With all the different hosting possibilities, it’s tempting to start thinking about setting up your own web server. Then you are confronted with choices: Cloud, SAN, VPN, or VPS? Which service package do you want and how much do you want to pay for it? Do you need two email addresses or twenty? FTP only or full web access? With all these options, it’s not strange if you start wondering whether it wouldn’t be just as easy to use your own network attached storage (NAS) as a web server.
The main difference between NAS and other servers is that an NAS device is specifically meant for storage, and all parts are chosen to support this: extensive hard drive space, a light, often Linux-based operation system, and no redundant hardware or software. So what makes a server a web server? Basically, a web server allows other computers to connect with its IP address through its port 80, and sends the requested information to their browsers. Some NAS systems have built in web servers or FTP access; others simply function as an extra drive.
The main benefit of opening your NAS up to the internet is that you can access its content from anywhere in the world, rather than hosting websites for other users. However, standard FTP ports are easily hacked, and strong passwords are an absolute necessity. If you do want to allow external parties to access your content, it is possible to set an NAS system up as a server like any other computer: you’ll need a DNS service that refers the web address to your IP address, and the firewalls on your server have to allow access to port 80. The extensive storage functionalities of NAS make them especially useful for database-driven websites. They will work fine for basic, static websites, but for dynamic content, an additional web server, running software like Apache, is required.
Other things to consider are the use of electricity, possible downtime, and back-ups. Websites have to be up 24/7, which means that your web server has to be turned on all the time, consuming a lot of power. If something does happen to your NAS – a software crash, a fire, or just a carelessly spilled cup of coffee, you’ll want to make sure that you have all your data backed up, so you can have your website up again as soon as possible. Of course, this is not exclusive to web servers. Back-ups are always important!
If you really want to go through the effort of hosting your website yourself, you may as well set up an extra server between your NAS and the internet to serve the HTTP requests. NAS systems lack the security and performance required of web servers, and can better be used for their main purpose: storing data.