The inevitable happened to me today. I had something fail, and it’s wasn’t just a “little” something, either. My Synology DS1515+ NAS just won’t power on. This is the device that houses basically all of my data. I’ve got it configured in a RAID setup (I’ll talk about this more later), but the actual device just is dead. There was a power outage earlier today in a good portion of the city and I powered off my units before the battery backups were drained. When the power was restored, everything came back up but my NAS. The thing is, I’m sitting here very calm and not feeling panic in the least because I know I’m going to be OK.
But this wasn’t always the case. About 7 years ago I lost a TON of data. Basically everything. All my photos, music, movies, documents. It was a mess and I was devastated. I’d built a NAS on Ubuntu and had 5 drives in a RAID configuration – only 3 drives died and I had no idea until it was too late. I still have that server and there’s a reasonable chance I can recover a good portion of my data, but it’ll be $2500 and frankly I’ve been OK with that data loss. But, I learned a very valuable lesson and I’ll never let it happen again.
My data is in multiple places. Even if I was to lose all the data on the drives of that NAS, I’d still be perfectly fine. The most I’d lose was anything I changed today, which is effectively nothing. I follow a 3-2-1 backup policy which means that there’s 3 copies of data, stored in 2 places, with an additional one being “off-site”. I have my “main” data on my NAS which is in a RAID configuration. There’s another copy of that data on another “backup” NAS which is also in a RAID configuration, then there’s a 3rd copy in a trusted cloud storage provider. Granted, I don’t backup all my movies to that cloud as the costs would be nuts, but I’m perfectly content losing them if it ever came to that.
This provides me the peace of mind that if any one of those 3 places was to just completely die, I still have 2 more copies of all my data. Let’s say someone breaks into my place and steals ALL my electronics – just cleans me right out? Well, that’d need to be a targeted attack because nobody is stealing NAS boxes, they’re looking for laptops and small devices that’ll be easy to flip. Plus, the average thief wouldn’t have a clue what they’re looking at, not to mention I keep them in completely different areas of my house on purpose. Theft being one reason, but the main one is to (ideally) prevent full loss due to fire, flood, or damages if something was to just crumble. In those situations I could lose 2 of my 3 copies, but it’d be such an insanely low chance, and I still have that 3rd copy out there in the cloud, my saviour, my golden little jewel. Redeption.
Simply put, RAID is a super cool way to create parity in your data. What’s that mean? Well, think of it like redundancy. It’s where you use multiple hard drives together to create a “super” drive in essence. There’s 5 main types of RAID labelled 0, 1, 5, 6, and 10. The 0 method “combines” the hard drives, so if you were to put in 2 x 4TB drives, you’d have 8TB. This isn’t data redundancy, it just provides a slightly faster access to your data. RAID1 is 2 drives (ideally identical sizes) and keeps them “identical” so your data is mirrored across both drives. It provides a little faster read and write speeds, and creates redundancy. RAID5 and RAID6 are where you mix up your data between 3 (4 for RAID6) or more drives and it writes copy A, copy B, and “parity”. The parity shuffles around the drives just like you see in the image to the right. This means that you can have an entire hard drive die, and all you need to do is pull it out, replace it, and the system will rebuild itself. If you have RAID6, you can have 2 hard drives die before you experience data loss. With RAID10, it gets even crazier where you can have half of your drives completely die before any data loss. Grated, RAID10 configurations are generally only used in environments where cost is far less a factor.
But, I should explain this VERY clearly that RAID is NOT a form of backup. It’s a really great idea and will be a wonderful first line of defense, but it should never be your only line of defense. That’s what happened to me 7 years ago, I didn’t have another copy of my stuff and I got screwed. I’ll never let this happen to me ever again, and I strongly urge every one of my clients to invest in a 3-2-1 backup solution.
That all depends on how much data you’re trying to store and how you want to go about it. Most small businesses won’t need more than 4TB of storage at maximum. Right now that’s kind of the threshold of “cheap” vs more expensive drives. 4TB is a LOT of data, and unless you’re saving a ton of movies, you’re likely going to be fine. In my experience a lot of clients have less than 500GB of data with minimal year-over-year growth unless they start saving new things they didn’t previously.
