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Four Tips for Protecting Data with NAS

Victor Nemechek Product Lead, Network Attached Storage Segment, Western Digital
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Squeezing as much value as possible out of digital data is becoming as important to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) as it is to giant corporations. Achieving that goal begins by keeping data protected and accessible. Network-attached storage (NAS) can help.

A NAS unit is a box, typically small enough to fit on a desk, that typically houses multiple storage bays populated with hard drives. An office with five employees may fare well with a four-bay NAS unit equipped with individual 8TB capacity drives. A larger office may require 16TB drives.

Digital storage today is mostly about big cloud servicesat least for the enterprise sector. But at a time when many of the top public-cloud services make compelling storage offers for almost every need, some SMBs still prefer to retain control over their data. Some seek higher performance and more convenience than the big, shared clouds can consistently deliver. Some have privacy concerns about relying on a big cloud company. Some want to avoid getting locked in to paying monthly fees.

NAS and related technologies are designed specifically to provide shared storage and backup services in a way that addresses these concerns for small offices and SMBs—while offering a degree of simplicity in their setup. In recent years, NAS environments have become popular with SMBs because ​​they’re easy enough to set up and operate without the help of IT pros.

Below are some tips to help lone practitioners and small offices secure the data in their NAS systems.

Tip 1: When Buying Gear, Make Security a Priority

NAS is designed to act as a centralized data hub where digital files can be stored and made accessible to the computers of multiple users through a local area network. More sophisticated NAS systems allow people with network access to retrieve files from anywhere they can connect to the Internet.

Before buying a NAS system, make sure it includes system-level and file-level security features—such as data-access monitoring, user-access controls, and data-encryption support—to prevent unwanted access and protect your data.

Another must is to make sure your home or office network is secure. Your NAS can’t protect you if your router or local network aren’t properly locked down. After that, follow proven security practices, such as updating NAS software often, enabling two-factor authentication, and employing strong passwords.

Tip 2: Protect Your Power to Protect Your Data

You don't want to lose data if you suffer a power outage. That is a possibility, however, if your NAS device doesn’t have a backup power source. Thankfully, some NAS devices include two built-in lithium-ion batteries as backupone to identify an outage and another to keep the system operating.

Another option is to connect your NAS system to an external uninterrupted power supply (UPS). That way, if a power outage occurs, the UPS will give your NAS system time to recognize that the main power supply has stopped and shut the system down properly to avoid losing data.

And while you're at it, choosing NAS equipment manufactured by companies with long histories of producing durable, reliable, and secure systems is always a good idea.

Tip 3: Understand What RAID Means for Redundancy

You can also prevent data loss by setting up a redundant array of independent disks (RAID) on your NAS system. This can improve data reliability by storing the data across multiple storage devices.

A common misconception about NAS is that it functions solely as data backupemployed when a drive crashes and information is lost. But its biggest contribution to data security is by helping to prevent data loss in the first place.

A helpful way to think about RAID is that it protects the data from a single drive failure. When deployed, RAID on a NAS enables the data to be written across multiple drives within the same system and shares the input/output load between the disks. This helps to speed up the transfer of large files, maximize uptime and availability, and potentially increase a system’s mean time to failure (MTTF).

Depending on the configuration, RAID can mirror data from one drive to another (RAID 1), or it can store data across many drives (with either RAID 5 or RAID 6). If one drive fails, the failed drive can be replaced with a new blank drive and the RAID controller can restore the missing data.

Tip 4: Practice the 3-2-1 Rule

The 3-2-1 rule dictates the creation of three separate copies of important data. Of those, two are stored on different media or devices. One copy should reside offsite in case of fire, flood, or some other disaster.

When it comes to choosing an offsite location for that one copy, it may not be a bad idea to consider one of the public clouds. Some NAS systems can be programmed to store data locally for a period and then automatically transfer copies to a public cloud.

Whichever location one decides to store backups, these copies should always be kept current to avoid data loss of more current files.

And remember, these tips and rules only protect us when we implement them consistently.

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