS needs to be able to connect to the BackBlaze B2 storage system. It isn’t really necessary to back up the Time Machine backup, since we already have a full backup at BackBlaze. However, the shared files stored on the NAS cannot be part of our BlackBlaze backups, due to the BackBlaze business model. Their business model makes sense, really, so I’m not kicking about that; I just want to be sure that we have an off-site backup of our shared files. To do this, we need a NAS that will easily backup to the BackBlaze B2 service, which does allow backups from a NAS.
The B2 service is cloud storage, similar to Drop Box and Google Drive. I simply find it more convenient and a bit less expensive to use the BackBlaze B2 cloud storage. Therefore, I want a NAS that is already integrated with that storage service and that can automatically make backups of our shared files to that cloud. (Recall that I said a NAS was really a specialized computer. That is what makes this automatic backup possible.)
Once again, if you have made it this far without getting a glassy-eyed, good on you. If you aren’t really a computer geek, this stuff can seem tedious and confusing. I’m happy to try to answer questions, so if you have any, leave them in a comment. Next post: the decision (I hope…).