Go Beyond External Hard Drives with Network-Attached Storage

If you’ve filled up your external hard drives or become frustrated by their limitations, it’s time to look into a network-attached storage (NAS) device. What’s a NAS? It’s an intelligent storage device that can accept one or more hard drives or SSDs and connects to your network via Ethernet.

NAS Benefits

A NAS is a good choice for anyone who needs access to lots of storage, but small businesses will particularly appreciate the benefits of a NAS. They include:

  • More storage: Most NAS devices provide multiple drive bays, so you can pop in a few large hard drives or even attach expansion units for a vast amount of available storage.
  • Expandable storage: A NAS is perfect if you anticipate your storage needs growing over time. You could start with 3 TB drives today and swap them out for 6 TB drives in a year or two.
  • Data protection: Drives fail, but some NAS devices can ensure that you don’t lose data if that happens by combining multiple drives into RAID arrays.
  • Network backups: Because a NAS is always available on your network and provides lots of storage, it can work well for on-site backups.
  • Laptop access: It’s fussy for mobile users to attach external hard drives to laptop Macs. An always-available NAS eliminates that annoyance.
  • Remote access and cloud storage: You can usually configure your NAS so it’s available over the Internet from outside your network. That means it can work like a private version of Dropbox that’s entirely within your control and has no monthly fees.
  • Streaming media: Home users with massive movie libraries can take advantage of NAS features that make it easy to stream video to computers, TVs, tablets, and smartphones.

NAS Features

Quite a few manufacturers make NAS devices, including WD, QNAP, Drobo, and my personal favorite: Synology. Prices vary widely depending on the feature set. Things to consider include: We are a Synology Authorized Partner and can help you with all of your Network Attached Storage needs from the basic to the most complex.

  • Number of drive bays: The most important decision to make when choosing a NAS is the number of drive bays. It may be tempting to start with a less-expensive two-bay model, but particularly if you want to use RAID to protect your data, that limits your storage significantly.
  • RAID support: RAID works well for preventing data loss if a drive dies. RAID 1 constantly mirrors the data from one drive to another so if one fails, all the data is on the other. RAID 5 uses data striping techniques with at least three drives to preserve data even if one drive fails. Proprietary technologies may be more flexible in terms of the number and size of the required drives. Synology’s RAID Calculator is helpful for figuring out how much space you get with different collections of drives.
  • Ethernet speed and ports: Most NAS devices have Gigabit Ethernet, but you can pay more to get 10 Gigabit Ethernet. That’s helpful only if you have an iMac Pro or a Thunderbolt 3 adapter. Also, some NAS devices have a feature called link aggregation that uses multiple Ethernet ports and an LACP-enabled Ethernet switch to balance traffic across ports for higher performance in multi-user setups.
  • Hardware encryption: For additional security, some NAS devices offer hardware encryption. It requires more CPU power but ensures that a stolen NAS won’t reveal your data.
  • Hardware transcoding: Those who host media libraries on a NAS may find this feature useful. It automatically converts high-resolution video files to versions that are optimized for the destination—there’s no reason to send 4K video to a 1080p TV.
  • CPU and RAM: Since a NAS is a full-fledged computer, it has a CPU and needs RAM to accomplish its tasks. If all you’re doing is serving files, the CPU doesn’t matter much, but for hardware encryption and transcoding, a faster CPU will be helpful. Similarly, those functions, or support for lots of users, may benefit from more RAM, so look for a NAS whose RAM is expandable.
  • Physical factors: Since a NAS runs all the time, pay attention to how much power it draws and how much noise it makes. In general, the less of each, the better.

Use NAS-specific Drives

One final piece of advice. It’s tempting to use old drives you have around, but doing so may be problematic for a few reasons:

  • Combining drives of different capacities can result in unusable disk space in some RAID configurations.
  • The likelihood of failure is higher with older drives, and even if a RAID prevents data loss, dealing with a dead drive is still stressful.
  • NAS-specific drives, as opposed to garden-variety drives, sport features designed to minimize data corruption, minimize vibration, and adjust rotation speeds for longer life.

Instead, look for NAS-specific drives, such as those in the WD Red and Seagate IronWolf lines.

Honestly, while a NAS is a great investment and effective addition to your technical infrastructure, picking the right one is a complex decision. If you need help, get in touch with us to see what we recommend for your specific situation.

(Featured image by Alex Cheung on Unsplash)

Stop Mailing Files Around and Use Collaborative Apps

Have you ever emailed a document to several colleagues for feedback, and then had to go through each of their changes in turn, merging everything into your master document? What if one of them needs to see the changes that another suggested? Plus, what if you need to make substantial changes after you’ve sent the document out for review, but before you’ve heard back from everyone?

If you’re still doing this document dance, it’s time to quickstep into the modern world and try the real-time collaboration features that are built into many apps, including Apple’s iWork apps (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote), the Microsoft Office 365 suite (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint), and Google’s online app suite (Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides).

Let’s look at why real-time collaboration is the most efficient and productive solution for working with colleagues.

