Conquering a mountain of hard drives: Making sense of NAS and DAS.


It’s wild that I still see photographers and videographers with stacks of portable external hard drives scattered across their desk or office. Data storage is a critical consideration for many who deal with large volumes of images and videos and many just aren’t handling it well. I see lots of bad practices posted online. I can’t say that I handle it perfectly but I’ve made sure to set myself up in a way that reduces headaches, clutter and consolidated my data. In an effort to help others in this area I will attempt to distill the basics of two of data storage solutions and why it’s not just either/or when it comes to the two.

These two solutions are 
Direct Attached Storage (DAS) and Network Attached Storage (NAS). Below, I will delve into their features and performance and use cases to help you better understand them. But before going further It’s important to understand two terms, RAID and JBOD, which can be used in both storage systems.

RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) combines multiple physical disk drives into a single logical unit to improve data performance, redundancy, or both. RAID has various levels that offer unique benefits, allowing users to prioritize performance, data protection, or a combination based on their needs.  You can read about those levels HERE

It’s worth noting that there are also hybrids of these levels available in certain systems that have pros/cons depending on your intended usage. You should also be aware RAID IS NOT A BACKUP. Just because there’s redundancy in some RAID levels doesn't mean your data is safe. You must still have another copy of your data in another physical location as a backup. 3-2-1 backup still applies to your data.

JBOD ("Just a Bunch Of Disks") is a storage configuration that does not implement RAID techniques for striping, mirroring, or parity. In a JBOD setup, each drive operates independently, data is stored across drives without any redundancy or performance enhancements. But offers flexibility. Users can choose which physical drives store the data. This can benefit users that don’t need high performance and just need to compartmentalize their data. With software you can manually or automatically mirror drives in a JBOD setup which can potentially be safer for your data than the immediate mirroring in a RAID. Depending on the workflow the speeds of JBOD might not be an issue.

Now, onto the DAS/NAS info…

DAS (Direct Attached Storage):

DAS refers to storage devices directly connected to a single computer. DAS can offer high-speed, dedicated storage. DAS can consist of one or more drives and can vary in capacity and speed. Many times people call these multiple drive enclosures “a RAID” but they aren’t always RAID since multiple drives in an enclosure can be allocated as JBOD not just RAID. Examples of DAS can be as simple as a portable SSD like a Crucial X9 Pro or a 4 disk enclosure like the OWC ThunderBay 4. Inside the multi-disk enclosures can be HDDs for capacity or SSDs for maximum performance. Like with the OWC Express 4M2.




Speed and Performance:

DAS can typically provide faster data transfer rates compared to NAS as it directly connects to the computer via USB 3.2/4 or Thunderbolt 3 or 4. However, depending on the configuration of a DAS, this might not always be the case. That being said, as DAS is directly connected to a single computer, it eliminates the potential network bottlenecks, providing consistent and reliable performance.

Because DAS can offer high-speed data transfer, they are ideal for tasks that require quick access to large files, such as editing 4K video. (Remember, when dealing with photographs you’re dealing with random data rather than sequential data in video files and thus you’ll never fully achieve the speeds advertised for a system. You can read more about that HERE)
When choosing a DAS you need to consider your performance needs and the types of files you’ll work with. For example, a 4 bay SSD RAID 0 configuration will offer blazing fast performance that can exceed 2000MB/s but it will be very expensive, limited in capacity and offer no redundancy of data. It will certainly be overkill if you’re just working with still photos.
On the other hand, a 2 disk HDD RAID 1 can offer upwards of
22TB of storage that is redundant, but will be limited in speed to around 150MB/s.
A multi-disk RAID array is often used on video production sets since a project can generate terabytes of footage per day, especially for multi-camera productions. The array allows the data to live in one volume that spans multiple drives so they aren't limited by the single disk drive size. Additionally they can benefit from the speed afforded by striped RAID configurations.
One common practice for data redundancy with a DAS
(especially with JBOD) is to clone drives that live in an enclosure periodically and store them off site.

Advantages of DAS:

  • Cost: DAS devices are typically less expensive than NAS devices. It can be one drive or many drives depending on budget.
  • Performance: DAS devices are typically faster than NAS devices (depending on the configuration)
  • Security: DAS devices are seen as more secure than a NAS. However if they are connected to a networked computer they are vulnerable.

