home network storage/backup

Posted on 2014-08-16
Last Modified: 2014-08-24

I'm looking for a storage/backup solution with good reliability/performance (of course) for home network use.

Here's what I need to do:

Store music/media files where my partner and I can both access them for playback on our Mac computers.
Store and work on a large and growing library of photos and some movies.
Store and work on original music files using music software (Logic Pro and others).
Have all the data backed up in a reliable secure way.

3TB is plenty of data for starters.

I’ve got a LaCie CloudBox NAS (3TB) and am currently using it to store everything, connected to our wireless router (Netgear n600) by ethernet and accessing it wirelessly from our Macs. I just changed to using an ethernet cable to connect to my iMac to improve performance (still not sure what the limits are with this performance wise).
I've found a few issues with this setup.
- File transfer/access can be slow (transferring large groups of files even crashed my iMac before I used the ethernet cable).
- Logic Pro (Mac music software) doesn't work well when files are on the CloudBox (it's recommended to use a connected external HD - not a NAS or internal HD - to work on music files in Logic).
- The LaCie Cloudbox doesn't have trash - when something is deleted from it, it's gone forever.
- Don’t have a real backup solution yet (aside from an aging firewire Iomega drive I'm using currently, and other externals).

So, I'm thinking I need to get a better solution for our storage/backup going forward.

One thing I considered is to continue to use the LaCie just for the shared music library/playback and get another HD (probably a firewire/thunderbolt external HD) for my photos and music files that I work on.

Of course I want fast performance and need compatibility with Mac OS. And the main thing is reliability, the data is really important to me of course.

I also need a backup solution.
Don't know much about the different types of HD protocols etc. I'm assuming if I use a NAS, I'll be using ethernet (as I am now) but don't know if there are different types/speeds of ethernet connections. If local I would be using Firewire/Thunderbolt or USB 3.0.

If I purchase a new NAS, the BYOD option sounds like the way to go for me, since it’s reliable and expandable. I've done some research already and am looking at the SynologyDS214se (2 bay) as a possibility. Then I would need to select two 3.5" SATA drives to go inside it.

So, I suppose I have a few questions in all:

Should I keep ALL my data on a single NAS (with regular backups)? ( I would then need to have an external firewire drive connected to my iMac, to work on music files, and then save them to the NAS.)

Or should I just use the NAS for shared files (mainly music files playback my partner and I listen to), and keep my photos and original music files (which I work on in Logic pro etc...) on a separate (USB or Firewire/Thunderbolt) HD (also with regular backups).

What do I need to know about file transfer speed? Are there different speeds of ethernet? How does this compare to firewire/Thunderbolt speeds?

Should I back up the data to another HD living at my house, or use some kind of cloud storage, or …? If I bought a multi-drive BYOD RAID NAS, do I still need to back it up elsewhere?

What about Mac compatibility? Is that hard to come by/ more expensive for a BYOD NAS?

OK, so many questions. I’m probably overthinking this, and I do feel in over my head, but really have a lot of data that’s really important to me which I need to be able to access and store reliably, so making good choices now is important. Not sure if the LaCie CloudBox was a good idea (see issues above) but might be able to continue to use it just for music playback.

Please let me know your thoughts or advice. Thanks in advance. Maybe I just need to learn more first, so any suggestions I can read up on would be appreciated. When I start looking at all the different options for storage, I find I don’t understand all the issues at play.

Question by:tommelkonian
    LVL 31

    Accepted Solution

    You've asked a mouthful. Too much for a single question on EE.

    For now I'm just going to concentrate on whether or not you should use a NAS, and how to identify where your performance/speed issues are, and touch briefly on backups.

    1) Network storage vs Local storage

    Storing files locally on your computer (e.g. on the internal hard drive, or an external drive connected via USB or thunderbolt) is always going to be the most "compatible" option that works the smoothest with the most number of different programs. The reason for this is that any type of network file storage introduces a layer of complexity in-between the programs and the data they are trying to access - the network. Network protocols do not work 100% perfectly. Networks are not 100% reliable. Networks introduce the possibility of contention when two people access the same file at the same time. The network can go down for a few seconds and then come back. Some programs can deal with these issues, some can't.

    In general, low-end consumer grade NAS storage will be slower than local storage on your computer, simply because the interfaces that are used are slower.

    For this reason, you need to be careful whenever you deal with network storage, you have to explicitly qualify that the programs that you intend to use to access files over the network will support network storage reliably, and that the speed won't be an issue.

    As an example, an Apple iTunes libraries does not play nicely being stored on a NAS. It is very prone to database corruption when the network hiccups. Apparently Logic Pro is not really designed for network storage either (Apple makes no mention of storing files on a NAS in their design guide).

