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12 wonderful things you can do with a NAS

Wondering why on earth you’d want a NAS in your home or office? Here are a dozen compelling options

One of the worst things about NAS drives is the name. True, network attached storage describes roughly what NAS is, but it barely gives an inkling of what a NAS device can do. It’s not just about file storage, but about applications and services – and the way NAS brings what used to be server-level tasks to a much smaller, cheaper and more efficient device. A decent NAS is ideal for backup or file-sharing in the home or office, but why stop there?

Stream media

Do you have a bunch of old videos that you don’t know what to do with? Copy them to your NAS. Rip your DVDs to H.264 video files, and you put them on there too. Configure your NAS’s video server application – or install a third-party app such as Twonky or Plex – and you can get your own version of Netflix up and running, ready to stream your video to smartphones, tablets, media streaming sticks and smart TVs. 

And it’s not just video, either. Remember all of those MP3 and AAC files you’ve got lurking on different computers? Consolidate them all on your NAS and you can have your own music or iTunes server accessible across the network, which will play nicely both with smartphone media player apps and Sonos multiroom systems. You’re in control of the file and streaming quality, and you can guarantee that there are no adverts or sudden price hikes.

Download and manage torrents

Why tie up a PC or laptop downloading torrents when you can get your NAS doing it, quietly, in the background. Install a good BitTorrent client, like Transmission, and you can set up the connection and leave the NAS to manage downloads and uploads – and you’ve even got the file you wanted somewhere accessible and central when it’s done. What’s more, you can control it from the NAS’s browser-based UI or from a remote client on your Android tablet or phone.

Run business apps

Your business may not have the budget to run expensive, server-based enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), human resource management (HRM) or accountancy packages, but open-source alternatives are available, and many of these will serve a small office happily from a NAS. For instance, if you’re looking for a CRM, both SugarCRM and Vtiger are available on a range of different NAS appliances from different manufacturers, while OrangeHRM will have you covered for HRM. You’ll even find applications covering specific sectors or industries, such as Moodle in the education sector.

Deploy your own online office suite

Online office suites have their advantages, but what if you don’t want the ongoing costs or fear getting locked into Google or Microsoft’s ecosystem? Do you worry about productivity should the service or your internet connection go down? Synology has its own collaborative office suite – Synology Office – which runs not from the cloud but from your NAS. It’s very similar to Google Docs, Sheets and Slides, although it lacks some of the more recent interface enhancements and features, and it will easily handle a smallish team from a single NAS. As the suite and the data are both hosted locally, you know that you have full control.

Get chatting

Similarly, Synology has its own answer to Slack and Google Hangouts in Synology Chat, a messaging system that runs through a browser UI or a desktop client from the more powerful Synology NAS devices. Chat is surprisingly sophisticated, with different public and private channels, message threading and forwarding features, and even built-in polling. But what if you don’t buy a Synology NAS? In that case, you can also use Mattermost on Qnap devices.


Is your NAS sitting around under-utilised for most of the working day? Run a virtualisation app – the manufacturer’s own or Oracle’s VirtualBox – and it can moonlight as a Linux server or even run a desktop OS, which you can access via a remote desktop (RDP) client. If you don’t expect too much in the way of power and think carefully about your choice of OS, you can have something for browsing, testing or running basic applications – complete with snapshotting. You can even have different virtual machines running different operating systems in different states, all on tap and ready to start.

Run an email server

Admittedly, webmail or hosted email is a whole lot easier to configure and manage, but if you want to try running your own email system for personal use or a business, many NASes have the apps to allow you to do just that. With some you may be restricted to access through a POP3 or IMAP client, but some support webmail too, enabling you to check the messages coming into your NAS from any browser. 

Build your own cloud

Given that storage is the NAS’s speciality and that it’s not hard to make your NAS accessible across the internet, it’s no surprise that many NAS manufacturers have the likes of Dropbox, OneDrive and Google Drive in their sights. You can upload and download files through a browser-based UI or sync folders using a desktop client, and WD in particular has long made this a key feature of its My Cloud home and business devices. NAS storage is also much, much cheaper than cloud storage, and you have control of your data (although that means you also have more obligations to secure it if you’re in a business storing anyone’s personal data). Qnap, Synology and Asustor all have their own equivalents, while most NAS appliances will allow you to install an ownCloud server app and access it through ownCloud’s desktop and mobile clients. 

Test and develop

If you are developing web-based or server-side applications, a NAS can make a cheap and effective development and testing platform. Not only will many NAS devices install a range of languages and APIs as apps, but also a full web or local server software stack. You will also find apps for project management and version-tracking, including Git, along with apps to build, deploy and manage containerised applications, using established technologies such as Docker or Kubernetes. You might not want to scale up into live services from your NAS server, but you’ve got all you need to get your code up and running.

Build your own website with a CMS

WordPress, Joomla and Drupal can all be found within many NAS app stores, with the NAS installing everything you need to run the most popular content management systems. You can get your website up and running, try different templates, start adding content and test all of the basic functions, and while you probably don’t want to run a website across your own internet connection – in fact, there are good commercial and technical reasons not to – you can get it up and running and then migrate it over to a hosted platform. You can then continue to use the version on your NAS as a testbed for further development.

Store, share and show your photos

When you take a lot of photos across cameras and smartphones, you can end up with your shots all over the place. Add the other members of your household and it’s easy to lose a whole holiday’s worth of photos. Obviously, using cloud photo services such as Flickr or Google Photos helps, but then you face storage limitations or quality restrictions, particularly if you want to avoid a subscription. With a NAS appliance you can store all your photos centrally and stream them to a range of devices and digital photo frames in the home. Some, such as Synology’s Moments app, will even use AI tools to sort and tag your shots, using facial recognition to pick out the friends and family members that keep turning up. 

Play Big Brother and safeguard your office

Cheap IP cameras are easy to get hold of – although they’re not always 100% secure. With a NAS and the right app, you can centralise the feeds of most mainstream options into one control panel, manage recordings, get a live view and even get alerts on suspicious behaviour. With the best apps, you can even get a live feed from your mobile device – handy if you want to keep an eye on your pets, equipment, stock or property when you’ve left your premises or you’re not at home. What’s more, a NAS plus a bunch of cameras can be much, much cheaper than a ready-made security solution – and you’re in complete control.

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