Tech / Feb 12 2024

Cloud storage vs. NAS: comparison of the data storage options

Are you still deciding which storage option is the best for you and your data? Check out our comparison of NAS and cloud storage on different points, like data security, privacy, accessibility, data ownership and others, and decide for yourself.

Today, when the majority of our data is digital and the digital world continues to evolve, the need for secure data storage is growing. Individuals and businesses rely on digital solutions to store and manage their sensitive information, while the risk of data breaches, cyberattacks, ransomware attacks and unauthorized access has become a significant concern.

The volume of data generated daily, our interconnected devices, and the rise of remote work all show the importance of storing our data securely.

The challenges to the security of our data pose a serious risk to our privacy and can have severe consequences. Secure data storage not only protects against security threats but also ensures compliance with data protection regulations and privacy laws. In the next paragraphs, we'll look into how safely you can store your data in cloud storage and NAS (Network Attached Storage) and compare these two options on various features.

1. Cloud storage vs. NAS – accessibility comparison

When considering secure data storage, two options stand out: cloud storage and Network Attached Storage (NAS). Each offers unique features and advantages, catering to different user needs and preferences.

Cloud storage prioritizes accessibility, allowing users to access their data from anywhere with an internet connection. It provides the flexibility to adjust storage space according to changing requirements. With collaborative features, it facilitates real-time file sharing and collaboration, benefiting remote teams and individuals working on shared projects.

On the other hand, NAS operates as a dedicated file storage device or server within a local area network, without relying on external cloud servers. Unlike traditional file servers, NAS is specialized for data storage, file sharing, and data management. It enables multiple users within a network to access, share, and collaborate on stored files.

NAS-device - Cloud storage vs NAS

Accessibility verdict: Choose cloud storage for remote and flexible access and NAS for local network needs.

Ultimately, the decision between cloud storage and NAS depends on individual preferences, including data accessibility needs, scalability requirements, collaboration preferences, and security concerns. However, the critical question remains: which option ensures better data safety?

2. Cloud storage vs. NAS – data ownership, safety and privacy comparison

NAS devices are hardware units that you purchase, own, and maintain direct physical control over. They are typically kept on-site or in a location of your choosing (for example at your home or the office). You have full autonomy over the data stored on your NAS, allowing you to configure it and set access permissions as needed. While this autonomy is great for users who prefer to have their sensitive data in their physical possession, it also comes with the responsibility of implementing security measures. This includes tasks such as setting up encryption, securing the environment where you keep the NAS, and managing user access. Security is directly under your control, making you solely responsible for its implementation.

On the other hand, cloud storage is a service provided by a third party. Users subscribe to this service, but they do not own the infrastructure where their data is stored. While users own the data they upload to the cloud, the infrastructure and maintenance are the responsibilities of the cloud storage provider. Data is stored on servers owned by the provider, which means it is off-site in data centres. This can raise considerations related to data access speed, physical security, and data residency compliance.

Cloud storage solutions provide security features accessible through their interface. Consequently, the security responsibility is shared between the user and the provider. The service provider manages infrastructure security, while the user is responsible for managing access credentials and configuring access controls.

As far as privacy is concerned, with cloud storage you need to check your provider's TOS and privacy policy to see which regulations and laws they need to adhere to. With NAS, you have direct control over your data and its physical location but also hold responsibility for its security, privacy and compliance measures.

Privacy verdict: Choose cloud storage for standardized security measures and NAS for user-managed compliance. With NAS security is directly under your control, making you solely responsible for its implementation. If you are not an experience user, cloud storage offers a much simpler and safer way to store your data securely.

3. Cloud storage vs. NAS - data encryption comparison

NAS devices use encryption to protect stored data. They can encrypt entire volumes or specific files and folders, ensuring that even if someone gains physical access to the device, they can't read the information without the right credentials. Some NAS systems even use Self-Encrypting Drives (SED) that automatically encrypt data at the drive level, using the widely trusted Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). When accessing NAS remotely, encryption protocols like SSL or TLS make sure that the data is secure during transmission over the network.

