I never knew I needed a NAS but getting one changed everything

Synology DiskStation DS1621+
Synology DiskStation DS1621+ (Image credit: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

How many times have you acquired a piece of tech or software and wondered how you ever lived without it? That's me right now with a Synology NAS. I've used external and cloud storage for years for various purposes, but never really thought about attaching it to my home network.

Enter the NAS. Hoo boy. I've been missing out.

Here's the kicker. A NAS is much more than just a convenient place to stash your files and access them from any device. It's a server, your own private little cloud. The use cases are so far and wide I genuinely wish I'd got one sooner. If you're on the fence, maybe this can help you decide.

A NAS is way more than just storage

Synology DS218+

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

My previously uneducated stance just passed off a NAS as a fancy, very expensive hard drive that I could use without having to get up and plug in a cable. In a sense that is still true, but it's so much more than that.

Just take a read through some of the guides our resident NAS expert, Rich Edmonds, has written. Plex server? How about a repository for your home security camera footage? Integration with your cloud storage providers? That doesn't even scratch the surface.

Synology DS218+

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

I'm using a Synology DS218+, far from the biggest, baddest NAS you can get, but even so and with, by PC standards, pretty average internals, it's a seriously powerful little box. I've used it to set up a Plex server delivering on-demand media, live TV, and DVR capabilities to the whole house, I've used it to experiment with Docker, host email, and yes, as network storage accessible from any PC.

The scope of what you can use a NAS for is what surprised me the most and is also the reason I simply don't think I could live without one anymore. It's integrated into both my work and my entertainment, and there's room for a lot more.

The icing on the cake with this Synology unit is how easy it is to access my files from outside my home network. I didn't need to set up VPNs or any other complicated thing I don't really understand, Synology handled it. All I have to do is use a web browser and log in. So it's not even just network-attached storage for one location.

A sandbox to play in

Synology DSM 7.0

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

One of my big self-promises in the latter part of 2021 and going into the new year is to learn some new IT skills. And my NAS is something I can use for that, albeit with limitations. Docker, for example, is one of the most popular platforms on the planet for running containerized apps, and I've started to play around with it on my Synology NAS. I could do the same on my PC, but inevitably I'll end up breaking something at some point, and my NAS is a detached sandbox. I've got a bunch of files on there, but even if I break something, it's a minor inconvenience.

Likewise, I've been able to try out not only Plex again but some alternatives to Plex, including Emby and Jellyfin, all with ease, minimal setup, and no requirement to leave my PC on 24/7 to access. The media lives on the NAS, the service that handles it lives on the NAS; it's the only thing that needs to stay on. My hotter, thirstier gaming PC gets to go to sleep at night.

That's one of the things that's changed my workflow the most. I'm not relying on finding that USB stick or that external SSD anymore to locate that file I needed on my laptop or leaving my desktop PC on all the time in case I need to remote in for something. Everything important (so basically, work) that's stored locally is on my NAS, and that's the only device that needs to stay on.

Going back to Docker for a moment as well, my NAS has been a key part of getting into self-hosting my own services that are more private and don't rely on someone else's cloud working. I've since progressed on to having a full-time home server online running these services, but I could have easily left them running on my NAS. That's where they all started.

I won't bore you with too many details, but thanks initially to my NAS and the capabilities it affords I started hosting my own local podcast server, a tracker-free front end to Reddit, and even a self-hosted version of Google search without all of the ads and tracking and general Google junk all over it. All running in a Docker container, all based on my Synology NAS.

You don't need to go overboard

TerraMaster F2-422

Source: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

Along with just what I can now do with a NAS in my life, I was perhaps most surprised by how even a more basic model like mine is still perfectly capable of getting into all this fun stuff. Sure it's hardly a powerhouse, but its own operating system is so lightweight it hasn't yet struggled.

There are good reasons to have a multi-drive NAS setup in a RAID configuration, but equally, if you just want to start small there are units out there that take a single hard drive. The basic idea is the same whether you have a single drive or a whole rack of them.

We've got guides to help you buy the best NAS for your home and also to help you out if you're specifically looking for a home entertainment solution to get the best NAS for Plex.

I guess the overarching thought here is that if you've been on the fence or you're not really sure what value a NAS can add to your life, I've been there. And now I wouldn't be without one.

Richard Devine
Managing Editor - Tech, Reviews

Richard Devine is a Managing Editor at Windows Central with over a decade of experience. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently, you'll find him steering the site's coverage of all manner of PC hardware and reviews. Find him on Mastodon at mstdn.social/@richdevine

  • All true. Now what in case of theft or fire?
  • Smart people back up their most important data on and off site. Off site backups have nothing to do with why I enjoy using a NAS though. And frankly if my house was damaged by fire my first thought is my children, not my stupid files.
  • Theft? Turn on two factor authentication and use a password.
  • > Plex server? How about a repository for your home security camera footage? Integration with your cloud storage providers? but i have zero use for any of that ? I like cloud stage literally on a cloud so that its more reliably accessible with zero maintenance from anywhere AND has better redundancy as well as fire & theft proof etc. So I am back to a NAS being a slow local storage tool if I had bothered. Back a few years ago I had an actual fileserver (A Dell PC with RAID cards and a full filesever OS etc) and just never really needed it, so when it started acting up I didn't bother moving to a NAS, or another serious fileserver and dropped a HDD onto my router to share with SMB and stream using Kodi occasionally to my Shield. >I'm not relying on finding that USB stick or that external SSD anymore to locate that file I needed on my laptop or leaving my desktop PC on all the time in case I need to remote in for something Which brings me back to actual cloud storage, I have 2TB with Google.
  • OK so what happens when your internet goes out? Or Google Cloud has an outage (look at the AWS outage yesterday). If you just want somewhere to store files then maybe it isn't for you. But as you'll find in the words I wrote here, having discovered it's much more than that it's now an integral part of my home life. And smart people backup their files in multiple locations. Anything important lives in my home and in a cloud locker somewhere. But I'm not running a Plex server off a cloud storage bin. Or a network-wide ad blocker. Or any of the other neat things I've found out I can do with it. And er...your Google Drive isn't "theft-proof". Remember all those celebrities who had personal photos and videos leaked onto the internet? Maybe don't store those in the cloud, yeah.
  • This really is such a selfish response though. Since YOU have no use for these things then it shouldn't be written? I have all my important stuff on my Google drive AND my NAS. I've also got 10tbs of movies and 9tbs of TV shows that I've burned from my collection and my brothers (since he purchases movies every week), that I use for Plex, which is fast as **** to transfer to. Along with those I also have my music, which I host now because GOOGLE SHUT DOWN GOOGLE PLAY MUSIC. I have all my photos and my wife's photos saved to the NAS at full quality, which Google got rid of. then I also have Adguard and Home assistant running. So not only does it do the things he mentions I have a server that now stops ads and runs my house. None of that relying on the cloud... When all of my stuff goes down, I have a battery backup, so while you cannot get to your information or watch tv. I still can since it runs on the LAN not the cloud While I still backup my important business stuff and taxes to a cloud and my NAS.... I much prefer my NAS. All this without a monthly subscription cost. While the cost of the NAS is quite a lot. The amount I've saved by not having to have subscriptions for everything has saved me tons of money.
  • Actually one of the biggest reasons to use a NAS is privacy. Apple scans your documents and ohotos a d now Google has just said they are going to start as well. I do not want a company going through my files and telling me what I can and can't have.