What Is a Network Drive? (And How Is It Useful)

Zack Busch
Zack Busch  |  January 30, 2019

Network drives might not be something a lot of people are familiar with. 

They tend to be overshadowed right now by the cloud storage popularity surge; but, network drives can offer greater benefit when a business has multiple users sharing files across one network. 

Previously, we’ve looked at how to map a network drive on both Windows 10 and Mac OS X. 

In this article, though, we'll talk about what network drives are and how they're useful.

What is a network drive?

Let’s start small. A shared network folder is a file folder that can be accessed by anyone on a network with the proper credentials or authorization. Access to the folder doesn’t guarantee access to the entire drive, but by being on the same internet network as the network folder, properly credentialed users may access the contents of that specific folder.

A network drive functions in a similar manner but at a greater scale.

Typically though, what comes to mind with network drives are NAS (network-attached storage) drives, which are a series of drives attached directly to a network hub. Lacking dedicated peripherals like keyboards and monitors, NAS drives instead are housed in a small stack and use a simplified OS to manage the drive series, which users can log into through the network to access files as needed.

How are network drives useful?

There’s some contest between network drives and cloud file storage and sharing software as to which has more utility both at home and in a business setting. In reality, both are incredibly similar, and their utility depends mainly on how you plan to use them, or — should I say — where you plan to use them.

Network drives at home

Network drives can be thought of as cloud storage contained in a single network. At home, say you’ve got files on your laptop that you also want to access on your partner’s desktop PC, or on a tablet device. By saving those files to the network drive, all devices on that network (with proper access credentials) can get to those files.

Particularly, network drives excel on network drives as massive media libraries. For example, my father (another tech junkie to the core) set up an NAS drive on our home network where we stored gigabyte on gigabyte of music, movies, TV shows and pictures. Any time we wanted to listen to a particular album, watch a movie or favorite episode, or find family photos from a vacation or special event, we could log in to that network drive and have access to it all at our fingertips.

In a comparable manner, if your company has a few people working in the same location on a small network, a similar theory can be applied, replacing personal media with various business-specific documents and data.

Network drives at work

This same principle can be applied at a larger and more diverse scale for businesses, especially small and mid-size businesses. Most enterprise companies have a couple or several locations and can use a plethora of different networks, which makes using network drives difficult. That’s why most enterprise-level companies tend toward cloud storage. For small and mid-size companies, which tend to use only one network at one location, network storage can provide major leverage.

To start, everything about network storage is in your company’s control. It’s your drive on your network — no need to worry about vendor outages (except your ISP), subscription costs or contracts. Your main cost is up front in hardware (check some out here) and setup, and after that, no more payments.

After the network drive is set up, get to work storing files and data. Based on the access that can be given to users, they should be able to view and/or edit anything in the drive with ease. No need to copy the file down to your device from the drive. While the file is saved on the network drive, it can be opened directly on your device, modified as needed, and then saved.

What’s important to note here about network drives, and the same can also be noted regarding cloud file storage, is that the files are public access as long as you’ve been given permission to view them. The same exact file can be accessed from several devices. There is no need to email different files back and forth, hoping that you’ve received the latest version. No more having to load documents onto flash drives to pass around the office. Every file that might need to be shared can all be stored in the same place.

The disadvantage to network drives is the possibility of drive failure. Where drive failure isn’t a huge deal with cloud storage, it has the potential to smoke your local files. That being said, it’s completely doable to set up what’s called a redundant drive in network storage by setting one or more hard drives to mirror the main one. That way, if the main drive goes down, you have a backup ready to go. (If setting that up makes you uncomfortable, though, check out some disaster-recovery-as-a-service (DRaaS) software options to back up your network drives.)

Want to learn more about protecting your data?

Check out what encryption means, the different kinds available, and how it benefits you and your business.

Zack Busch
Author

Zack Busch

Zack is a Research Specialist who made the jump to the research realm after three years in IT support services. He studied mathematics and physics at Truman State University. Zack enjoys video gaming, D&D, movies, and trading card games, and he spends a lot of quality time with his lady, dog, and two cats.