One Document to Rule Them All

In the old model of collaboration, where you gave each person their own copy of the document, you had to bring their changes and comments back into your master copy. That’s clumsy, time-consuming, and error-prone, even when the apps in question have features for merging.

With modern collaboration systems, there is only one document that everyone works on, so there’s no need to keep track of different copies or merge changes. Plus, you never have to worry about someone’s copy getting corrupted or lost.

Work Simultaneously or Sequentially

In many collaborative scenarios, the people with whom you’re working need to be aware of what the others are doing. Theoretically, you could send your document to one person, get it back, send to the next, get it back, and so on. That way each person sees the changes and comments from those who have gone before, but it takes a lot of time and coordination effort.

But in a real-time collaboration system with a single document, everyone can work at the same time. That’s not to say they will, but even after Alice has taken her primary pass and Bob and Carmen have added more changes and comments, Alice can dip in again to see and react to what they did, assuming they had track changes enabled. It’s a much faster way to resolve differing opinions on a document’s wording or a slide’s appearance.

Some collaboration systems also feature a revision history, which lets you go back in time and see what each person has done at different points. That can be helpful if the app wasn’t set to track changes when a collaborator made some edits.

Have In-Document Conversations

“Collaboration” generally takes two forms: changing information in the document and commenting on it. For instance, if you’re collaborating on a budget spreadsheet with colleagues, each person can add or update the information about annual expenses for their department, saving you the trouble of collecting and entering that information. And if someone makes a mistake, it’s easy for another person to correct it. Collaboration systems generally identify the person who makes each change, so Alice knows that Bob added his department’s expenses and Carmen updated all the dates to the current year.

Equally useful are comments, which you can generally attach to one or more words on a document or presentation, or a cell in a spreadsheet. Also, in many systems, a change or comment can be the start of a conversation much like in Messages, where each person gets to weigh in and the conversation stays tied to that change or comment.

Invite Multiple Types of Collaborators

A key feature of most collaboration systems is that people can take on different roles. There are generally three levels of access—view, comment, and edit—and you can invite any given person to a particular role. So you might ask Alice to proofread your document and give her edit access, while you ask Bob and Carmen merely to add comments. And if you need to show the document to Deepak (but you don’t want to let him even comment), you could invite him with just view permissions.

There’s one implicit role here—you as the document’s owner. Someone with edit access can generally make the same changes you can, but it’s always best to have one person who’s in charge of accepting or rejecting changes and resolving differences. That person might even change occasionally, but you should always make clear what you expect others to do at what point. For instance, if you’re an author collaborating with an editor, you should deal with your editor’s changes, and your editor should accept your subsequent edits.

You’re probably already using apps that can be used for real-time collaboration, so if you’d like help figuring out the best way to get started, get in touch.

What’s New in macOS 10.13 High Sierra and Its Main Apps

Although Apple’s eye-catching Desktop image of the High Sierra mountains makes it easy to confirm that your Mac is running High Sierra, the most noteworthy new features are invisible! These changes are aimed at improving your Mac’s performance. But, don’t worry that there’s nothing new in High Sierra to play with—you’ll find plenty to do in Apple’s apps, and we’ll share our favorite features below.

Apple’s invisible, under-the-hood changes modernize the Mac. The new APFS file system significantly improves how data is stored on your disk. It replaces the HFS+ file system, which dates from the previous century. You’ll notice the switch to APFS when you look up the size of a selected folder or duplicate a large file because the operation should run much more quickly. APFS also provides better FileVault encryption and reduces the chance of file corruption.

Also new is HEVC, a new video compression standard that will let videos stream better and take up less space on your drive, and HEIF, an image format that boasts significantly better compression to keep photos from overwhelming your drive. HEVC and HEIF have other advantages too, but they’re so embedded into High Sierra (and iOS 11) that all you’ll notice is more space. When you drag images and videos out of Photos, they’ll come out in familiar formats suitable for sharing.

Photos 3

In Photos, it’s now easier to browse your photos from the always-on sidebar on the left side of the window. Photo editing is also more streamlined, with the Edit screen now separated into three tabs: Adjust, Filters, and Crop.

You can now edit Live Photos! Look at the bottom of the Adjust tab for controls for picking any frame as the static “key” frame, trimming the video, and applying special effects. The most interesting effect blurs the Live Photo by turning the 3-second mini-movie into a single long exposure.

Those who are into tweaking photos by hand should check out the new Curves and Selective Color options on the Adjust tab. Or, if you’d prefer that your Mac do the heavy lifting, try the new filters on the Filters tab.

Our favorite new feature is more of a fix—when you train Photos to match faces with names, that training will now sync through iCloud Photo Library to your other Apple devices. About time!

Finally, for serious photographers, Apple has at long last brought back round-trip editing of a photo in an external app, like Pixelmator or Photoshop.

Safari 11

A new Websites tab in Safari’s preferences lets you specify Web sites that should always open in Safari’s clutter-reducing Reader View, blocks some ads and auto-play videos, lets you set the zoom level on a per-site basis, and more. We like to tweak these options for the current Web page by choosing Safari > Settings for This Website to open a popover with the necessary controls.

