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Can an External Hard Drive Be Used as a Server?
The answer to whether to use an external hard drive file server is most commonly answered no. While some give a “maybe” response to using an external hard drive file server, most experts recommend more effective and efficient alternatives.
An external hard drive file server alternative often referenced is NAS (network-attached storage) with an Ethernet port to connect directly to one of the Ethernet ports on an Internet Gateway. NAS is a preferred alternative to making an external hard drive file server because it comes prefabricated with a processor, RAM, storage, and sharing operating system software built into firmware (e.g., Flash Memory). Rather than connecting to a PC or network device to create a functional external hard drive file server, NAS works out of the box.
External Hard Drive vs. Cloud Storage
Cloud storage vs. an external hard drive file server is hardly a fair comparison. However, given that many people insist on using an external hard drive file server, the following is an overview of how the two storage options compare.
External Hard Drive File Server vs. Cloud Storage: Cost of Ownership
Attempts to save money using an external hard drive file server rather than cloud storage do not go as expected. While an external hard drive file server seems like a good deal, because it often uses equipment that is already in an office, the hidden costs override any savings. When it inevitably fails, the amount of time spent managing an external hard drive file server and attempting to recover lost files exceeds the time and cost of using reliable, managed cloud storage.
External Hard Drive File Server vs. Cloud Storage For Scalability
The only way to scale an external hard drive file server is to buy a disk with more capacity. Conversely, cloud file storage can be easily scaled on demand.
External Hard Drive File Server vs. Cloud Storage For Security
Security is a major concern with an external hard drive file server, as the users are responsible for the drive’s safety and security and the data it stores. In addition to the physical vulnerability of an external hard drive file server, most of these devices only support basic encryption. In comparison, cloud storage providers offer users multi-layer encryption (e.g., AES 128-bit or 256-bit encryption, TLS protocol, multi-factor authentication (MFA), personal encryption key, zero-knowledge encryption, end-to-end encryption). In addition, they offer robust backups and disaster recovery options to ensure the availability of data even in the event of an attack, hardware failure, or a natural disaster.
External Hard Drive File Server Vs. Cloud Storage For Sync And Sharing
With an external hard drive file server, rudimentary copy-and-paste functions are used to sync or share files. This is tedious, time-consuming, and unreliable as it is susceptible to human error. While it is possible to use file sync software to automate this process, the systems must always be connected. A major advantage of cloud storage over an external hard drive file server is that it keeps files synced automatically when users access or use files. Cloud storage providers have robust sync and share tools that make it easy to share files and keep track of the latest versions.
External Hard Drive File Server Vs. Cloud Storage For Universal Access
An external hard drive file server can only back up and provide access to data on the device that it is connected to, unlike cloud storage which supports access and backups from any internet-connected device. Just log in to the cloud storage account from a web browser for access to files from anywhere at any time. With an external hard drive file server, the device must be connected to the computer, which has to be connected to the hard drive, which is cumbersome at best for accessing files when out of the office.
8 Alternative Uses of External Hard Drives and NAS Drives
1. Backup and recovery can be supported and managed with a NAS drive or an external hard drive file server.
2. Media streaming can be enabled with a NAS drive or external hard drive file server.
3. RAID implementations can be handled with a NAS or an external hard drive file server.
4. Scratch disk needs can be fulfilled using an external hard drive file server or a NAS drive.
5. Security systems can be supported with a NAS drive or an external hard drive file server.
6. Self-hosted cloud storage can be done using an external hard drive file server or NAS drive.
7. Torrents can be managed using a NAS drive or an external hard drive file server to torrent files without a computer.
8. Virtual machines can be hosted with an external hard drive file server or NAS drive.
Should You Partition Your Hard Drive? The Pros and Cons
Like most technology decisions, partitioning a hard drive has pros and cons and many conflicting opinions. The decision to take a logical section of a hard drive and have it dedicated to serving a unique purpose is usually attributed to storage optimization. With hard drive partitioning, each section is assigned a unique name (e.g., D or E in addition to the standard C drive) and has an associated predefined file system (e.g., NTFS, FAT).
Pros of hard disk partitioning
- Enhanced data protection by using a strict security protocol, data encryption, and an additional firewall on the partition with sensitive information
- Ability to install multiple file systems making it easier to work with different types of programs and files
- Dual booting can be enabled with partitioning by allowing two operating systems to be installed on a single device
- Easier backup with the option to choose which partition needs backing up rather than doing a backup of all data
- Improved data organization with data of different types partitioned (e.g., images separated from documents)
Cons of hard drive partitioning
- False sense of data resilience if backups are done to different partitions, but on the same drive, as all files will be inaccessible if the drive fails or is damaged.
- Overkill for the average user as the time and complexity of partitioning drives compared to the negligible benefits for most users.
- Wasted storage space becomes a problem when unused portioned space is left, because shrinking partitions is inconvenient.
Limited Value for External Hard Drive File Server
Where there’s a will, there’s a way, but that does not mean using an external hard drive file server makes the most sense. While an external hard drive file server can be set up, it has very limited capabilities because an external hard drive has no processor. In addition, most external hard drives do not have a meaningful amount of RAM. With the rich alternatives available with cloud file storage solutions, most experts recommend skipping an external hard drive file server and taking a cloud-based approach.
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Last Updated: 16th August, 2023