Cloud storage services prioritize data security. They use TLS/SSL to encrypt data during transfer between your device and their servers. At rest, your data on cloud servers is often encrypted using AES, and cloud providers may offer various key management options. Cloud services may encrypt data at the server level (Server-Side Encryption), or users can choose client-side encryption, where data is encrypted on their device before being sent to the cloud, and providers do not know your encryption keys or the contents of your encrypted data, ensuring extra privacy.

While NAS often provides detailed control over encryption at the volume or file level, cloud storage services, offer similar flexibility. In terms of encryption keys, NAS users typically manage them locally, while cloud storage providers may offer key management services or allow users to bring their encryption keys.

Data encryption verdict: Both NAS and cloud storage offer various encryption options, letting users choose the level of security that fits their needs. The biggest difference is that with NAS, the responsibility for security rests on the user, while with cloud storage, the responsibility is divided between the user and the provider.

4. Cloud storage vs. NAS - physical security comparison

Cloud storage providers prioritize physical security at their data centres with features like perimeter fencing, security personnel, surveillance, and access control systems, ensuring only authorized individuals can access critical infrastructure. The data centres are closely monitored 24/7, and areas with servers are limited to essential personnel. Additionally, they implement environmental controls for optimal hardware conditions, including temperature and humidity regulation, as well as fire suppression systems. Redundancy is built in to prevent hardware failures, involving duplicate servers, storage arrays, and networking equipment.

Server Racks in Data Center

For on-site NAS devices, users have direct control over security. They need to securely mount the NAS device to prevent accidental damage within their premises, restrict access, and monitor the environment. Implementing access controls and storing NAS devices in secure locations away from general access prevents tampering or unauthorized access. Like data centres, NAS devices require environmental controls to maintain optimal conditions.

Cloud storage providers invest in advanced security measures and redundant systems for continuous data availability. NAS users, on the other hand, must take direct responsibility for their device's security measures and consider implementing redundancy features themselves. This means that NAS requires a responsible and advanced user who actively manages data security, while cloud storage users rely more on their provider's security practices.

Physical security verdict: While with NAS, users have direct control over security, they are also solely responsible for it. Cloud storage offers more convenient security for the average user who wants to rely on the provider's security practices. We suggest using cloud storage if you do not have advanced knowledge of security measures and want to rely on the provider's security practices.

5. Cloud storage vs. NAS - vulnerability management comparison

Cloud storage providers automatically handle updates and patches for infrastructure, including hardware, operating systems, and storage systems. Users benefit from the latest security features without actively managing updates. The cloud service provider centrally manages the update process for consistency across all users' data, simplifying updates and reducing individual user responsibilities. Timely application of updates minimizes the window of vulnerability.

On the other hand, NAS users need to manage updates manually, including the NAS operating system, firmware, and installed applications or services. Users must monitor for updates, follow manufacturer guidelines, and apply updates as needed. Different NAS manufacturers may have varying update procedures. Unlike the quick deployment by cloud storage providers, NAS users may experience delays in updates, potentially exposing the device to vulnerabilities until updates are implemented.

Vulnerability management verdict: Cloud storage handles vulnerabilities automatically, which makes it faster and more secure. NAS users can experience delays in updates, potentially exposing their devices to vulnerabilities.

6. Cloud storage vs. NAS - the potential for a human error affecting data safety comparison

Cloud storage providers can implement comprehensive user training programs to educate users about best practices, security policies, and potential security threats. Users can also benefit from features like versioning and robust data recovery options, allowing them to undo accidental deletions or changes and providing a safety net for data recovery in case of a human error. Cloud storage platforms often use activity logging and monitoring tools to track user actions. This helps identify and address potential issues caused by human errors. To enhance security, cloud storage providers usually offer Two-Factor Authentication (2FA), adding an extra layer of protection. This reduces the risk of unauthorized access, even if login credentials are compromised due to human error.

