NAS is a popular form of centralized storage that’s implemented in various forms, from purpose-built NAS units to old systems that are repurposed. For dedicated NAS units, vendors like Synology and QNAP are popular, while implementations like TrueNAS are great for setting up a custom NAS unit.
In this article, we’ve talked about these and more types of NAS devices, as well as general steps to set up and configure a NAS device.
Types of Network Attached Storage (NAS)
A NAS unit is typically a specialized file sharing-optimized computer that consists of several storage drives configured in a RAID or similar setup. The drives (mostly HDDs) are often designed for use in NAS Enclosures, while the NAS device itself uses protocols like SMB, NFS, etc., for file sharing.
Dedicated NAS devices and DIY NAS builds have most of the market share. Setups like old PCs repurposed as NAS, Routers with USB Ports, or Raspberry Pi NAS do exist, but they’re very niche and not worth going into detail. Instead, we’ll cover the ones that are relevant from a practical POV in the sections below.
Dedicated NAS Devices
Buying an off-the-shelf NAS device has its pros and cons, but it’s undoubtedly the most convenient option. NAS systems pre-populated with disks will lead to the easiest setup as the software-end configuration is all you need to manage.
If you opt for a NAS enclosure only, building and maintaining the system will require a bit more effort, but it also opens room for customization as you get to choose what drives to use.
Depending on what vendor you got your NAS unit from, the OS installed on the device and the overall setup process will vary, but we’ve included general steps applicable to most of the popular vendors further below.
DIY NAS Builds
On the other end of the spectrum, if you want complete control over what components go into your system, you can opt for a DIY build. You have to source everything from the NAS chassis and motherboard to the cooling system, drives, and so on.
This gives you control over which part of the system to splurge on, as things like aesthetics matter to some people, while others only care about the storage capacity and technology.
Unlike purpose-built NAS units that use proprietary operating systems, you get to choose the OS as well with DIY builds. Some popular options for this include TrueNAS (formerly known as FreeNAS), XigmaNAS, and OpenMediaVault (OMV).
The ability to customize is unrivaled, but by the same token, this does also mean that a DIY build requires some technical knowledge, and there’s a bit of a learning curve to using it.
Other NAS Types
As stated, very niche NAS types like Raspberry Pi NAS do exist, but it’s not really worth diving into in this article due to its limited practicality. You can even share files from an old PC to repurpose it as a NAS, which, although conventional, is indeed done quite often.
While this type of NAS typically doesn’t involve installing a specialized OS, installing something like TrueNAS on the device is ultimately the best option, provided the device specs are sufficient.
Setting Up A NAS Device
If you’re still researching what components to use for your NAS device, we recommend resources like PCPartPicker, and the NAS Killer Builds for some ideas. Once you have the parts ready, the first step is the hardware configuration.
With Dedicated NAS Units, all you need to do is connect the power and LAN cables. After the NAS is powered on and connected to the same router as your PC, you can use the PC for the software-end configuration.
If you bought a NAS Enclosure only, you must first install the hard disks onto the drive bays. After that, the process is the same as described above.
As you can see, off-the-shelf units are very easy to set up, but the same can’t be said for a DIY build. In this case, you should first install the components (RAM, CPU, etc.) onto the motherboard. Then, you should mount the motherboard onto the NAS chassis and install additional components such as the PSU and cooling system.
Once the storage drives are installed as well, the final step is to power the system on and ensure everything is working as intended. As the components for a DIY build aren’t constant, we recommend referring to each component’s manual for the exact installation steps.
With Dedicated NAS Devices, provided the device is powered on, you can use vendor-specific tools like Synology Assistant or QFinder Pro to remotely access the NAS unit and install the OS.
For DIY builds, you’ll typically download your preferred OS ISO and burn it to a DVD or USB using tools like Rufus or Etcher. Then, you can connect the USB to the NAS unit and boot from it. To do this, you can either connect a monitor and keyboard to the unit, or you can remotely access it using technologies like SSH, IPMI, or iDRAC.
During the installation, you’ll typically be prompted to select the disk to install the OS on and set up the root account, along with other minor preferences. With dedicated NAS devices, you should be able to access the NAS management tools now. But with something like TrueNAS, you’ll first need to access the web console using the provided IP Address.
Post Install Configuration
After the initial setup, you should log in to the root account created earlier, which will allow you to use the NAS Management tools. The next step here is to set up a storage pool and disk volume/s.
As the name implies, the storage pool is the aggregate capacity of the drives in your NAS setup. You’ll have the option to select which drives to use and what RAID level as well.
Standard RAID levels like RAID 1 or RAID 5 are popular, as are proprietary RAID types like SHR (Synology Hybrid RAID) and RAID-Z (ZFS). Each has its own pros and cons, focusing on data redundancy, performance boosts, or a mix of both.
Next, you’ll want to create a single volume or multiple if you want specific volumes to be accessible to certain users only. Then, you can add shared folders and specify the access permissions. Now, you’ll be able to access the files in these shared folders from your machine’s file explorer.
Of course, the accessibility is only limited to the local network by default. You can use features like Quick Connect (Synology) and myQNAPcloud (QNAP) to configure remote access for your NAS.
The core setup is mostly complete at this point. For additional configurations, we recommend beefing up your NAS’s security by setting up multiple user accounts, managing access permissions, and installing security applications.
You’ll also want to perform diagnostic checks and set up notifications to inform you of the disk health status and events like low disk space or drive failure.