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What is a NAS? How Do I Set it Up?


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Hi Guys,

I currently playback all my audio through an external hard disk (standard) and on my way to upgrade to a SSD - i see that most

SSD is not stand alone and looks like a module to be inserted into something else? - Into What? - I want to know what do i require to use an SSD with my 2009 IMAC or an external Media Player like Dune HD 3D Player (for my secondary set up).

 

Now, how and where does the NAS come in - i am an old audio nut - quite technically savvy; but this NAS thing is really getting up my old kiwi ass.

 

Your help is very much appreciated.

Why Music?

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NAS aka Network Attached Storage - to spare you all the technical detail: it is basically a set of hard drives (of various possible types) in a separate box/server. It is not part of your computer like an internal or even external hard drive would be. The data resides on the hard drives inside the NAS. The NAS manages all data on its hard drives and serves access to the data via network, i.e. ethernet or wifi. Data is available to any computer/media player/etc. with access to the network. NAS systems usually provide for specific access control. Essentially a NAS is a server, whose sole purpose it is to serve data stored on its hard drives to the network.

 

You can buy NAS systems for consumers and businesses. The types differ mainly in features provided by the system. Home user/consumer NAS systems usually provide for features such as simple RAIDs*), DLNA servers, FTP servers, cloud backups etc. Examples for consumer NAS systems would be:

* Buffalo Technology

* LaCie

* Iomega (now a Lenovo company)

The Lenovo Network Storage overview shows a few business systems as well (the rack mounted ones).

 

Setting up a NAS is as simple as it gets: you include the NAS in your network, i.e. connect it to your router.

* in the Windows world you would then have to 'map network drives', i.e. point your windows to the IP of the NAS and assign a drive letter. Done. You can then access the whole storage provided by the NAS via the mapped drive as if it was an internal hard drive. Technically speaking, Windows uses CIFS or SMB to access storage via networks.

* as I am not too interested in the Apple world, I cannot tell you how it would work with your iMac. But it should essentially be the same: you have to point your Mac to the NAS' IP. Apple's Airport Time Capsule is kind of a NAS, but it seems to be limited in functionality. Apple systems use AFP Bonjour to access storage via network.

* to access the NAS' data via media player, tv or similar device, it is usually easiest to use included DLNA server capabilities of the NAS. You would then be able to access the data directly from say your TV or iPad.

* LINUX system use nfs to access the NAS. Same principle: tell your OS where the data resides.

 

I myself have been using NAS systems (buffalo and iomega) for years now. They really come in handy. You know, that your data is safe and sound. At any given time a faulty hard drive can be replaced and none of your data is lost (yes, I had to rebuild the array once). All of your data is stored in a central place and is accessible by all devices in the network (e.g. your iPhone, TV, etc.). The NAS can be situated anywhere you like, i.e. you don't have to have an additional device (hence additional noise) in your listening room. You could just set up the NAS somewhere in your basement and serve the data from there, etc. etc.

 

*) First off, RAID is NOT considered to serve as a proper backup strategy for your data! Please do not rely on RAID as the only backup of your data. Anyway RAID is one of the advantages of NAS systems over standalone external hard drives. A RAID (redundant array of independent disks) combines a set of hard drives in one array. All drives of the array are managed in a combined way and are accessed as a single logical unit, i.e. as if it was one drive. RAID provides for different levels of redundancy, performance, capacity. The different types of RAIDs are denoted by numbers. Imagine a RAID array with 4 hard drives of 1 TB. A typical consumer NAS provides the following RAID modes:

RAID 0 - no redundancy; your RAID provides 4 TB of data storage as one drive; due to parallel reads/writes it provides for high performance provision of your data; if one hard drive crashes all the data of the array is lost

RAID 1 - full redundancy; your RAID provides 2 TB of data storage; all data is mirrored, i.e. at any given time there are two (or more) copies of your data (you can usually set the number of copies you want, i.e. you could set the RAID to provide for 1 TB storage with 4 copies); if a hard drive crashes, you can continue to use one of the other copies, replace the crashed hard drive and rebuild the array; data will be accessible at all times; RAID 1 usually improves read performance and reduces write performance; due to the mirroring the capacity is limited

RAID 5 - complicated to explain: it essentially does not provide for a full mirror of your data (like RAID 1 does), but saves separate 'parity data' to repair it. In case of a drive crash, you can replace the crashed hard drive to then rebuild the whole array. As no exact copy of the data exists somewhere in the system, you can not access data, while the array is rebuilt. More capacity than RAID 1 and less than RAID 0. (essential reading see article)

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SSD aka Solid State Disk - is a completely different type of hardware to store data with:

* "Standard" hard disks actually store your data on rotating magnetic disks (called platters). So a standard hard disk really contains disks where data is stored like on magnetic tape. Due to the rotation conventional hard disks cause additional noise, vibration and further problems.

* SSDs do not contain any mechanical parts. Nothing is rotating. There are no disks. An SSD consists of chips that store your data (your USB flash drive is quite similar to an SSD in terms of data storage).

 

The speed of SSDs is way higher than of conventional hard disks. That is why they originally were used as internal drives to be connected via the SATA, PATA, or PCIe interfaces of a computer. If you would use an SSD with an older USB2.0 or 1.0 interface, the USB interface would limit the speed of the data transfer, although the SSD itself would be able to provide data with higher speed. I am quite sure, that with the advent of eSATA and USB 3.0 external SSDs should be in existence making use of these faster interfaces. Just ask amazon for external SSD. I do not know about the serial interfaces of your iMac and Dune Player, but they have to provide one of the faster serial interfaces (i.e. USB 3.0) to make full use of the speed of your new external SSD.

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As machtdochnischt mentions, SSD drives will be limited with slower interfaces. For your 2009 mini, if you want an external drive, FireWire would be the correct interface. OWC makes very well built housings that have multiple interfaces on them if you want to go that route. I don't see any need for SSD drives as external storage, unless the drives are so near your listening position that the lack of platter noise would be an advantage.

 

If you do want to send data to several machines, then an NAS is the way to go. I'd also recommend synology along with the brands that he (sorry if a sexist assumption...) mentioned. The set up interface is very Mac like. For the cost of one 1tb SSD, you can get a pretty nice NAS.

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