10 Awesome (Non-Storage) Uses For A NAS

A NAS (network attached storage) isn’t JUST for saving and accessing files. A good NAS can actually support a lot more – from hosting websites to being a digital document management system.

I personally use my NAS as a CCTV surveillance station, controlling and capturing footage from my four Power over Ethernet cameras.

This video covers ten awesome uses for a NAS, beyond it being a simple ‘files on, files off’ box:

The ten methods I discuss are:

  • #1: Gaming Server
  • #2: CCTV Surveillance
  • #3: Network Ad Blocker
  • #4: VMs/Docker
  • #5: Web Hosting
  • #6: VPN
  • #7: Home Automation
  • #8: Cloud Photo Sharing
  • #9: Media Server
  • #10: Digital Document Store

If you prefer text over video, please read on for the guide/transcript version of this video.

Video Transcript And Guide

Hey everyone, if you’ve invested in a NAS but then been too busy to explore its full potential, you might be missing out a LOT. That’s because a “proper” NAS from a company like QNAP or Synology doesn’t JUST allow you to easily manage your files.

Screenshot from the Synology webpage
Screenshot from the Synology webpage

In this video I cover TEN other pretty cool things you can use your NAS for. These make for GREAT talking points when you’re on a date, too. Kidding. By the way, if you see me point over there ALL THE TIME when I say “NAS”, it’s because my Synology NAS lives down there. So I’m not pointing at some random area of my house like a madman.

Gaming Server

Anywhoo, the first use for a NAS is as a local gaming server. While this is sort of possible with Synology, QNAP actually lists this as a specific selling point for some of their more powerful models. Their initial suggestion is that you can store all your Steam games (for example) within the NAS, then mount these as folders on your PC for use as your Steam library install location. This COULD work fairly well, although naturally you would only really want to do this with their 2.5 Gig Ethernet models and also using SSDs, otherwise games wouldn’t be streamed fast enough to your computers. You can actually kick this up a notch though because some QNAP models support GPU passthrough, meaning that you could – in theory – install a PCIexpress GPU and then render the games directly from the NAS, streaming the output to your PCs.

QNAP discussing GPU passthrough support
QNAP discussing GPU passthrough support

This CAN work and I know a few people who do this, but it does require LOTS of tinkering so at this point building a specific gaming PC might just be easier – and cheaper.

CCTV Surveillance

The second thing is to turn your NAS into a CCTV surveillance center. This is actually what I do. Many Synology NASes come with a free “two camera license” for the Synology Surveillance Station, meaning that you can install and power up to two cameras for free – before you then need to pay.

Installing two PoE Annke cameras
Installing two PoE Annke cameras

I’ll cover this point more in a second, but the way the Surveillance Station works is that you install your cameras as normal, but instead of downloading loads of different apps to manage all your different cameras, you can instead add them to the Surveillance Station control panel. You can THEN use Synology to control and configure them, and Synology will take care of everything from the recording resolution and FPS to the recording frequency. I currently have four power over Ethernet cameras installed around my property, and Synology records footage from them 24/7 and stores this directly on my NAS. I can then access the recordings on my PC, on my phone through Synology’s own app, or I can access the direct MP4 recordings via a file browser as you’d expect. Synology’s Surveillance Station also supports more advanced features like facial recognition too, which is COOL. The only downside is cost: once you’ve used up your free license, you’ll often have to pay around £40 per camera to add more:

Synology website discussing the license packs
Synology website discussing the license packs

This IS a one-time fee though, so you can see it as an investment – and it works out cheaper in the long run than many “smart cloud camera” providers that charge you a recurring yearly fee to store quick 20 second clips. I’m really happy with my own PoE CCTV set-up.

Network Ad Blocker

The third cool thing you can do with a NAS is to turn it into an advert blocker for all devices on your network. In other words, all adverts will be MAGICALLY blocked throughout your entire house. To do this, you can use a program like AdGuard or PiHole. This is installed within a Docker container on your Synology NAS (for example). Once you’ve installed one of these services, you can configure it and it will then be “available” as a network-wide ad blocker. But at this point, the service is just running inside your NAS but all your devices – your phones and PCs – are still routing “straight” to the internet. So you THEN need to go into your router, and adjust it so that the DNS settings are pointing to the new DNS server. This means that all your devices will then connect to your Synology’s DNS server and THAT will then block any adverts that websites or apps might try to show.

VMs/Docker

The fourth thing you can do with a powerful NAS – from a company like Synology or QNAP – is to turn it into a virtualization environment and run, well, pretty much anything on it. I actually touched on this in the previous method, but by enabling Docker, you can run SO MANY different containers (or images) on your NAS.

QNAP Container Station which supports Docker Hub images
QNAP Container Station which supports Docker Hub images

This then turns your NAS from a simple file storage device into a full blown server. The possibilities are almost unlimited but, for example, if you find that you have lots of devices and sensors around your home that collect data, you could install a database like MariaDB on your NAS and THEN use this as a central place for data collection and logging. OR you could decide to host a web application from your NAS, and use your newly installed database for this web app.

