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.

16 thoughts on “Build a Resilient Modern Home Storage & Backup Solution

  1. I also had a tragic and unnecessary demise of my ReadyNas NV+, prompting me to see this and perform the same type of home network solution. The good news? I also got the Synology 1511+, an excellent RAID solution and considerably better than the ReadyNas. Great topology above.

    • Appreciate the comment. I haven’t written a post on the terrible experience with the ReadyNAS NV+ and how Netgear Tech Support literally led to the destruction of my data. Maybe I will at some point. But I ended up losing all of my data off the NV+ due to a single drive failure, which is *exactyly* the situation I had the ReadyNas to avoid. Don’t buy Netgear ReadyNAS.

  2. Pingback: The Synology DS1511+ RAID NAS & Time Machine on Mac OS X Lion « Psychohistory

  3. Another happy DS1511+ owner here. For the ‘cant live without’ content, I’m considering three options:

    1. Backing up the most critical stuff onto the one or two 500GB externals that I now have going spare.
    2. Buying a second entry-level Synology and placing it at relatives or friends house. With the ability to plug in a wireless USB adapter, the backup unit can be place somewhere out of sight.
    3. Your chosen route i.e. cloud.

    I must say, the Crashplan deal is a tempting one. Unlimted storage for under $100. Can’t really argue too hard with that.

    • Right now, my DS1511+ does not back up to CrashPlan. The DS1511+ exclusively is a Time Machine volume. Crashplan operates directly from my main computer to back up critical directories (like Photos).

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    • The problem is that Netgear customer service is completely incompetent, and their software has some fundamental flaws/bugs. In my case, a “single drive failure”, led to the machine locking up at boot, which meant we couldn’t get at the data remotely. Their customer service had me pull a drive, which led to an automatic failed rebuild, losing data.

      The truth is, the ENTIRE point of a RAID system is to protect against single drive failure. That’s strike 1. Strike 2 was having a system that would do a destructive rebuild without any form of prompt or confirmation. That’s strike 2. Having their customer service, despite me asking several times, lead me to pull a second drive on a system in that state, is strike 3.

      Owning, running, supporting NetGear ReadyNAS is a mistake. Period.

  5. Ouch! Yeah, customer support has taken a hit since the NetGear acquisition. Knock wood mine’s been good for 5 years or so (one PSU failure they replaced free out of warranty) but I always keep a couple of offline backups (one in a safety deposit box).

  6. Thanks Adam. This is a very helpful post as I’m looking at redoing my IT home system. My difficulty is having a Sonos system that today connects to my NAS (QNAP) to access our music library. Mac Mini uses the NAS too for videos and play them on our TV. But the whole system feels slow and I have no backup (apart from the NAS RAID solution), so I’m trying to figure out a better way of doing things. I’d also like to replace the mac mini with an imac, which would hold my iphoto library (backed up on dropbox today) and be able to push movies to the TV. Any advice / ideas would be welcome 🙂

  7. Really nice postings Adam.

    My photo library has gotten out of hand so am looking at some local backup in addition to my current cloud backup. I reviewed your Synology recommendation (looks great!) and am confused on one point regarding RAID.

    “Secondary backup via Time Machine to Synology RAID can tolerate up to 2 disk failures simultaneously” – From your Nov 3 blog posting above.

    “One disk group across all 5 disks, configured for dual drive redundancy using Synology Hybrid Raid (SHR)” – From your Nov 6 blog posting.

    My question is did you implement SHR or SHR-2? As far as I can see, SHR can only handle a single drive failure, while SHR-2 can handle two. Your posting is ambiguous… “…tolerate up to 2 disk failures”. Up to and including? Or just up to? 🙂


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  9. Very cool. I’m in the process of building a similar solution because of a reliability problem with a different NAS. I got a good deal so I went with the 1812+, figuring I can add in more drives as I need to grow capacity.

    Two questions about your setup: for the crashplan upload, are you just having your Mac handle that, or did you work out a way to have the 1511 do that directly? Also, what switch are you using. I wasn’t aware of any NetGear switches – aside from their much higher end units – supported 802.3ad link aggregation. I have their unmanaged 16 port Gig switch, but am looking to upgrade it to go with my new Synology.

  10. Pingback: Home Storage & Network Topology (2013) | Psychohistory

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