Tell me about Network Attached Storage (NAS)

I want to get a Networked Attached Storage (NAS) server for my home. I was thinking about this Buffalo one because I could use 2 drives and mirror it using RAID1. It only has USB2.0 though. I’ve heard good things about this Western Digital product. I want to back up the NAS using someone’s cloud backup.

  1. Does it make any sense to mirror a NAS?

  2. How is Western Digital’s cloud backup service relative to Carbonite or Mozy?

  3. What concerns do I regarding music and video serving on this NAS.

  4. I’m completely new to this. Are there other capabilities of an NAS that I should be thinking about? For example, if I want to setup version control software for software development, do some of these NAS devices have the capability for doing this? I assume most of the boxes are LINUX based. I have zero experience in LINUX system administration.

  5. I heard something about storage backup strategies of 3-2-1 refering to the number of copies at home and on the cloud. I’m thinking the 2 meant NAS with a attached external drive that was backing itself up. What is a sensible backup architecture and strategy?

Modern NAS devices are plug and play. They are typically Linux-based, but they provide client software or a web front end. You never actually see a Linux command line (unless you jump through great hoops to get at it).

IMHO, the Drobo 5N is an excellent NAS device for your average homeowner. It runs silently and you can hot swap drives of differing sizes at any time (most other devices require matched drives, or limit you to the smallest-size drive). It has a minimal front panel with a few lights indicating device health.

Occasionally a light comes on that tells you “I’m getting kind of full. Put in another drive please.”
Rarer still a light comes on that says “Something bad happened to this drive. Swap it out pronto.”

I am able to move files to and from the Drobo at real speeds of 70-100megs/sec (on gigabit ethernet), meaning that a 2gb movie can go there in less than a minute.

Regardless of the device you get, look into drives that were designed for NAS devices. Regular desktop PC drives are designed with internal stuff that may occasionally pause the drive and do some sector swapping to fix errors. Desktop drives assume they have all the time in the world to do this, sometimes a minute or two. If this happens while a drive is plugged into a NAS, the device will probably call the drive dead and drop it from the RAID set.
NAS-designed drives account for this. Western Digital Red is a good line to try.

I don’t know anything about online backup solutions.

I really like my Synology NAS. I’ve had some unfortunate incidents with some RAID 10 arrays at work, so I run mine in RAID6 mode. 4 WD Red drives and I finally feel safe about my data. (Though I’m going to tack my 3TB USB drive on it as a backup whenever I find the thing).

The Synology also lets you mix drive sizes, and while I’m sure it’s running a flavour of Linux, the only interface I use is through a web browser. Featurewise, it had pretty decent IOPS when I tested it as an iSCSI device off our office ESXi servers for a few days, and the latest firmware will let you mirror NASs (though since it’s one of the more pricier options, I don’t think you’d want to do that for home use). I like to have it download stuff for me so that my desktop PC or laptop doesn’t use CPU or have to be on all the time. Last time I checked, their website had all sorts of drive sizing utilities and GUI examples.

OTOH, you mention the WD MyCloud, and IMHO that’s pretty good too, especially at the price. I have one storing backups at work, and IIRC it does OSX TimeMachine stuff, along with some media sharing features. It’ll sorta-kinda mirror, in that one can sync to another, but the backup isn’t really a mirror, more like a backup archive that has to be moved back before use. All the ones I’ve seen are only 1-bay too, so no RAID. Comes with drives though, so it’s all there for you in one box.

The “N” in “NAS” stands for network. The speed of USB2 should not be a factor.

You map the unit as a new drive letter on your PC, typically. Then you stream from it same as if you were streaming off your local hard drive. For most content, that’s plenty fast. (Do the math - a typical 7GB 2 hour DVD - 3.5GB/hr, about 60MB a minute, 1 MB a second or about 10Mbits - if your network is 100Mb or 1Gb, no problem handling that.)

It makes sense to mirror if it’s your main copy of the data. If you have 2 or 3 copies, less so. How important is it to you to not spend hours or days recreating that storage from other backups? Seriously, USB drives are so cheap that an effective backup strategy might be to buy a few Terabyte USB drives and copy the NAS contents to them store them elsewhere.

When people say “back up into the cloud”, depends what they mean. Once you start getting into saving your home movies and even photos (I have 60GB of photos), you’re talking gigs of storage which won’t be cheap and might take forever to upload (Not to mention download if your NAS dies; does your ISP have a data cap?). If you have a ton of text, programs, email, and web pages and similar, that’s a lot less data and a copy takes a lot less time.

Very specific applications like version control, generally, are a separate program that you find elsewhere that suit your specific needs. Any freebie coming with the NAS will likely be less satisfactory that what works best for you. Remember, as far as your PC cares, this is just another drive letter. What it does with the data is up to you.

Ditto for backup programs and strategies. what program you use for backup is up to you; most of these units would come with a backup program, but it may not be the best. Ditto for cloud services. Heck, even Windows has a “folder sync” option so a folder on your local drive can be kept in sync with a different drive… but that doesn’t keep back versions. Most backup programs assume full or incremental backups, rather than file-by-file version management.

