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Why you should backup your NAS and how to do that

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Gerwin Jansen, EE MVE
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We are all using NAS devices and you probably have one (or more) at home. This article discusses the need to backup your NAS and how to do that
NAS devices for home use are available in all sorts and kinds. Cheap or expensive, using one, two or more drives, setup in RAID mode or not. NAS devices are loaded with extra functionality providing media streaming, web site hosting, own cloud services and alike.

What they all have in common is that we trust them to keep our data safe, especially when we have set them up in RAID mode. RAID modes (other than RAID0) will protect our valuable data, right? When a single drive fails, we just replace it and voila, our data is safe again. We all have an empty spare drive that we will use for that purpose once a drive fails. Or do we have to admit that most of us don’t have that spare drive lying around? From experience I know that most people do not have that spare drive available when it would be needed. So when a drive fails (as all drives fail eventually) we have to start looking for a compatible drive of the same size.  Or a bigger drive, in case the NAS supports X-RAID or some other method of RAID expansion. We replace the faulty drive and rebuild/expand the RAID volume and we have a functioning NAS device again.

But aren’t we forgetting something? Besides a failing drive, what else could happen to our trusted NAS? In case we have a single drive NAS, we are already making regular backups of course, weekly or at least monthly. But if we have multiple drives (2 or more) in our NAS, are we making backups? What could happen if we don't make backups?

What could happen:
  • Multiple drives fail at the same time
  • Rebuilding the NAS with a replacement drive fails
  • The NAS controller fails
  • Malware encrypts files on your NAS
  • The NAS gets stolen or lost

Some of the above can also happen with a single drive NAS like malware encrypted files or the device getting stolen. All these risks are risks for your valuable data that you have trusted your NAS to keep safe for you. 

To do something about this, you can make regular backups of your NAS device, as well as storing the backup on a different location. Backups provide a way of recovering your valuable data, in case something would happen to your NAS. Creating backups is not that difficult or expensive. We just have to spend bit of effort setting it up properly.

There are several ways of creating backups of your NAS:
  1. Copy content to another drive manually
  2. Create backup job(s) to automate backups to another drive
  3. Schedule backup to another NAS (rsync)
  4. Backup your NAS to cloud storage

1. Copy to another drive
The easiest ways to create a backup is the first option, just attach a removable drive to a PC and copy the folders that are most important to you to the removable drive. When creating the backup has finished, dismount/ disconnect the removable drive and store it in a safe place. Or take it with you, but if you do that, some form of encryption would be advisable.

2. Create backup job(s) to automate backups to another drive
Also easy but requiring some configuration is to connect a removable drive to your NAS and schedule backup jobs on the NAS to write to the removable drive. If you select this option, be sure to check that your NAS doesn’t automatically share the removable drive over the network. If your removable drive would be shared over the network, malware could possibly get to it and encrypt your files. That would make your backup pretty useless. Scheduling a weekly backup is reasonable, after the backup has been performed, dismount/disconnect again (see above).

3. Schedule backup to another NAS (rsync)
The method where you schedule a backup using rsync is described as ‘easy’ for several NAS devices but requires some more configuration which is not always documented that well. Having a second NAS of the same brand/type would make configuration easier. But then you’d have 2 NAS devices.

4. Backup your NAS to cloud storage
A very easy way of backing up your NAS is to send the backup to a cloud storage provider. Not the cheapest solution but one you can setup and ‘forget’ about, providing the NAS or storage provider is sending you the appropriate feedback when necessary (backup failed, quota reached etc).

So as you can see, there are quite a few options to create a backup of your NAS. If you are not creating backups of your NAS, I hope that I’ve given you something to think about. We all have heard stories or experienced issues with NAS devices where people lost valuable documents or family photo’s that could not be recovered. Making a regular backup of your NAS is not really that difficult nor does it take a lot if time to setup.

Something not to forget: creating backups is one but you should test restoring data from the backup location as well. Nothing worse than thinking you've got a backup that will not restore when you need it. 

Thanks for reading this article. If you find it useful, you can click 'Good Article' below. If not, any feedback is welcome so I can update/improve this article. You can always send me a message. Thanks!
1 Comment

Expert Comment

Great article! We actually have a lot of people come to Carbonite to back up their NAS device either locally using our Server product or backing up the cloud using our Server and workstation tools.

Glad to see you spreading the word about the importance of NAS backup!

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