Yes. Yes you can.
I do it myself.
But first we have to make sure we’re on the same page when it comes to defining what a NAS is.
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NAS versus NAS
Unfortunately, NAS has also come to imply dedicated devices that host storage optimized for file sharing. They’ll often include features such as:
- RAID for either speed or reliability or both. RAID uses multiple disk drives to store data.
- Multiple file-sharing protocols, including those for Windows, Apple, and Linux, as well as potentially others, such as FTP or SFTP.
- Multiple ethernet connections for speed.
- Remote management.
If you don’t need any of that — as I don’t — then just having storage on your local network is a piece of cake.
Building a basic NAS
Making your own NAS is pretty easy. In fact, it’s essentially a two-step process:
- Attach those external hard drives to a computer on your network.
- Share those drives using the sharing facilities of the installed operating system, like Windows.
Done. You now have your own NAS.
A basic NAS actually turns out to be a great use for an older machine.
In my case, my NAS is my old desktop machine of two generations (about 10 years) ago. I installed Linux Mint on it, and using Samba file sharing, have three internal drives and five external drives shared by any computer on my network. Shown here, it’s not pretty, but it lives in my basement, so it doesn’t have to be.
Since it’s running Linux, I can do other things with the machine as well (which I do), but its primary job is to sit there and share those drives, acting as a basic NAS.
Linux not required
You don’t have to run Linux (though of course you can), and you don’t have to get another device (though again, you can if you want to). Take that old machine you have lying around, install the most recent version of Windows you can (for security purposes), attach the drives, and share them.
If you or your machine aren’t up for installing another copy of Windows, and Linux isn’t your cup of tea, another alternative is to install FreeNAS on it. FreeNAS is a Linux-based distribution that is optimized specifically to act more like a dedicated NAS than a general-purpose operating system. It’s quite popular, and I ran it long ago with much success.
But, honestly, any computer already connected to your network could act as a basic NAS.
The one thing I will caution is the need to back up.
As I said, many think RAID when they think NAS. While RAID is not a backup (and should never be considered one), properly configured, it is more fault-tolerant and reliable. A basic NAS won’t have that, so you need to ensure that you have everything properly backed up…
… which you should be doing anyway. The old rule of thumb still applies: if your data is stored in only one place, it’s not backed up. Even if that place is a NAS — any NAS.
And that’s the primary purpose of my own NAS: backing up files, folders, and work in progress from the other machines on my network.