    So if local storage is "better", why would you ever want to store things on the network? You get three main benefits:

        - The files can be accessed by more than one person
        - Your storage capacity is not limited by the internal hardware of your computer
        - A backup strategy for a single NAS can sometimes be easier to implement than a backup strategy for many different workstations that roam around and are on and off intermittently

    Those are the only real reasons to consider storing on a NAS. If you don't need those things you'll have a better experience using local storage (e.g. an external hard drive connected via thunderbolt or USB 3.0, or simply upgrade the internal hard drive of your Mac to be big enough to store what you need it to store).

    You may want to have some stuff on local storage, and some stuff on the NAS. For example, photos and videos might be best stored on the NAS while the Logic Pro data is stored locally.

    2) Ethernet Speeds and NAS Performance

    Assuming you decide you want to use a NAS, the performance you get will be dictated by whatever is the SLOWEST:

        - Speed of the hard drives themselves
        - Speed of the NAS itself (e.g. the CPU in the NAS or the RAID chip, and it's ability to process data)
        - Speed of the slowest network link between your computer and the NAS

    Hard disks come in different flavors, networks come in different speeds, and there are tons of combinations and options, so the best I can do to help you with performance is to give you some real-world rough numbers you can use for comparison purposes.  

    For simplicity sake, I'm going to talk only in the rough real-world speeds according to my own personal experience of what you'll get, measured in MegaBYTES per second, the same unit of measurement used for the storage of files, so you have a frame of reference for how they compare:

        - A single consumer 3TB SATA hard drive like what you'd use in a NAS, OR in an external hard drive can read data at about 100-150 Megabytes per second
        - A fast (and very expensive) Apple SSD inside of a modern macbook can read data up to 700 Megabytes per second
        - A wireless network link can transfer data at a max of about 5 Megabytes per second
        - A 10/100 network (like your Netgear N600) can transfer data at a max of about 9-12 Megabytes per second
        - A gigabit network link can transfer data at a max of about 90-120 Megabytes per second
        - A low-end consumer NAS like a QNAP TS-110 tops out at about 40 Megabytes per second

    And just for comparison, your typical external storage options use these interfaces:

        - A USB 2.0 data cable transfers data at about 25 Megabytes per second
        - A USB 3.0 data cable transfers data at about 300 Megabytes per second
        - A Thunderbolt data cable transfers data at about 900 Megabytes per second

    As you can see, for local storage you are usually limited by the speed of the hard drive. Internal storage is definitely the fastest, and external storage is slightly slower. For network storage you are often limited by the speed of the network (which, especially if you're on wireless can be quite slow), or the speed of the NAS device (which for a cheap NAS can be disappointingly slow, too)

    3) Backups

    I can't go into too much here or this post going to become WAY too big. Here's the short version:

    - You need to backup ALL devices that store data. That means you need to backup your Macs, and if you do decide to get a NAS, you will also need to backup the NAS.

    - Macs have a very effective built in backup-system, Time Machine. It works really well when used with an Apple Time Capsule. Technically, many consumer NAS devices ALSO support the same Apple protocols used by Time Capsule, and they can also be used to receive backups from your Macs. If you want to go that route to save money, go for it. But IMHO a Time Capsule is completely set-it-and-forget-it, and is officially supported by Apple, I'd just shell out the money for it.

    If you do decide to use a NAS, it will ALSO need it's own backup strategy. Most NAS support some kind of backup system, usually it works by backing up to an external hard drive connected to the NAS via a USB port. Some NAS also supports replication to another identical NAS.

    Remember that whatever you do, your backup storage should be entirely separate from all your other storage devices - that's the whole point of the backup.

    Cloud backups? Offsite backups? That all depends on how fast your Internet is, do you have the bandwidth for it, and is mitigating the risk that your onsite backups fail worth the extra cost and hassle.


    So the main take-aways from everything I've written so far are:

    1) Decide if you really need a NAS. Local storage is usually faster and more reliable if you can get away with it, but a NAS is needed if you must share the data with multiple people on the network.

    2) You should get a Time Capsule and set up your two Macs to backup to it via Time Machine.

    If you do decide you need or want to continue using a NAS:

    3) Wireless is awful and you should avoid it at all costs. Connect everything with ethernet cables

    4) Your router is a bottleneck and only supports 100MBPS cabled ethernet. Your Mac and your NAS most likely both support gigabit. You should replace your router with one that supports gigabit network.
    LVL 16

    Expert Comment

    It appears that anything you delete is moved to the recycle bin. This folder is hidden.

    If you schedule back ups then it will retain the recycle bin contents.

