Network-attached Storage

Dodgy external ‘cloud’ storage

A few years ago, a business customer of mine bought a couple of reasonably powerful laptops from a well-known High Street electronics shop. The shop said that they provided a cloud storage and back-up service, for what seemed like a reasonable fee, and the customer decided to sign up for it straight away. At first everything seemed to work well, but some time later when the customer was trying to retrieve some important files from the service, he noticed that they had zero size. Wondering what on Earth was going on, he got in touch with the shop, but they didn’t have a clue and passed him on to the business who actually ran the cloud service behind the scenes. Surprisingly, the people running the service couldn’t understand what was going on either, so the customer decided that he’d better start looking for a more reliable storage solution.

Dependable local storage

I suggested to the customer that he might like to consider setting up a network-attached storage (NAS) system. A NAS system consists of a specialised computer that holds multiple hard drives and connects directly to your Internet router / hub. Ordinary computers can then access the storage provided by the NAS system over the local area network, and over the Internet if required. As a NAS system holds multiple hard drives, these can be set up to provide either a massive amount of storage, or half of that amount duplicated for safety. The customer thought this would be a good idea, so I started to research what equipment was available and how much it would cost. It’s possible to build your own custom NAS system using a computer case that can hold plenty of hard drives, and some free software such as ‘FreeNAS’, but an off-the-shelf NAS system has some advantages.

Choosing a ready-made NAS system

The customer considered buying a Synology DS418 NAS system, which had room for four hard drives. That would allow him to install two hard drives to begin with, then add another two in the future if required. NAS systems usually come without any hard drives installed, so you can set them up with drives of your own choice. We looked at several hard drive models, all of which were designed for use in NAS systems, and eventually settled on two Seagate IronWolf Pro 4 TB drives, as they seemed to have the best performance and reliability. The idea was to set up the two drives in a ‘RAID 1’ configuration, so they exactly mirrored each other. This was the safest configuration, as data to be stored on the NAS system would be automatically written onto both drives. If one drive should ever fail, the other one would keep going and no data would be lost.

Putting it all together

When the customer began to order the chosen equipment, he discovered that the Synology DS418 was not immediately available, and decided to go for the latest two-drive system instead, which was the Synology DS220+. There was no room for expansion, but if he ever needed more storage, he could always replace the 4 TB hard drives with larger ones, or buy a second NAS system. When the equipment arrived, I installed the two hard drives into plastic holding trays, then slotted them into the NAS enclosure. We then started up the NAS system, and installed the DiskStation operating system by downloading it from the Internet. After that, we set up the two hard drives to mirror each other, and waited some time for the process to complete. The final step was to connect the customer’s two laptops to the new NAS system, and set up some folders for access over the Internet.

Safety for critical data

Although the NAS system that we set up means that a hard drive failure is not going to cause a problem, that doesn’t guarantee absolute safety for the customer’s data. It’s always possible to lose equipment to fire or theft, so in case that happens, it always pays to have a safe off-site backup. In this particular case, the solution is to have a large external hard drive then copy the contents of the NAS system onto it regularly, and store the external hard drive off-site. If you’d like to make sure that your data is safe from hard drive failures and other possible loss, please get in touch with me and I’ll be glad to help.