Web Hosting

That brings me onto the fifth use of a NAS. Because you can install packages like web servers, and also languages like PHP and Node.js, you can then actually host an entire, dynamic website on your NAS – and have real people access it over the internet. This is what Marius does – his entire website is hosted on his Synology NAS which is pretty cool. Now, I probably wouldn’t host “mission critical” web apps from my NAS, but a smaller personal or portfolio site could be ideal:

Screenshot of my personal homepage
Screenshot of my personal homepage

Marius’ website shows EXACTLY how to set your NAS as a web server, and it’s a really awesome, detailed guide, so please check that out to learn more.

VPN

The sixth use for a NAS is ideal if – like me – you enjoying hacking into the NSA. Wait, what? Kidding. But there ARE many benefits to installing a VPN server on your NAS, and then routing all your connections through this. It will greatly increase security for all your devices, because you can ensure that everything is encrypted and your devices are kept a bit more private. Most good NAS makers support VPN set-ups by default, although I’d say that QNAP probably have the best support. They support various different VPN providers. The QNAP website runs through what you need to do to turn your NAS into a VPN server, but it’s ‘kinda similar to network-wide ad blocking approach I covered earlier. Essentially you install a VPN “package” on your NAS, and then configure your main router so that all devices can “use” this – in this case, by relying on port forwarding rules. Then your end devices can connect as a VPN client in the normal way by, for example, installing an app on your phone.

Home Automation

If you have lots of smart home tech around your home, the seventh cool thing you can do with your NAS is to turn it into a home automation server. By using HomeAssistant and things like Zigbee2MQTT, you can BANISH all your other smart home hubs like the Philips Hue Bridge, and instead run everything through your NAS.

My Philips Hue Bridge which manages my ZigBee based lights
My Philips Hue Bridge which manages my ZigBee based lights

You can then create quite a powerful home automation hub straight from your NAS, which also means that you won’t end up with 20 different apps on your phone. Noice. Now this sort of got more difficult when Synology updated DSM to version 7 because they “banned” various USB devices – like some ZigBee dongles –  but you CAN still do this, it’ll just require some tinkering:

Local Photo Sharing

If you take LOTS of pictures and like the convenience of being able to see – and share – those photos via “the cloud”, then number 8 could be for you. The downside of traditional cloud-based photo apps like iCloud and Google Photos is that they are often targeted by hackers or phishing scams, leading to things like the 2014 celebrity photo leaks. You can INSTEAD store all your photos within Synology Photos (for example), and then access your photos over the internet  – if you choose to enable this – using things like the Synology Photos mobile app.

You can also easily set up share links for specific photos or albums, and adjust the privacy settings for this. It’s also a pretty powerful solution, with automatic tagging and photo organizing based on faces and metadata – allowing you to easily find photos later on.

Various privacy settings for Synology Photos
Various privacy settings for Synology Photos

Media Server

Number 9. If you have lots of media files – like movies, TV shows, music and photos – then you can store them on your NAS and turn it into a media server, allowing all these clips to be processed and transcoded. You can THEN stream all your media to your devices, such as your living room TV, computer or mobile phone. There’s LOTS of different routes to take here depending on exactly what media you have, and HOW you want to stream it. But generally speaking, both Synology and QNAP support Plex really well, while QNAP is probably better for Kodi.

Synology discussing their Plex support
Synology discussing their Plex support

The main downside of using your NAS for this is that it can be resource intensive, especially if you’re frequently adding new media to transcode. So a really budget NAS might struggle to perform as a media server.

Digital Document Store

The final thing I wanted to cover is to go paper free by turning your NAS into a digital document store. You can do this by firstly installing software like Paperless on Synology or PaperOffice on QNAP. Then you scan in your OLD FASHIONED paper documents and they’re processed by the digital software. This then scans all the text (and a few other metadata points), and allows you to easily look up these documents in the future. It’s MUCH easier than hunting through drawers of paper to find what you’re looking for.

And that covers ten uses for a NAS that I can think of but if you can think of anything more, please do let me know down in the comments. I should also point out that some of these methods can stretch the computational power of your NAS. For example my 2 bay Synology NAS would struggle to process more than five or six 4K cameras. Equally I wouldn’t purchase an £80 NAS and expect it to be flawless as a media server.

And that wraps things up. I hope you enjoyed this video. If you did, please click the thumbs up button – this tells the YouTube algorithm that more people should see this video. Please also subscribe to my channel if you haven’t already and thanks for watching!

cropped A picture of me Tristan
About Tristan Perry

Tristan has been interested in computer hardware and software since he was 10 years old. He has built loads of computers over the years, along with installing, modifying and writing software (he's a backend software developer 'by trade').

Tristan also has an academic background in technology (in Math and Computer Science), so he enjoys drilling into the deeper aspects of technology.

Tristan is also an avid PC gamer, with FFX and Rocket League being his favorite games.

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