Disadvantages of DAS:

  • Not centralized no remote access: DAS storage is not centralized and relies on a computer to be always on and connected to the internet to have remote access from any device. (There are ways to make this happen but that’s another can of worms)
  • Data redundancy: Depending on the configuration there might not be redundancy built in.
  • Not scalable: DAS devices often can’t be easily scaled to meet growing storage needs. Often requiring the need to purchase a new device.

NAS (Network Attached Storage):

NAS, a network-attached storage device, enables multiple users to access and share files centrally. It offers scalability, speed, and redundancy. It can complement or replace DAS in some instances. NAS devices come in various sizes and configurations, allowing for a range of performance and expandability that is practically endless. Essentially, a computer with a DAS shared on a network is technically a NAS. Because of this it can also do more than just act as a gateway to your files. It can run applications and host services and can eliminate reliance on cloud services like DropBox or WeTransfer which can save you time and money. But keep in mind, opening up services to remote access is a rabbit hole in itself and can be a security nightmare if you don't know what you are doing. Using Tailscale or WireGuard for direct VPN access for yourself is often the easiest and safest option. There's also Cloudflare tunnels and reverse proxies. Make sure you do your research.

Speed and Performance:

NAS speeds are heavily dependent on the network infrastructure. Ethernet connections come in various levels, specifically 1, 2.5, 5, and 10 GbE,  and it plays a crucial role in determining the performance of NAS.


  • - 1GbE is ubiquitous and what typical consumer routers and switches have. 1GbE offers speeds around 125MB/s which is often the limit of a HDD.
  • - 2.5GbE is becoming more common on consumer level hardware. (~250Mb/s)
  • - 5GbE is less common but offers double the bandwidth of 2.5 (~ 500MB/s)
  • - 10 GbE used to be out of reach for consumers but in the past few years hardware has become much more affordable and incorporated into more hardware like the MacStudio and MacMini. It can also be added to a system with a USB-C/Thunderbolt adapter like this one. It offers speeds of up to 1250MB/s

Besides network infrastructure, NAS hardware significantly impacts performance. Specifically the CPU and RAM. NAS configurations can be customized to suit various needs, from basic setups of a single drive file server to extensive systems with terabytes of HDDs and SSD caches for high-speed, high-capacity storage.

When it comes to the hardware, you can buy an all-in-one NAS box (hardware/software combo) from companies like Synology, Terramaster, Asustor or Qnap. These all come with their own distinct software which offers a range of support and features that might impact your choice. These are the simplest and often easiest to use solutions. Synology being the most popular by far. With these you can be up and running in an hour or so for a basic setup but you can also add features like VPN for remote access, create a TimeMachine backup location or create your own cloud. A NAS can also be your offsite backup copy if you have a studio or office away from your home that you sync your data to remotely.



For maximum control you can build your own or simply use an old computer. Building your own allows you to choose your operating system. While you can use Windows or MacOS, NAS operating systems are custom Linux solutions that all have their own distinct features. Some can grow and scale with ease while others make that difficult and expensive. Some offer great support while others are more grassroots and rely on users for support. Some offer features that are geared toward higher performance as well.

Going the DIY route offers the ability to fine tune it to your specific needs and expand or upgrade with ease over time. For instance, over a decade ago I built my first system and chose to use 
Unraid as the OS. Since then, I’ve never regretted this choice as it has allowed me to upgrade both the capacity and hardware overtime with little effort. Unraid is an affordable and highly customizable solution that can scale with ease and is hardware agnostic, meaning it can run on just about anything. So you aren’t limited to the hardware of all-in-one units. There’s also a large online community to help with support.
Another software worth looking into is 

By choosing my own hardware I was able to ensure I had 10GbE, a fast NVMe SSD cache pool and a multi-core CPU that can handle various applications hosted on the system. Additionally, I got more value and performance per dollar.

Advantages of NAS:

  • Centralized storage: NAS devices provide a centralized location for all of your files, making it easy to access them from any device.
  • Data redundancy: NAS devices often have multiple hard drives, which can be configured in a RAID array to provide data redundancy. This means that if one hard drive fails, your data will still be protected.
  • Scalability: NAS devices can be scaled to meet your growing storage needs. You can simply add more hard drives to the device as needed. (Depending on the system you choose)
  • Remote access: NAS devices can be accessed remotely, so you can access your files from anywhere in the world.
  • Self-Hosting: NAS devices can run/host software to increase your productivity and reduce reliance on 3rd party services. (Do your research to make sure you do this securely!)