    Author Comment

    Thanks, Frosty555!

    First off, sorry for the huge question(s). I've been trying really hard to wrap my head around this question for some time, and feel like I'm going in circles.

    You've given me lots of great info to help me get to the bottom of this. I appreciate it.

    Are you sure about my modem/router speed? It calls itself "Netgear n600 wireless dual band gigabit router" (maybe I didn't give enough information above) I would think that means it gets gigabit cabled ethernet. (I tested a transfer 16Gb from the Cloudbox to my local HD which took about 4 minutes, which seems greater than 100MBPS but less than gigabit - So I'm thinking the bottleneck there is the LaCie Cloudbox.)

    Now I'm thinking the only reason to have network attached storage is for our shared music library. This works OK using the LaCie CloudBox (since I'm connected via ethernet). If I run ethernet cables to connect my partner's Mac as well, that should probably be good. (We do stream music occasionally using iPhone/Pods wirelessly which works OK most of the time).

    So we would keep just the music library on the network attached LaCie, and each just use our own locally attached external HD's for all our other files (pictures, working music files etc... which are separate anyway). Simple enough.

    I was under the impression Time Machine only works to backup Mac internal HD system. Can I use Time Machine (and possibly Time Capsule) to backup the (network attached) LaCie? To back up External HDs? Could I use a single Time Capsule to receive back up of all those separate drives (assuming enough storage)? I'll save my other backup questions for another thread...

    Thanks again for all the info


    Author Comment

    Thanks, joinanunion.... I suppose you mean there is a separate Trash folder on the LaCie which is hidden. I'll try to look for that... thanks.

    Author Comment

    I showed hidden files/folders but don't see a Trash folder on the LaCie drive...
    LVL 16

    Expert Comment

    Can you delete a test file see if it goes to windows recycle bin?

    Author Comment

    I'm on Mac... I've tried. so far as I can tell when I delete a file from the LaCie Cloudbox, it's gone forever.
    LVL 16

    Expert Comment

    Just to confirm when your in the Cloud device you do see shared folders?

    Have you setup the mac to show hidden file/folders?

    If you see your mac/admin as a share on the cloud device then I would select that and goto the trash from within the cloud to see if you can recover file.

    Otherwise it looks like you will have to use the selective restore function with the device. This will only work if your doing daily back ups.

    Author Comment

    Yes I set up the mac to show hidden folders but dont see the mac/admin as a share on the CloudBox.
    LVL 16

    Expert Comment

    Hmmm. Interesting. You should see your drive on the cloudbox.

    I'll look into further and get back to you.
    LVL 31

    Expert Comment

    Regarding the Netgear N600 being a gigabit device... it turns out there are actually a few different generations of the N600 that I didn't realize. The WNDR3400 is a 100mbps device, and the WNDR3700 is Gigabit. If your unit specifically says gigabit, then you don't need to replace it.

    It should be possible to configure Time Machine to make backups OF the external hard drives connected to your Mac. By default they are excluded from Time Machine but you should be able to go into settings and remove the exclusion.  Of course you have to make sure the external hard drive is connected to your Mac when the backups occur.

    Time Machine cannot be used to make backups of a network device like the LaCie, so you need a separate backup strategy to protect the contents of  your NAS.

    Author Comment

    I'm looking again for the mac/admin as a share on the Cloudbox after doing a ShowAllFiles. I see some hidden folders on the CloudBox (Temporary Items, and lacie), but no trash, and nothing that contains much.

    Also when browsing the Cloudbox from it's web dashboard, I do see folders (not visible when browsing in the Finder even showing all files...) with names like AppleDB, AppleDesktop, Apple Double, and Network Trash Folder. But there is nothing in those folders. I even tried delteing something and it didnt show up in the "Network Trash Folder"...

    Thanks again for the info..

    Author Comment

    I think it's weird that there is no trash from a network HD. I even contacted LaCie support and they said:

    Hello Tom,
    My name is Jack, and I will be happy to help you with your LaCie product. First of all, I would like to thank you for choosing LaCie, and we appreciate your patience and trust in our products.
    That is normal as this is a network drive when you trash any files it will be deleted permanently.
    LVL 31

    Expert Comment

    Normally, deleting a file from a network location does permanently delete it. The concept of the "trash" folder or "recycling bin" is a feature of the local computer.  I do believe that there are some attempts at implementing Trash folders on network volumes. AFP and SMB (the respective Apple and Windows file sharing protocols) do have some provisions for it, but it isn't a standard feature and not all NAS support it.

    Author Closing Comment

    Thanks a lot for the info. I've learned a lot and appreciate you breaking it down for me.


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