Build a Resilient Modern Home Storage & Backup Solution

I’ll admit it, but my home network tends to push the edges of what consumer technology wants to support.  Two months ago, I had one of those terrible technology events that forces you to rethink your entire network: my Netgear ReadyNAS NV+ failed in a disasterous way, causing me to lose my entire iTunes Library.

As a result, I embarked on a process to rethink my offsite data backup and storage solutions for my household, which in this modern age of iPhones, iPads, AppleTVs, and countless media devices has become fairly complex.  Since the solution that I settled on required quite a bit of research, experimenting and simplification, I’m hoping some readers will find it interesting.

Call it: “Adam’s Home Storage Solution, Fall 2011 Edition”.

Overview: Network Design Diagram

You can see above the relevant elements of my home network topology.  It’s anchored to the internet via AT&T UVerse, which provides a 24Mbps down, 5Mbps up service over VDSL.  The router for my home network is plugged into an 8-port Gigabit switch, which is effectively the backbone for the entire house.  As part of the process of revisiting my network, I discovered that historically I had used a mish-mash of old Ethernet cables, some Cat 5, some Cat 5e, and it was affecting some connections.  A quick trip to Fry’s ensured that, for just a few dollars, I had Cat 6 cables for all Gigabit devices.  (This turned out to be important, particularly for connections to my iMac, wireless base station, and NAS box).

Basic Storage Topology

While my network supports a wide variety of clients, the backbone of my solutions is very Apple-centric.  As a result, my solution is optimized for the following decisions:

  • My media store is based on iTunes
  • My primary server is an iMac running Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion)
  • My on premise backup solution is Time Machine

I was able to simplify my storage needs for the network as follows:

  • The iMac uses the built-in 256 GB Solid State drive for the system & applications
  • The iMac uses the built-in 2 TB standard drive for local storage of most media (downloads, documents, pictures)
  • The iMac uses a 4 TB Seagate GoFlex External USB 3.0 drive for the iTunes library
  • The iMac and all other Macs in the house use Time Machine to backup to the Synology DS1511+, which has 8.3 TB usable space.

The Synology DS1511+ has dual Gigabit Ethernet ports, which allows for particularly good performance when multiple machines are trying to read / write to it at the same time.  Configuring the box to support Time Machine for multiple clients is not obvious, but I’ll write up a separate blog post on that issue.

Overall, the performance of this solution is excellent.  iTunes performance from the Seagate is excellent, both for the primary machine as well as for remote devices utilizing Home Sharing to access media (like the AppleTVs).  We are able to run video off this solution to all 3 AppleTV devices simultaneously with no issues.  Copying a 250MB file to the Synology box takes approximately 2 seconds, and it offers no measurable delay in terms of Time Machine incremental backups, viewing, and restoration.  The entire initial backup of 4.05 TB via Time Machine to the Synology box took approximately 26 hours.

Backup Solutions

Let’s not forget that the impetus for this entire redesign was the tragic and unnecessary demise of the Netgear ReadyNAS NV+, causing massive data loss.  Without belaboring the point, I hope that no one who reads this will ever make the mistake of buying a Netgear ReadyNAS.

That being said, it did lead me to significantly reconsider a multi-tier solution for document protection.

I would have loved to go purely with a cloud-based solution, but the performance is just not there yet for multi-terabyte systems.  Not only does it take an inordinate amount of time to upload terabytes to the cloud, but in the case of data loss, recovering the data would be equally slow.  Uploading 400+ GB to the cloud took me approximately 40 days… 4 TB would have taken over a year!

As a result, I factored my content into what I absolutely could not live without.  I settled on my 450 GB of photos and home movies that would be devastating if lost.  For $90, I subscribed to Crashplan Pro, which offers unlimited storage and came highly recommended by everyone.

As a result, for this crucial data, I have 3 levels of protection:

  • Primary storage
  • Secondary backup via Time Machine to Synology RAID can tolerate up to 2 disk failures simultaneously
  • Tertiary off site backup to CrashPlan

For the rest of my data, I have a fairly robust solution, but I’m considering storing 4 TB drive offsite somewhere periodically to add that “tertiary” level of security / safety.

Final Thoughts

The above solution may seem like overkill to some.  OK, probably to most.  However, you can simplify the solution above based on your needs.  For example, if you have only 200 GB of data to protect, maybe CrashPlan is the right “set and forget” solution for your network.  Maybe the 4 TB Seagate drive is sufficient for your Time Machine needs.

For those of you interested in the Synology box, I plan to write up a follow-on post on how to configure the Synology DS1511+ for Time Machine on Mac OS X 10.7 Lion.