NAS (Network Attached Storage) vs Cloud: What to Choose?

I guess, your photos are the ones responsible for making this question acute. It’s the most precious and space-consuming files you have. And today we don’t want to just store them somewhere safely (like on a bunch of DVDs or an external hard drive). We want to store them keeping connected. That’s basically the reason our new heroes today are Cloud and NAS. I bet you’ve got that they both will work perfectly for the connected photo editing and management solution we’re working on. But, still, which one to choose today?

UPD: With Google Drive price cut-off the balance in this domain changed. I’ve updated this post to match up.

Choosing a storage: apples vs. oranges

Meme Apple vs. Oranges

Actually, it’s not a 100% fair comparison. It’s more like apples and oranges: one is extremely redundant, while the other offers increased storage and speed (being in one network). If your priority is safety, cloud storage and a local single drive backup might be the best (but not the cheapest) choice. You can certainly just set up a RAID on your NAS (which makes two copies of each file), but that’s still not 100% insurance. Here’s a short list of things that have another opinion about your redundancy strategy:

  • House fire
  • Flooding
  • Theft
  • Power outage
  • Faulty house wiring
  • Bad power strip or surge protector
  • Bug infestation
  • EMP

Let’s make things clear. Cloud storage is renting up a space from a provider. You can imagine it as renting a space in several NAS devices standing somewhere in the world.

On the other hand, Network Attached Storage provides a space for the whole local network and usually finds its place in your dorm room. With the ability to store and share data most NAS devices can also run as servers (for your website, FTP or else). And considering UPnP and DLNA support as multimedia servers, in particular.

Thrifty guys and girls would argue that it’s not necessary to buy a NAS for the task. They would say you just need some old computer, get an external hard drive for like $50, install something like OwnCloud on it and be happy. Short (read as “cheapest”) way isn’t the best option, as you might guess. If you wan’t a similar experience you have with cloud I still recommend using a specialized network storage device. It will be less frustrating in setup and everyday usage, trust me.

Ok, now let’s compare Cloud storage and NAS. There are two sides worth discussing here. The first is purely economical and the second is behavioral (I’m gonna cover it next time). Let’s start!

How soon will NAS pay off?

Ok, I invest money into a server, hard drives… how soon that investment will be returned comparing to the scenario when I use a cloud service like Google Drive or Dropbox? For the simplicity, let’s leave the setup (which is sometimes overwhelming for the non-geeks) out of the brackets. I also eliminated the Internet connection fee because it will vary depending on the use case (if you often work with files remotely then you’ll probably gonna need a better upload speed, ergo, spend additional $10–20/month for a faster connection).

Test #1. Cheap NAS vs. Google Drive

Here I assumed that you’ve chosen some D-Link NAS ($175) and a pair of 1Tb HDDs to make RAID 1 (each $67). Note: It’s not feasible to take less capacious drives today. In fact, even less than 2Tb.

Electricity. It’s average power consumption is around 10 Watts/hour, so it will cost you $1.5/month. So if we use NAS our initial expenses are $309 and each month we pay $1.5. Good. Cloud on the other hand has a variety of options and you can buy as little as 100Gb. As you might guess the pay off time will depend on the storage space you actually need. And here’s how it changes:


Since Google now gives 15Gb for free, it’s obvious that NAS will never pay off if 15Gb is enough for you. The situation changes as your appetite grows. Note: the pay off period of 3 years or longer is a flop. It’s long enough to expect price reduction in Google Drive and there’s a good chance something wrong might happen with your hard drive. Table shows, that cloud is the best option if your photo archive is up to 1TB. And, actually, that the majority of photographers. Although, Google has a pretty big tier from 1TB all the way to the 10TB (so both 10001Gb and 10TB will cost you $100/month).

Test #2. High-end NAS vs Google Drive

I assume, that many of people reading this post won’t be satisfied by a cheap NAS. They want a robust device with extendable functionality and really enterprise level performance. I know what you’re thinking. Synology has those things in their product line. This table represents how the situation changes when you purchase a better NAS device (Synology DiskStation DS1513+ for $800, for example).

Pricing if NAS device was added

As you can see renting stuff is much cheaper than owning. AT least when it comes to storage space. With high-end NAS storing less than 1TB is economically stupid.

Test #3. NAS vs. MEGA

Google Drive isn’t the only option in the field. In fact, not an optimal one when it comes to big numbers. There is a game-changer service and it is called MEGA (service by Megaupload founder). Check out their pricing:

MEGA Pricing

Not only it offers insane 50Gb for free, but the increase in price is much more subtle. Here’s a very descriptive chart:

GDrive and MEGA comparison

With such a reasonable pricing MEGA can be viable even after 1TB tier. I bet you can see this completely red right column from your Synology headquarter, Mr. Vic Hsu :)



Well, though you already have a great offer from cloud storage providers, when it comes to large volumes of data there is nothing better than Network Attached Storage. It has also other benefits some people will find valuable. Anyway, cloud is already extremely close, and, perhaps, one might find that it’s higher cost is fully compensated by redundancy and easiness. Hope, this chart will help you to make the right decision.

Cloud vs. NAS: Optimal choice depending on the capacity you need

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