1 + 1 = 3 Text on Black Chalkboard

NAS users can benefit from training programs that educate them on the proper use of the NAS system, including data management, access controls, and potential risks. This helps users make informed decisions and reduces the likelihood of errors. Implementing strict access controls and permissions ensures that users only have the necessary privileges. This helps prevent unintended modifications or deletions of critical data due to human error. NAS devices often offer backup and snapshot features, enabling users to create regular backups or snapshots for quick recovery in case of accidental data loss. Detailed audit trails in NAS systems log user activities, allowing administrators to promptly identify and rectify potential issues arising from human errors.

Additional measures for both cloud storage and NAS users include regular security audits, strong encryption for data at rest and in transit, well-defined incident response plans and continuous monitoring of user activities. This helps minimize risks and mitigate the impact of errors in both cloud storage and NAS environments.

The potential of human error affecting data safety: Both options seem to offer good features that help mitigate the effects of human errors, which can, of course, happen while using both storage options.

7. Cloud storage vs. NAS - cost comparison

Cloud storage typically requires minimal upfront investment. Users can subscribe to services with pay-as-you-go models, eliminating the need for significant initial hardware and infrastructure expenses. Cloud storage operates on a subscription-based model, allowing users to pay for the storage capacity they need and there are many different plans in terms of size they can choose. This flexibility is beneficial for scaling resources up or down based on changing requirements. You should carefully manage your storage to avoid unexpected costs though. Cloud storage providers often offer free inbound data transfer. However, outbound data transfer (e.g., downloading data) may incur additional costs, especially for large volumes of data.

NAS involves upfront hardware costs for devices and hard drives, but there are no subscription fees. Costs vary based on the NAS model, storage capacity, and drives but they are quite high in any case. Users own the hardware, with ongoing costs like electricity, occasional maintenance, and possible software renewals. NAS scalability depends on the device's physical capacity. Expanding means adding more drives or upgrading to a larger unit. Plan for future storage needs when choosing a NAS. Local network access for NAS users typically doesn't incur data transfer costs.

Cost verdict: Opt for cloud storage for minimal upfront investment and ongoing costs, or consider NAS for long-term cost-effectiveness, provided you are comfortable with the higher initial investment.

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8. Cloud storage vs. NAS - the verdict

After reading all this, how can you choose the right option to store your data? Cloud storage is ideal if you prioritize accessibility and collaboration, for example, if you are working remotely with a globally dispersed team. If you are not sure about your storage space requirements in the long term and you have dynamic needs, cloud storage is your answer. It is accessible from anywhere with an internet connection, it is scalable and has robust security and privacy measures which are implemented and taken care of by the providers.

All in all, cloud storage requires minimal upfront investment and maintenance effort on your part. As a con, we need to touch on its dependence on internet connectivity, which can pose challenges to cloud storage reliability, speed, and security.

While both cloud storage and NAS offer various encryption options and features to mitigate human errors that could affect your data safety, cloud storage also handles vulnerabilities automatically, which makes it more secure.

NAS is ideal for users who are seeking direct control over their data and its physical location and have predictable storage requirements. If you prioritize on-site ownership of hardware and have only local area network access needs, NAS is the way to go for you. With it, there are no subscription costs after the initial hardware investment. This investment can be quite high and depends on the chosen model, its storage capability and the number of drives. NAS devices have limited scalability and you need to think upfront about your future storage needs. You are solely responsible for your security and privacy measures and their implementation.

So, choose cloud storage if accessibility and scalability are your top priorities and you prefer minimal upfront investment. Its dependence on internet connectivity has to be acceptable for you and your needs. Choose NAS if direct control over data and its physical location is crucial for you and you prefer on-site ownership of hardware. You also need to have predictable storage needs.

If you are already using both cloud storage and NAS, you can check out our previous blog posts:

Are you still deciding between cloud storage and NAS? Join us on the Koofr subreddit and share your opinion about which option is better!

We also published a Slovenian version of the same article for those who prefer to read it in that language.

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