Disadvantages of NAS:

  • Cost: NAS devices can be more expensive than DAS devices if you want more performance since you might need to upgrade your network infrastructure.
  • Performance: NAS devices can be slower than DAS devices in some configurations.
  • Security: NAS devices can be a security risk if they are not properly configured.

So what do you choose?
Ultimately, I think a combination of the two can be the solution that works best for many. But ask yourself these questions to help guide you.

  • - Do you work on large projects frequently and need to have several of them ready to work on quickly?
  • - Do you need to have access to a large archive of images or videos from time to time?
  • - Do you want to be able to access your data while traveling?
  • - Would you rather not rely on 3rd party services for sharing files?
  • - Do you need to backup many computers?
  • - Do you work with a team that needs to have access to the same files?
  • - Do you just want a simple storage or backup of your data?
  • - Do you want to not have all your data spread over various portable drives and just want to consolidate it to one place?
  • - Would you like to backup your data to your home/office while traveling?

Ultimately, you need to consider what attributes are best for your needs and build out a system to fit. That might just be a super fast option like the 
OWC Express 4M2 with 8TB m.2 drives inside and nothing else. It could also be a large rack mount server from 45Drives with 100+TB of storage and power run VMs and transcoding video projects. Often people are just fine with a multi-bay DAS setup but as their needs grow and change it evolves into a combination of the two.

I personally like to think of DAS as a solution for shorter term storage of current projects where smaller capacity and faster read/write are more common. Once a project is delivered it can be moved to the NAS for longer term storage and access remotely. I’d rather have it there and accessible and not rely on my desktop computer to be the middleman or stick it on a drive that lives in the closet.
I do have a high performance NAS with 10GbE so I can easily work directly from it. Having remote access to files and my home/office networks opens lots of flexibility in how I work and share files.

What about the drives?

I think some people spend too much time on this subject worrying about failure rates. BackBlaze has tons of data on this. All drives will die at some point. That’s why having redundancy and proper 3-2-1 backup of your data is important.
Just focus on drives that are designed for the use case. For HDD that will be in a DAS go for drives focused on performance like the 
WD Black series or Toshiba X series. For NAS get drives designed for use with NAS like WD Red series or the Toshiba N series. I've used all the brands over the years and never had an horror stories with any particular one causing trouble.

For SSDs you can never go wrong with 
Samsung or Sabrent

What do I have?
I rely on both NAS and DAS. I’ve changed things many times over the years but this is what I’ve currently got. For DAS, alongside my desktop computer I have a 
Sabrent 4 bay DS-SC4B that operates JBOD. It’s nothing fancy. It allows me to power on/off the bays individually and swap out drives as needed. The interface is 10gbps USB-C and allows for full speed read/write of the 7200RPM drives inside so around 100-150MB/s It can also accept 2.5” SSDs and provide ~500MB/s on those. For my needs a RAID wasn’t unnecessary for performance or redundancy. It’s the right combination of flexibility, speed and capacity for me. I also have a few 2TB NVMe drives in Thunderbolt enclosures when needed.




As I mentioned earlier, I have a custom NAS that I built for my needs.

NAS specs:

The NAS isn’t just a place for my data it runs the following applications:

  • - Nextcloud - Similar to Google Drive with file sharing and auto backup phone. Can replace Dropbox/Google Drive or iCloud
  • - Filerun - File Sharing and personal cloud
  • - FileBrowser - NAS file management and file sharing
  • - Resilio Sync - Sync folders from one location to another via P2P
  • - Syncthing -  Sync folders/files across many locations.
  • - Wireguard - VPN to access home/office network and devices
  • - Tail Scale - Tunnel to access home/office network and devices when on public networks
  • - PhotoPrism - Google photos alternative
  • - Plex - Media server
  • - Jellyfin - Media server
  • - MacOS VM  to test applications without affecting my working computers.


Hopefully you’ve got a better understanding of what your options are and can take steps to simplify and secure your data better moving forward. Consider what attributes are best for your needs and budget and use this as a starting point for your research.
You might benefit most from a DAS and not see a need for a NAS. But, If you're looking for a simple and easy-to-use NAS solution, an all-in-one NAS box might be the way to go. However, if you want more control and flexibility, building your own NAS might be a better option. They can all scale just know the growing pains that might accompany the configuration.



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