Is it worth buying a NAS or cloud space?

Well is it? If you expect a very short answer from me, I’d say: absolutely, even if you just want to regularly back up your data, which is a very good idea. But in this article I want to take a look at some ready to buy consumer NAS devices, a cost-effective self-built and self-hosted one and some well-known cloud services and I want to compare how much they cost if you use them for one, five and ten years. This is not a product test and I won’t go into too much detail, I just want to sum up some options you have and when you should consider getting one or the other option and how much they will cost you.

Things to consider

The most important thing to remember here is: How good a device is, depends on what you want it to do. If you want to use your NAS mainly as a place where you can store all your Full-HD and 4K movies on and then stream them to your smart TV or game console, you’ll need a different device than somebody who only needs it as a backup-device for a mac or to store family photos on the device. So keep that in mind while you read this article and while you look for the perfect storage solution.

Protocols, technologies & keywords

I want to quickly sum up some terms you might come across while looking for a network attached storage device.

DLNA-certified
A very short description would be that a DLNA-certified TV or game console is guaranteed to be able to find movies and other media on your DLNA certified media center or NAS.

FTP/SMB
Common networking protocols when talking about file sharing in a network. If you are not interested in the technical details, it’s not really necessary to know what these are in detail. If you ware interested in tech, you might already know what they are anyways.

RAID
Means that you have multiple storage-devices and you use them to have redundant storage space, which means that if you lose one of your hard drives due to a disk-error, your data is still available on the other drives (RAID level 1). When you talk about RAID level 0, you mean that you have your data split across multiple drives to increase the speed, but your data is not saved on multiple devices at the same time. So if you loose a hard drive, you also loose the data on that drive, if you haven’t backed it up somewhere else. Another common RAID setup is level 5, but I don’t want to go into too much detail about that right now.

Barebone/Enclosure
Means that you’ll only get the case and the electronics for the NAS but not the HDDs that go into it.

Time machine (certified)/AFP (certified)
Time machine is Apple’s automated backup application for Macintosh computers, so if this is important to you, make sure that your NAS supports time machine backups. AFP is Apple’s protocol for file sharing, it’s also not bad if your NAS supports AFP if you want to use a Mac, however MacOS also supports FTP and SMB, so if a NAS doesn’t support AFP or time machine, it doesn’t mean that you can’t use it with an Apple computer.

Consumer NAS

These devices have become surprisingly cheap. You can get a moderate NAS with 2TB of disk-space starting from 150$ on amazon, which is basically the price for the HDD in it. However most of the time a low price means that you will have to live with some disadvantages that come with the device, which might be low quality, low transfer speeds, limited customizability or limited upgradeability regarding the disk-space and overall hardware of the device.

I personally bought such a cheap consumer devices about a year ago and until now I’m relatively happy with it. Sometimes it’s a bit slow, especially when transferring a lot of files at once, but overall it’s not that bad. It was cheap and it doesn’t have any fans built-in, which means, that it is silent. However I use mine for backups only, so I can not tell you how it holds up when streaming 4K videos or when you use it as a personal cloud over the internet.

Synology DS216J 2TB (2 x 1TB WD RED)

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Figure 1: Synology NAS

This device is DLNA-certified and it supports RAID. However this device also has an active fan, which might be noticeable, so if you are not a fan (no pun intended) of fans, this might not be for you. According to amazon, the device has two USB-ports, so you can connect external drives.

This device will set you back with 360$ on amazon.

Western Digital MyCloud (1 x 2TB WD RED)

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Figure 2: WD MyCloud

This device is also DLNA-certified but it doesn’t support RAID, because it only has one drive built-in. It also has one USB-port, so you can extend the storage space, however this device is already relatively old (2013), so the performance might be relatively bad. However the device is absolutely silent, because it doesn’t have active cooling.

This NAS costs around 150$.

