Data Lifesaver

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Network-attached storage (NAS) is the easiest and cheapest method to implement dedicated shared network storage. As the name implies, NAS is simply a server exclusively dedicated to file sharing across a network.

The server in this case can be as simple as an old PC configured with the operating system, or a stand-alone device housing a single disk drive or array of drives. It also serves to manage the network connection and user access functions.

The cost of dedicated NAS has dropped significantly over the past two years. It is not unusual to see NAS devices with 1 terabyte (TB) of storage for under $800. There are a number of different flavors of these devices, including those that provide everything but the disk drives. These are good choices, if you want to select your favorite drive type or already have some unused drives that can be repurposed. These frames may permit a mixture of 3.5" and 2.5" drives; however, most are designed for one or the other type only. Also pay attention to the interface types supported; for example, most new NAS devices support SATA or SCSI, but older IDE interfaces may not work. Setting up one of these NAS devices is fairly simple: assign an IP address, define user access rules and make sure the appropriate PCs on the network are configured properly to see the drives. If the network has a firewall configured, you may also need to open up the appropriate IP address and ports as necessary.

Now, let's say you have little or no budget, but still need to have some network-attached storage. Look no further than your stash of older PCs taken out of service. Did you know these make excellent NAS devices? Yes, you could always set up the file sharing on an unused (or even a used) PC so files can/are/will be shared with others across the network, but this has problems: 1) The PC operating system is managing a number of functions, not just the file sharing, therefore the end result of being slow, 2) If someone else is also using that PC, it gets even slower, and 3) PC operating systems tend to lock up easily when memory resources are taxed, thus access to the drives will be impossible.

The solution to this problem is to reformat the drive in that PC and load a dedicated NAS operating system. There are several of these to choose from and most are free. A program called Free NAS can be downloaded at; this is one of several open source programs that turn a PC into a dedicated file server. Others include Open Filer (, Sun Open Storage ( and NAS Lite (

Most of my current projects require that I setup a temporary office when managing large deployments of cell towers. I use Free NAS to enable file sharing and storing of project data between my contractors, customer and other disciplines with excellent results. The actual network operating system is very small and can fit on a flash drive, or any other drive for that matter. You can use just about any PC (Pentium 2 or higher recommended) with a minimum of 96MB of RAM. If you want higher performance, or will have more users accessing the server, it is recommended that you use a more current processor and increase the RAM. Free NAS, as well as most of the other open NAS software, also supports multiple drive configurations including RAID. Setup is a breeze and it works great! The documentation is well written and will get you started quickly.

Here is an idea: if you have a laptop or two sitting around (P2 or higher,) reconfigure them with Free NAS. Then you can load them with all (or portions) of your music library. They could be used along with a network of other laptops to create an emergency backup in the event your facility suffers extreme damage. This type of network can also be used for long term remotes where having data handled on a local server might make sense, i.e. database for a telethon, bit libraries.

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