NAS servers have become increasingly popular as they provide the means to create a personal cloud storage solution at home, eliminating the need for paid third-party services. These devices offer more than just centralized backups for our computers and organization of files and folders; they also open up possibilities such as virtualizing entire operating systems. Today, we will explore five lesser-known uses for NAS servers, highlighting the ability to install various applications that can maximize the hardware’s potential.
Many users opt for NAS servers from well-known brands like QNAP, Synology, or ASUSTOR, which offer straightforward setup options for creating a private cloud within minutes. However, there are also advanced users who prefer to build their own servers using dedicated hardware, installing operating systems like TrueNAS or UnRAID specifically designed for NAS usage. In such cases, leveraging Docker-based applications provides limitless opportunities to expand functionality beyond what the default software offers.
Unknown uses of a NAS
While NAS servers are primarily designed for network storage and backup purposes, they offer much more functionality when we consider the applications available through official manufacturer app stores. These applications allow us to maximize the hardware’s capabilities. In the following sections, we will explore five lesser-known uses that you may not be aware of but can be achieved with NAS servers.
Integrated web browser
One notable feature of QNAP NAS servers, as well as other devices that support web browsing, is the ability to access the Internet and local network resources directly from the server. Why would you want to do this instead of using your own PC for web browsing? The answer is simple: if there are specific services within your local network that you prefer not to expose to the external network, whether on the server itself or any other computer, you can remotely connect to the NAS server and utilize its built-in web browser. This allows you to access these locally available services securely.
Let’s consider a scenario where the NAS server is located in a company environment with multiple web services for management. In addition to using the NAS for backups, you can conveniently utilize its web browser to access these internal web services from outside the network. This eliminates the need for VPN servers or complex router configurations involving static routes to reach different destinations within the VPN network.
Download all Google Photos automatically
The Google Photos service offers free storage up to 15GB, but if you have a large collection of photos, this capacity can be quickly exhausted. To save more photos, you would need to subscribe to Google One, which offers storage plans ranging from 100GB to higher capacities. However, many NAS manufacturers provide applications that allow you to download all your Google Photos and store them locally on your computer.
Manually downloading all your Google Photos can be done directly from Google’s interface, and then you can use applications like Synology Photos or QuMagie from QNAP to organize the downloaded photos into albums. Alternatively, you have the option of automating the download process. QNAP offers the MARS application, which can automatically download your Google Photos while preserving the existing album structure. With this setup, you can continue synchronizing your photos from your smartphone to Google Photos, and the NAS server will handle the automatic downloading and storage of those photos.
Set up a private chat server
Mattermost is a free and open source software that provides a wide range of features including text chats, file sharing, and more. It offers an excellent alternative for small and medium-sized companies that currently rely on Slack for communication. With Mattermost, you can enjoy unrestricted file sharing, extensive chat history storage, and highly customizable settings to meet your specific needs.
The user interface of Mattermost is designed to resemble Slack, ensuring a seamless transition for users without the need for significant adaptation. If you’re seeking a self-hosted messaging platform that delivers exceptional performance, Mattermost is definitely worth exploring.
Email client for local backup
If you wish to create a backup of all your emails on the NAS, there are convenient tools available that facilitate the connection with services like Gmail, Outlook, or others, enabling you to download a copy of each email onto the server. This ensures that you have a local backup in case you need to access them later and allows for the removal of emails with large attachments. QNAP offers QmailAgent as a solution that fulfills this purpose effectively.
Moreover, you have the option to configure a mail server directly on your NAS, allowing you to send and receive emails independently of popular providers such as Gmail, Outlook, or Yahoo! Synology offers MailPlus Server, a comprehensive and user-friendly software that simplifies the setup process. With MailPlus Server, you can establish a local mail server, eliminating the need for reliance on third-party services.
Video surveillance with AI analytics
NVR devices, designed specifically for video surveillance tasks, are competitors to NAS servers. However, modern NAS servers equipped with video surveillance software offer a more comprehensive solution compared to NVRs that solely perform surveillance functions. The options and capabilities may vary depending on the manufacturer and software chosen, but recently, AI-powered applications have emerged that enable facial detection, allowing users to receive alerts when someone appears on the screen.
Synology’s Surveillance Station software is a robust solution that enables monitoring of multiple camera feeds simultaneously. It also incorporates video analysis features to enhance perimeter security and more. On the other hand, QNAP provides QVR Elite as its primary software for video surveillance, accompanied by various AI-focused applications for specific tasks. These include QVR DoorAccess, QVR Face, QVR Human, and even QVR Smart Search, which facilitates searching for specific events within recorded videos.
Your local home automation center
Many of us have various smart devices in our homes, such as plugs, WiFi relays, motion sensors, door/window sensors, and temperature/humidity sensors, among others. Normally, each of these devices requires its own dedicated application. However, there is a solution that allows you to integrate and manage all these devices centrally without the need for multiple apps on your smartphone: Home Assistant.
Home Assistant is a comprehensive software that enables the integration of smart devices, whether they are connected locally or through the Cloud. By installing Home Assistant on your NAS server, you can achieve centralized management and control of all your smart devices. You have two installation options: using the native NAS applications for full operating system virtualization, or utilizing Docker if you prefer to save system resources.
In our opinion, the best approach is to leverage full operating system virtualization, as it provides features like snapshots that allow you to easily revert to previous states or restore your own backups of Home Assistant.
If you have solar panels installed in your home, using Home Assistant becomes even more essential as it can help you save a significant amount of money. With a centralized home automation system, you can create advanced automations based on solar production. For example, you can automatically turn on the air conditioning (in cooling or heating mode) or activate a water heater based on the solar energy being generated at any given time. Devices like the Shelly EM can be used to measure the electrical current from both the grid and the inverter, enabling you to achieve a self-consumption level of around 85%, which is much higher than the typical 40% achieved with standard solar installations.