And in the “Thank you, Apple!” category, Safari now offers Intelligent Tracking Protection (ITP), which limits advertisers’ cross-site tracking of where you’ve been online.

Notes 4.5

Notes now offers a capable Table feature and a handy File > Pin Note command that puts the selected note at the top of its list rather than listing it by order last edited. Neither feature is earth shattering, but we’re enjoying both already.

Mail 11

Behind the scenes, Mail gets a welcome change you probably won’t notice—according to Apple, message storage now takes 35% less space.

More obvious is how Mail revamped its behavior in full-screen view. Instead of the message-composition area overlapping most of the Mail window, the screen splits, and your new message appears at the right. This layout simplifies viewing an older message while drafting a new one.

FaceTime 4

A fun new FaceTime option is taking a Live Photo of your call. It’s a perfect way to record mini-movies of far-away relatives. If the person you’re chatting with allows Live Photos in FaceTime’s preferences, hover over the FaceTime window to see and then click the round Shutter button.

Spotlight

Spotlight isn’t exactly an app, but it lets you search for anything on or off your Mac. Click the magnifying glass icon at the right of your menu bar—or press Command-Space bar—to start, and then enter your search terms. New in High Sierra, you can enter an airline flight number to see oodles of flight-related info.

High Sierra won’t radically change how you use your Mac, but we’re in favor of anything that makes our Macs run faster and keeps our drives from filling up so fast. Should you upgrade? Yes. When? That’s another story.

Why iOS 11 Is the Most Important Version Yet for iPad Users

Apple has long argued that you can use the iPad for productivity but hasn’t backed that claim up with the necessary features in iOS. Until now, that is, with the new iPad-centric capabilities of iOS 11. These changes mean that an iPad running iOS 11 is more like a Mac, and that’s a good thing for those who want to do real work with their iPads.

Dock and Multitasking

The new iOS 11 Dock is easy to find at the bottom of the Home screen, just like before. But it’s better and more Mac-like than before—the left side shows apps or folders you’ve placed there by dragging them on (no need to touch and hold until icons shake anymore!) while the right side helps you get around more quickly by displaying recently used apps and any Handoff apps from your other Apple devices.

Most importantly, you can now view the Dock within any app, without the contextual shift of returning to the Home screen as in previous iOS versions. Just swipe up slightly from the bottom of the screen in any app, and the Dock appears so you can switch apps with a single tap right away.

Or—this is fabulous!—drag the app where you want to go up from the Dock to open it in Slide Over or Split View. Now you can work back and forth between two apps at once on the same screen.

Control Center and App Switcher

Switching apps with the Dock like you do on the Mac is easy, but when you invoke the App Switcher by swiping up to see the Dock and then continuing to swipe up (or by double-pressing the Home button or swiping up with four fingers), it now shows large thumbnails of the four most recent apps (or Slide Over or Split View screens) and the new Control Center. Tap one to switch to it.

Remember that you can customize the buttons that appear in Control Center—visit Settings > Control Center > Customize to make it look the way you want.

Drag and Drop

With iOS 11, Apple finally brought drag and drop to the iPad! Touch and move text, graphics, or files between apps—you can even pick up an item with a finger and use your other hand to reveal the Dock and switch to your destination app before dropping the data.

Use this maneuver in situations where you would previously have used copy and paste or the awkward Share sheet—or just given up! Practice a few times to accustom yourself to the two-handed process.

Files

Just like the Mac, the iPad now provides a single place to browse and open all your files, and you can open a file with a single tap. All this goodness happens in the new Files app, which replaces the iCloud Drive app with a broader view of your files, providing access not just to iCloud Drive, but also to files on your device and in other cloud sharing services like Dropbox and Google Drive. (To add a sharing service whose app you’ve installed, tap Edit in the left-hand Browse panel).

Keyboard Flick

On iPads other than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, iOS 11 simplifies typing on the virtual keyboard. You can now type numbers and many punctuation characters by swiping down on the appropriate key, rather than switching keyboards. Swipe down to see the key turn gray and show only the desired number or character, and then lift your finger.

Apple Pencil

In iOS 11, the iPad Pro’s Apple Pencil becomes even more useful. Want to start a note? Just tap the Lock screen and start writing. Want to search your handwritten notes? Pull down on the Notes list to type your query, and Notes will find handwritten terms.

A new scanning feature in Notes makes it easy to bring a paper document into the iPad, where you can sign it with the Apple Pencil and send it on its way. We also like the new Instant Markup feature that lets you write on a PDF or screenshot easily—tap the Pencil icon at the upper right of the screen to start writing and to access the controls for color and tip below.

With iOS 11, Apple has finally acknowledged that the iPad needs its own features to be a productivity machine—it’s not just an iPhone with a larger screen. With a little practice, you can be using an iPad, particularly an iPad Pro, for all sorts of serious tasks like email, word processing, Web research, and more.