What is the best option for working live off external hard drive?

I have 3 iMacs all networked together and working off 1TB of files stored on an old MacPro. I'm wondering what my best option would be for upgrading moving forward. I need more space (preferable 2TB or more) and I'd like the connection to be as fast as possible. A server seems like overkill ...
I have an external 3TB WD Cloud backing up all of the files, but it's far too slow to work off of live as it needs to 'wake up' every time I ping it.
Would running a 'headless' Mini directly off my router work? Or perhaps attached to one of the iMacs?
Other options?
Thanks in advance

Hi there,
Ive always followed the idea that journalling is turned off, so I would follow the advice given and turn journalling off.
In addition I would also make that drive "private" to spotlight so it doesn't search or catalogue there.
If its of interest, I've always formatted my drives in the following way
make 2 partitions,
partition 1 - make this about 10% of the drives capacity and label DO NOT USE
partition 2 - make this the remainder of the capacity
the reason being (So Im told by the drive gurus) is that the first sector contains the volumes boot block - this can get corrupted/damaged so having it partitioned like this means you can erase it safely whilst keeping your media.
Ive followed this for years and it has worked on the few occasions a drive has misbehaved.
cheers
Andy

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