We live in an increasingly digital world and spend countless hours in front of the screen of a desktop or notebook in the office, writes Kalvin Subbadu, WD Storage Technology Sales Manager for South Africa.

We eyeball our smartphones and tablets on the go and, when we get home, it’s more of the same. Social media has been one of the key drivers of this as it has virtually transformed computing devices into easy-to-use, highly engaging communication platforms that can be used by the young and old alike. Previously regarded purely as a ‘work’ tool, laptops and notebooks are now joining tablets and smartphones as leisure and entertainment devices with many users engaging in social gaming, VoIP calls, online shopping and more.

As a result it’s now a common occurrence to find entire families online, embracing the latest and greatest computing devices whereas in the past, you were only likely to find younger members of the family indulging themselves in activities such as gaming. What this means is that households today actually need multiple computing devices, so that every member of the family has his or her own personal device and therefore a connection to the digital world. Each of these devices is used to both produce and consume content. The problem is that with so many devices and so many users, how do you manage all the data?

There are several different computing platforms (PC, Mac, Android, iOS, Windows Phone etc.) and each has its own means of handling data and they don’t really integrate¬† well with each other. For small data files such as a couple of photographs, you can simply e-mail them or use a service like Dropbox in order to share them. However, what happens when you’ve got several dozen photographs on your iPhone and you want to share them with another family member who might have an Android device? In this case your options are to hand over the physical device (not ideal if you have content on your device that you don’t want anyone else to see), upload them to a social site where you lose control of your data, download them to a PC and display them on or upload them to the Android device. These are far from ideal or elegant options but thankfully there is a way to get around these challenges.

A network attached storage or NAS device is the answer. It can be connected to your home’s WiFi access point or router and can then be accessed by any device on the same network. In the past these devices were complicated and expensive and as such were mainly used by Small Medium Businesses (SMBs) and enterprises. Today products like the single or dual-drive WD My Book Live/Live Duo are simple to setup, are relatively inexpensive and thanks to their features and apps such as WD2go, allow you to share content across multiple devices. The idea is to store all of your data on the NAS device and use the apps or other features to access your content across multiple platforms; iOS/Android devices, PCs/Macs etc. The best bit is if you have a broadband Internet connection and your mobile computing devices have a data package or WiFi access, you can even access the content stored on the NAS, when you’re on the move.

Today, there are hundreds of Small office Home office (SoHo) geared NAS devices on the market and if you are a power user or just have hefty storage needs, you can choose from one of the growing number of drive-less NAS enclosures. These SOHO aimed devices are generally designed with up to five drive bays, so after purchasing one of these units you’ll need to look at drives such as the WD Red family, which are designed and pre-qualified specifically for use in SOHO NAS systems that offer between 1-to-5 drive bays. Technology, like NASware which is found on the WD Red drives, makes the integration process between NAS and drives a plug and play experience, so there’s really no guessing involved anymore when choosing a drive for drive-less NAS systems.

With a four or five-bay NAS that is fully populated with drives, you have the ability to choose from one of several RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) options to give you a balance of capacity, data redundancy and performance. RAID 6 is a good choice that balances these three aspects – in fact this particular form of RAID will retain data even if your NAS experiences a failure from two of its drives.

Owing to the storage capacity, breadth of features, which includes sharing data across multiple platforms and remote accessibility, as well as data security that these NAS systems offer, the adoption of these devices is expected to grow significantly in the coming months and years. In fact market intelligence firm IDC has forecasted that by 2017 there could be nearly 13 million NAS systems in use, a chunk of which will be 1-to-5 bay SOHO systems.