Network attached storage devices and full on computers aren't much different these days. Take the ASUSTOR AS-7008T 8 bay NAS device for example: you can just add some storage to it, configure the way you want the NAS to work and tuck it away in a corner, doing storage things.
Or you can configure it as a powerful business tool with web servers, databases, email and CRM packages and more.
But what really brings it closer to a personal computer is the ability to actually have a keyboard, mouse and monitor plugged in, making it a full media centre with browser included. If most of your tools are on the cloud with some local data, then you'd be set.
But the ASUSTOR AS-7008T 8 bay NAS with an Intel Core i3 3.5GHz Dual-Core Processor and 2GB RAM (standard, max of 16GB) it could easily power a server or personal computer - and it does. That's the thing about modern NAS devices: they don't have the fastest processor or lots of memory, but they can store plenty of data, make it safe (even secure) and available at the touch of your fingers.
This is not a small box though. At 7.2kg and measuring 215.5 x 293 x 230 mm it can fit up to eight 3.5" HDD (or SSD) and manage a huge amount of data using smart storage configurations to minimise storage hardware faults impact on your data availability. It allows you to configure your storage with different options, managing volumes of data across different drives to achieve redundancy and resiliency - it does so even with a hot swap facility so you can replace faulty drives without powering down the NAS.
The trays all have screw holes for 2.5" drives as well so you can easily use SSDs without the need of any adapters.
The ASUSTOR AS-7008T will automatically use EXT4 for internal storage but can access FAT32, NTFS, EXT3, EXT4, HFS+ on external drives. It supports single disk volumes as well as JBOD, RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 6 and RAID 10, including live migration.
Administrators can create users and groups, assigning different access levels to data stored in folders. It is also possibly to automatically and transparently encrypt data stored on the NAS.
With three USB 3.0, two USB2.0 and two eSATA connectors you can easily plug external storage for rotating backups or simply quickly moving data from and to its storage.
All operations are done via a web-based user interface with icons and windows, so it's quite familiar to end users that have some experience with graphical user interfaces. But behind the ease of use there's a powerful operating system that allows new functionality to be added via apps.
With two gigabit ethernet adapters business users can easily load balance data traffic through link aggregation for a small or medium business - or even serve small websites such as blogs or ecommerce platforms from this box.
But the most interesting feature is its dual purpose. You can access all behind the scenes functionality from its web-based interface or plug a TV/monitor directly to it via its HDMI port and instantly have access to the ASUSTOR Portal, a interface that gives you access to Chrome browser and other apps, including Kodi the famous home theatre platform (formerly known as XBMC).
This means even while this box is serving your storage needs you can still access digital content - be it photos, music, videos - directly, without the need of another computer for this.
Despite the dual fan in the back of the unit the ASUSTOR AS-7008T 8 bay NAS is quiet enough to actually sit in the lounge, perhaps inside a cabinet or a cubicle on a TV stand.
The LED display is a nice touch and gives you quick access to information about the box and options/action you can take without having to open your browser and accessing the admin interface.
In terms of speed I've noticed a small but not big improvement when moving large ISO files - such as Windows Server installs - between a PC and the ASUSTOR AS-7008T over a gigabit network (which included a gigabit-capable switch). Those files were transferred at around 70 - 75 MB/s (around 560Mbps - 600Mbps), which is pretty good discounting network overheads.
I did find a problem when using DHCP-assigned DNS during configuration, which was fixed by manually entering the DNS IP addresses - but other than this the unit operated impeccably.