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For a small law practice doing its own IT, a network attached storage (NAS) device can be the most useful tool in the office. Here’s a common scenario: Five partners share a practice, each with personnel working under him or her, all of whom share an office computer network. There are 10 computers for eight employees, plus the partners’ machines. Each user consumes about 10 GB of data—mostly Outlook .pst files, Word .docs, and PDFs. Data is scattered across the network on the local machines; some are backed up, others aren’t. Outlook is handled by an Internet service provider. Attorneys and support staff use flash drives to move files from one device to another.

Law offices like these are tricky situations for a conscientious IT administrator. Lawyers are sensitive about client data, so words like “network” and “server” might set off alarms. Or, attorneys may simply be unaware of ways to share networked resources in a secure manner. But whether they know it or not, their office suffers from inefficient use of technology, and is at risk of catastrophic data loss due to theft, hardware failure, fire, or flood.

NAS facilitates backup and guards against hardware failure

“We typically see corners cut in the areas of redundancy and disaster recovery, either as part of a conscious decision to cut costs, or simply because the person making the decisions didn’t know better,” says Dennis Dimka, Managing Director of Uptime Systems, a software and consultation company that caters to the legal community.

For practices looking to keep their IT in house, a network attached storage system, or NAS, should be the centerpiece of its infrastructure—but sometimes it’s a difficult message to get across to someone making purchasing decisions who may not be tech savvy. “It’s a hard sell telling users they should be backing up their data, but it’s a reality they all have to face,” says David Chen, product manager of backup and storage devices with NeweggBusiness. “When we tell them it’s cheap and it grows with your business, they become more interested.”

With a NAS, a law office can put their data resources into one secure place, assign user access rules, and add authentication measures as needed. A NAS allows for easy, automated backup, and offer configurable redundancy features (called RAID, a method of data storage that combines multiple disk drives that prevents data loss) that ensure data will be secure and accessible whenever needed.

Instant private cloud that is secure inside and outside the network

Perhaps the best feature about newer models of NAS is that deployment essentially sets up private cloud in a law practice. A router can be configured so that data in a NAS is accessible from anywhere with an Internet connection, though you will want to take advantage of the firewall features in the router or switch with which the NAS is networked to ensure security.

In terms of security within the office network, NAS devices support Microsoft Active Directory, which means that administrators are able to secure folders and files behind password protection, and can be managed by Windows Server security tools if that type of infrastructure is in place. In addition to traditional on-premise security controls, most NAS models will have AES 256-bit key encryption, the same standard the U.S. government uses to safeguard the transfer of sensitive information.

A few NAS purchasing considerations

“For most SMB customers desktop NAS models are fine,” Chen says. ”They’re generally affordable enough for the budget of a company that’s under 50 seats.” Once a company gets above 50 seats, Chen recommends looking at 1U rackmount NAS units.

For a small practice looking at a starter NAS models, Chen offers a couple of suggestions with built-in scalability features. The Western Digital Cloud EX4 series offers anywhere access, and works right out of the box, which helps cut down on IT costs. The Sentinel Series represents the next level up. It is also plug-and-play, can also act as a server with Windows and Mac OS support, and boasts enterprise-class drives and hardware—which shouldn’t be a big concern an SMB law practice, but is a feature buyers like nonetheless. “Currently in hardware, everyone is trying to get to Celeron CPUs, whereas in the past everyone was using either Marvell based CPUs or Intel Atoms,” Chen says.

Chen also says—and our reviews confirm this—users like the user interface on Synology NAS models. The single-point management features of these devices are popular among business IT, and the OS is also touchscreen compatible, another well-liked feature. “It’s just very well put together and their quality has been hard to beat,” adds Chen. “It’s funny because most NAS manufacturers offer the same thing, but there is something about Synology’s fit and finish that people really like.”

For a NAS with added authentication features a law practice might find useful, Chen says to look at the QNAP TS-470, which offers extra security for HIPAA-compliant support at an SMB price point. This healthcare information privacy standard helps lawyers rest assured the confidentiality of their client data is secure to a high professional standard.

Hopefully this provides a good starting point for adding a NAS into a law office network. When it comes to facilitating day-to-day data backup, storage, and retrieval, a network attached storage device can be an attorney’s best friend.

Photo by Thiemo Schuff, taken from WikiCommons
Adam Lovinus

Author Adam Lovinus

A tech writer and Raspberry Pi enthusiast from Orange County, California.

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