How to Use a NAS as a Cloud Server

While creating your own cloud server is a great solution to an online offering, it's not always practical, secure, cost-effective, or easy to manage. NAS, Network Attached Storage, drives are a far better solution. They’re small, efficient and powerful units designed to store and share data.

NAS technology has come a long way in the last few years. No longer the monolithic boxes dominating the room, in fact, they’re now quite discreet, media-type installations hidden away in the corner of a living room or office.

They are remarkably powerful these days too. With specifications that surpass those of a top of the range PC from not so long ago, a modern NAS is a far more capable ‘computer’ than some of the PCs found on desks. This improved processing power allows more services to be run simultaneously, and with support for more users.

In terms of service and software, many modern NAS units run a customised version of Linux, which serves as the backbone to their file and media sharing capabilities. There’s also a range of installable apps that can further improve the scalability and use of a NAS, such as cloud server software, for example.

Cost – A NAS drive is a reasonably inexpensive investment for both home and business users. A single bay, which means a NAS unit with space for a single hard drive, can be picked up for well under a hundred pounds. Dual bay, two hard drive capable, NAS units can be around the hundred-pound mark. The only expense is the actual hard drives you buy to install within the NAS unit. Therefore, depending on the capacity hard drive you require, and how many, you could be looking at anything from £40 up to £400.

Performance – A NAS drive, by this we mean the entire unit and the hard drives within, has a reasonable set of specifications. You can easily expect to see dual or quad-core processors, gigabytes of memory, high performance read and write speeds and gigabit Ethernet ports. In general, a NAS will outperform a similar specified PC, at the same file serving duties, due to its low memory use operating system and the limited number of processes the hardware is required to run; freeing up a lot of resources for its sharing duties.

Virtualisation – We’ve already looked at the benefits of virtualisation for home and business users. If finding a virtual desktop hosting solution isn’t working for you, then a NAS drive may be a good alternative. Some NAS drive manufacturers have implemented a virtualisation app that can be downloaded and installed to the NAS, which, when set up correctly, will serve the user base with a variety of virtual desktop images.

Backups – NAS drives aren’t useful for merely sharing your media. With the right setup, all your desktop computers, regardless of whether you’re an individual or a business, can be backed up to a NAS. You can even store multiple backups across days, weeks, or months if you have enough storage available.

Cloud Serving – Naturally, using a NAS as a cloud server is a great solution. You can utilise the huge capacities of the installed hard drives, up to 10TB, while offering the users an easy to connect and use cloud solution. Most of the NAS drives also offer a simple management setup, allowing even non-technical users the chance to get up and running with their own cloud within a matter of minutes; and often without the security hassle of opening up a hole in the router and firewall.

Redundancy – Dual bay, or more, NAS drives offer the user a set of RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) options with the installed drives. A RAID setup simply offers different kinds of configurations or levels. Each of these levels can implement a different type of redundancy. For example, RAID 1 offers data mirroring, so any data written to one drive is mirrored by the second. This way, should one drive fail, you can replace it and rebuild the data from the other one. Depending on the RAID level, you either lose some or use all of the drive(s) capacity installed. Two 10TB disks at RAID 1 only allow you to use 10TB, as the other drive is the mirror.

The Ideal Solution

A NAS is an excellent one-stop solution for any type of user. An individual can house their media collection, family photos and data backups on a NAS, while using a cloud app to host photos and music to other family members.

A business user can use multiple NAS units to backup, provide cloud server access and virtualisation to the workforce, and all from an inexpensive and easily manageable box.


Setup a Cloud Using a Home NAS

Creating your own NAS-based cloud server is remarkably easy, thanks to the modern operating systems and apps available for a NAS drive. In this example we’re going to use a Synology NAS fitted with a pair of 6TB Seagate IronWolf hard drives.

We’ve pre-fitted the two IronWolf drives, and run through the initial setup process. Note: changes to NAS firmware and the OS can result in different screens from shown below.

Step 1 – First we need to install the Cloud Station Server from the Package Center, located on the DSM desktop. In the Package Center, you’ll find the Cloud Station Server app in the Business section. Click on Install and agree to allow the new app to install on your Synology NAS.

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Step 2 – Open the Control Panel from the DSM desktop, and scroll down the side panel until you come to QuickConnect. Click the QuickConnect link, and in the right-hand main pane, tick the Enable QuickConnect box. You’ll need to enter your email and sign up for a Synology account, but QuickConnect allows a connection to the cloud server without opening your router.

Step 3 – With QuickConnect enabled, and once you’ve confirmed the new account with Synology (via an email sent to you), click the Apply button in the Control Panel. Scroll up a little way in the Control Panel until you come to User, and click on it. The right-hand pane of this section will detail the current accounts with access to the NAS.

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Step 4 – To create a new user, click on the Create button, and fill in the form detailing Name, Description, Email, and Password. You can tick the boxes to send the user an email to inform them of their new account. Click the Next button when you’re done.

Step 5 – The next page will list the current groups you have active on the NAS. For the average consumer sticking with the built-in Users group is more than sufficient, but try and limit the number of Administrators to just yourself. Click Next when you’re ready to continue.

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Step 6 – The built-in shared folders within the NAS are: Homes, Music, Photo and Video. In the next page you’re able to select the type of permission the new user will have to each of those folders. Don’t worry too much about the shared files, as you’ll create one in a moment. Click Next when you’re ready to continue.

Step 7 – The remaining steps cover the disk quota allowed for the new user, and the application access they’ll have. You can assign permissions beyond the default if you like, or return later to redefine the permissions. When you’ve finished with the quotas and assigned apps, click the Apply button to create the new user.

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Step 8 – Still within the Control Panel, scroll up to Shared Folders and click the Create button. Enter a new name for the cloud-accessible new shared folder, and a Description and click OK to create the folder. On the next screen you’re able to assign permissions to the new User or Groups; adding the group permission saves you adding individual users.

Step 9 – With an example user and shared folder created, we can now attach to the cloud server using the QuickConnect app. For outside users to gain access to the NAS, you’ll need to inform them of the QuickConnect address, which is listed on the QuickConnect app page. It’ll be http://QuickConnect.to/NAMEOFNAS, where NAMEOFNAS is the QuickConnect name you setup.

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Step 10 – Once the user has entered the address, they’ll be taken to the DSM page where they’ll enter their NAS login details. They’ll have access to a customisable DSM desktop similar to the one used as the NAS admin. Clicking on File Station, they’ll be able to upload, download, view and share any content they have permission to on the NAS.

Russ Ware

Russ has been testing, reviewing and writing guides for tech since the heady days of Windows 95 and the Sega Saturn. A self-confessed (and proud) geek about all things tech, if it has LED's, a screen, beeps or has source code, Russ will want to master it (and very likely take it apart to see how it works...)

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