QNAP TS-231P (2 x 1TB WD RED)

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Figure 3: QNAP NAS

This device is DLNA-certified and it also supports Airplay and chromecast. RAID can also be configured. This device is targeted for (home)office use or small businesses. It costs around 400$.
Keep in mind, that these are just some popular examples (an all-rounder, a cheap one and a more professional one) and to make it easier to compare them, I always choose the 2TB variant of the devices. So let’s look at some numbers here. Let’s say the device will consume an average of 15 Watts (1bay) and 20W (2bay) (most of the time it’s going to idle but from time to time you will copy something or stream media etc. and obviously it’s strongly depending on the number of drives the NAS has) and if it is running 24/7 and 1kWh costs 0.15$ we get the following table:

 MRSP  1 year  5 years  10 years
Synology DS216J 360$ 386,28$ 491.40$ 622,80$
WD MyCloud 150$ 163,14$ 215,70$ 281,40$
QNAP TS-231P 400$ 426,28$ 531,40$ 662,80$

Note that these numbers are only estimations based on the numbers above.

So an average consumer NAS will cost you 0,89$ per day, if you use it for one year and 0,14$ per day if you use it for 10 years.

Cloud services

As above I’ll try to compare the 2TB variants for each service. I think a big plus for each popular cloud service is, that it is very easy to set up and to use and you don’t have to care about maintenance or backups. But then again a big con is that you depend on a reliable internet connection and you don’t really know where your data is. Also, many cloud services are only meant to be used for file sharing/storage and can not be used for streaming purposes there are also limitation regarding the max file size, but that shouldn’t be a too big problem for home usage.

Another disadvantage when using cloud services is that a provider’s terms and conditions might change as well as the prices for using the service.

Dropbox
This service will cost you 10$ per user per month if you choose a yearly payment plan, so that makes 120$ per year and 0,32$ per day, regardless of how many years you choose to use the service.

OneDrive (formerly known as: Skydrive)
Same as dropbox, but with unlimited storage space.

MegaDrive
Same as Dropbox, but only 1TB of storage space.

So in average a cloud service will cost you 0,32$ per day right now, this could change over time though.

Homemade NAS

Basically you could get any cheap computer to work as a NAS, but for this article I want to put together an example system with relatively cheap parts. The biggest plus here is, that the system is fully customizable. You need more RAM or a better CPU? Just install it! 10 years have passed and you need another 4TB of disk space? The system can easily be upgraded!

One disadvantage is, that you need to maintain the system on your own and you have to take care of regular backups another disadvantage is the higher power consumption.

A quick estimation for an Intel-CPU (Celeron G3900) based system with 4GB of RAM would be 200€ for the internals, 50€ for a PSU, 50€ for the case and 100$ for a 2TB HDD. Which comes to a total of around 400$.

However it’s hard to estimate the power consumption of such a system but I’d say as an average it’s around 60W if it doesn’t have any additional fans or HDDs installed. So let’s bring up the same table as above for this configuration:

MRSP 1 year 5 years 10 years
 Homemade NAS 400$ 478,84$ 794,20$ 1188,40$

So this configuration will cost you 1,31$ per day if you use it for one year and 0,32$ per day if you use it for 10 years.

Conclusion

As you can see, there is no correct answer to the question: “What cloud storage is perfect for me?”. It strongly depends on you habits and what you want to use the system for.

Cloud storages are easy to set up and you don’t need to take care about backups or maintenance. You files can also be easily shared with co-workers, friends and relatives. However there are no real options if you want to change any settings and you also don’t really know what happens to your data.

A consumer NAS is a quick and cheap option if you plan to use your device for a shorter period of time (around 5 years), because you can’t really change any parts yourself and you have to consider the fact, that the drive and all other parts will wear off with time.

However if you know what you’re doing and you want to have the full control over your files and you want to keep your system as upgradeable as possible and you plan to use it for at least 5-10 years, then a self-built NAS is a good option and absolutely worth considering.

When it comes to the average cost, the consumer NAS is the cheapest, followed by the cloud-services if you only use it up to 10 years and the custom NAS, if you use it for at least 10 years.

Regardless of which option you choose, you should always do regular backups for all the files you don’t want to lose!

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