Thursday, September 17, 2009

Backups for home user or small businesses

I have always been slightly paranoid about making backups of my home systems. While I use a network-based service for off-site backups, running a backup (and restoring one) is constrained by the amount of network bandwidth that you have available and might take a considerable amount of time to complete successfully.

After I ran out of local disk storage on my regular Linux PC (which had two disks in RAID-1 configuration), I started shopping around for a small network attached storage solution that would be able to scale with my needs.

I really only had a few requirements:

  • Must support disks in RAID-1 configuration
  • Must be able to provide a CIF volume
  • Must be able to support multiple users with their own privileges
  • Must get good reviews on places like cnet, amazon, etc.
  • Must have a relatively small footprint (I do not like clutter in my work areas)
  • Must have low heat production and a low noise level
  • Should be able to support rsync
  • Could be nice to have ssh shell access
  • Could be nice to have ftp support

After doing some research, I decided to purchase a Synology NAS Disk Station
which I loaded with two Western Digital 1 TB Caviar Green Hard Drives. I opted for the "green" drives because they only run at 5400 rpm, which makes a little slower (not a problem for me), produce less heat and be less noisy. The solution is not the cheapest one out there, but I liked what I saw when I read the reviews and for backup solutions you usually get what you pay for.

When the shipment came in (well ahead of time; thanks Amazon!), I installed the two drives into the NAS without trouble. I was set to go when the device was hooked up to main power and my network switch. On pressing the power button, the came to life and started doing its boot sequence. Booting isn't all that fast, but that is not something that bothers me.

Installation using the provided disk was straightforward, and it became clear that this little power house has Linux under the hood. Note that as far as I can tell, installation using the provided CD-ROM is necessary; part of the initial install seems to be flashing a new firmware onto the device. Since the NAS will be connected to by several devices, I configured the device with a static IP address, but it also supports DHCP.

Anyone who is familiar with Linux logical volume management and software RAID will be immediately at home. The machine is very feature rich, but comes out of the box with just about any network services turned off: the way it should be.

The footprint on the network is nice-- no unnecessary services are running, just what you would hope for. The device offers a wide range of connectivity options: rsync, ssh, smb, ftp, telnet, etc. It can function as a BitTorrent client, a web server, a mysql server, and it even has some basic blog authoring support. I don't need most of these things, but my inner geek cannot help but grinning and uttering several "cool!"s. I haven't seen an option yet to have it send syslog data to another device.

The web-based GUI is nicely finished, but may be a little confusing for people without a strong background in managing a Linux-based storage device.

When the disks were initializing in RAID-1 (which takes a while for 1TB drives) activating the rsync server and the SMB share was as easy as checking two boxes, creating a user and assigning the appropriate privileges.

Other features include NTP, setting "power on" and "power off" times, integration with a UPS if you have one (mine is coming; our power grid is notoriously noisy and fairly unreliable), S.M.A.R.T. reporting, email notifications with a configurable SMTP server (including SSL and authentication support) and much more.

All in all, the device seems very nice for the price and it is worth taking a look at!



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