I have a 5-bay and an 8-bay Drobo, which have been in use for about 2 years. So far, no serious problems. They are not foolproof, and have their quirks[sup]*[/sup], but I haven’t lost any data so far. The Drobos are slow to delete files, but I have nothing to compare them to except single drives.

The NAS drives you are referring to I believe are called “Enterprise” units. They cost a lot more than the rock-bottom street prices of same-sized drives, but are supposedly more rugged and designed for servers, running continuously.

I have a mixture of enterprise and standards units. None have failed so far.

  • To add a new drive, if virgin (never used), do it cold. To add a new drive or replace one with another (to be overwritten) which had previously been used elsewhere, do it hot. Very important. I don’t know if other designs work this way.

I have what is probably a dumb question about NAS storage.
I have very limited internet bandwidth, through a hotspot, in my home.
Would loading stuff from the pc, tablet, phone, etc to the NAS use up my bandwidth? because that would make the whole setup useless.
Or is there a way to set it up so as to keep all the traffic ‘in house’, not using any external net connection? I guess what I want is a wireless house-wide LAN, unconnected to the external world. Do NAS storage systems allow this? Very few of their websites even mention this as a possibility, they seem to assume a high bandwidth internet connection.

NAS mount as a drive, like F: right? Is there any way to use them with smartphones?

One thing I didn’t even realize I had but has been phenomenal is DLNA support on the NAS. My TV also has DLNA, and I can stream video, music, & photos directly from the NAS to the TV without any other devices in the loop (besides the router of course)

NAS usually have options to connect to a PC or a network using USB or Ethernet. Neither would require an Internet connection. Sharing a router with NAS and Internet traffic will affect both (the pipeline is only so big), but the relative speeds of Internet data (slow) and LAN data (fast) will govern. In my system, copying a file from one NAS to the other thru my CPU uses from 20-30% of my Gigabit network; downloading data from the Internet thru cable (30Mb/sec) uses 1%.

They appear as just another drive or drives to the OS. I know nothing about smartphones, but if they can access network drives, you’re OK.

The WD Red drives are a step half way between regular desktop drives (like WD Green) and the true Enterprise drives. WD Red is meant for folks like us with our Drobos.
That said, even Drobo says that you can use pretty much anything (and you have).

Look for a built-in Plex server. Most NAS’s have lots of extra features such as FTP and web server and so on. One of those extra features is likely a Plex server. It’s so much nicer to use Plex from my Roku box on the TV than dealing with vanilla DLNA.

One down side of using Drobo for a Plex server is that it does not support transcoding (e.g. recoding a video file on the fly to view on a device it wasn’t meant for). I use a standalone Linux box as my Plex server for this reason.

With one caveat, which I have violated. If you mix different kinds (not sizes) of drives with different access or rotational speeds, supposedly your throughput will be limited by the slowest ones. Sounds reasonable, but I haven’t tested it.

Mixing different sizes (capacities) of drives is fine, and one of the strengths of the Drobo system. Drobo also allows configuration so you can choose to be protected against one drive failure or two at once, with a tradeoff in lost total capacity for the two drive config.

Thanks for the replies. I’m leaning towards a WD MyCloud with a USB external drive for backup and some form of cloud storage backup above and beyond that. Yeah, it’s redundant, but I’m rather paranoid and in the greater scheme of things, it’s not all that expensive.

I’m running a hodgepodge of cloud storage and Windows Servers and this will give me a chance to organize everything in some rational fashion. NAS servers have really dropped in price and I’d really just like to see what it’s all about.

I’m awfully sorry that I’m on the way out and don’t have time to type much detail, but I too love love love my Synology NAS devices. I have two (a 209 and a 212). Their service was excellent the couple times I called with configuration questions. And they come with a lot of GUI software to do a range of things. Nothing negative to say about them (or WD, for that matter), but if they’re in your price range and have the features you want, definitely take a look.

I have a WD MyCloud and it works pretty well for me. Setup was a breeze and the browser-based configuration is reasonably intuitive. Seems pretty fast but obviously this will be limited if you have a slow wi-fi connection.

I use it for my Macbook’s time machine backups and configuring it was little more than clicking on a button. I don’t think there is any specific integration of Windows backups however. DNLA support has also been a great benefit. As well as movies I do quite a few online classes and it is really helpful to be able to download the lectures and watch them on TV.

WD make a big hoo-haa about it being cloud enabled and the few times I have tried it seemed to work OK but obviously a little slow compared to using it over my home network. Good enough to download the odd photo and the like. There is a free app for Android (and IOS, but I haven’t tried it). The interface is not fantastic but it works. When at home I use ES File Explorer and just access it as a regular network drive so viewing video on the tablet is a breeze.

I would have no qualms about recommending it if you don’t need the security of a full RAID setup. Do check your network speed first, I was almost put off by negative comments on Amazon but reading closely it was clear that the network was their problem rather than the drive.

I’ve had a Drobo FS for a couple of years and it has been running smoothly. I have a half dozen or so laptops and PCs around the house that have no trouble connecting to it.

Drobo is the high end, more expensive option but if you don’t want to fuss around with manual setup and management, it might be the best option for you. It comes with a handsome and easy-to-use dashboard interface.