4TB drives are going for about $150ea right now, and you can get a small 2-Bay Synology NAS for $500 or less. That puts the total cost just under $1000 once you factor in taxes and possibly shipping. That’s going to get you 4TB of redundant storage and sets the groundwork.
Now, you’re going to need to double this up in some regard. For people who are serious, you’d simply just buy a second NAS and have them as duplicates of one another. Tack on another $1000.00.
Which leaves us with the offsite version. Personally I view Synology’s C2 cloud storage as the best solution. There’s slightly cheaper options, but they don’t always come with the peace of mind I want. I trust Synology and they have a LOT to lose if they screw with client data in any way. I sure trust them a heck of a lot more than Google or Amazon, and definitely more than some cheap-o storage company that has questionable reviews, but comes at half the price.
Synology’s C2 storage currently goes for $70/year/TB of storage – and that’s more than enough for probably 95% of small businesses unless they’re specifically looking to backup large swaths of data. So, all in all you’re looking at $2000 upfront + $70/year. You could even factor in a small “reserve” fund to buy new drives pre-emptively every year and that’d cost you $150/drive. It’s actually quite reasonable, and will save you untold amounts should you ever lose data.
That can vary depending on the use case. For me when I lost data, technically it didn’t cost me anything, but I was heartbroken. I lost a lot of precious photos, videos, documents, and especially music that I’ll never get to see or listen to ever again. But, financially it didn’t technically cost me anything. Granted, I’ve spent thousands of dollars since securing my data, but I didn’t HAVE to do that.
If you’re a small business, are you able to operate without access to your data? What if your accounting file isn’t accessible? What if you have client or patient data stored there that you can’t access? What else is being stored and not backed up? Would you be able to even open the doors if you couldn’t get to it? That answer varies, but what doesn’t is that if you’ve lost access to your books, it’s going to be damn expensive and time consuming to recover. What if you have past projects, work for clients, or otherwise there? You’d need to do it all over again. How much would that cost in time & money? This doesn’t even touch on the possible legal aspects that could come into play which opens a whole new world of hurt.
Back when I worked in tech-support for Internet providers I had someone tell me weekly “this needs to be fixed immediately! Do you have any idea how much money I’m losing right now?!”, to which I always replied “can you give me a ballpark number?”. That number varied, but it was always “thousands” at the very least. I’d reply “what if I told you there was a way to keep you online for like $50/month, and you only really need to pay if you have to use it? Not one person ever denied they’d take it in an instant. The answer is, get a backup connection! Problem solved. You can install a LTE backup for a couple bucks a month and it’ll keep you going at least in a basic capacity with no issues.
The same can be said for backups. If you lost all your data, how much would you pay to get it all back? $2000? $5000? $25,000? Well, for $2000 most people can have the peace of mind they’ll never have to think about it again.
Easily, actually. In my case, the NAS device is the problem. Sadly that’s the most expensive thing that could die. There’s a few common fixes available for this problem, but none of them work for me and it looks like the repair time would be 2-3 weeks + $250 USD + shipping both ways to the USA for someone to overhaul the device and get it back to me working. That’s an option I’ll likely investigate later, but I need a faster turnaround. The beautiful thing about Synology devices is that they’re (generally) cross compatible.
This means that I can buy a new device and just toss my old drives in, and it’ll be back up instantly. That’d be great but DS-1515+ devices are a bit dated now and the ones available are all used on eBay. They’ll cost me (nearly) the same as buying a new current line device, plus they’ll take a week or two to arrive, where-as current line devices can be bought at most major computer stores like Canada Computers, and even Amazon. I’ve weighed my options and decided on a DS1520+ which isn’t the “newest” but it’s cheaper than their DS1522+ and I see very little difference between then outside of a couple hundred more dollars. In fact, the DS1520+ actually has better capabilities for what I’m using it for (mainly streaming files, and basic data storage that isn’t accessed consistently). Between that and the “bang-for-buck” factor, it’s by far the best choice I found one locally in under 3 minutes. That’ll get me back up and running tomorrow and it’ll cost me just a hair over $1000.00 with taxes.
So, tomorrow I’ll pickup my new device, come home, plug my drives in, and my digital world will be at peace once again. I’ll likely send my faulty device for repair, then when I get it back either sell it (I can probably get $600 for it), but more than likely turn it into my new backup NAS and retire my existing backup NAS, selling it to a friend or whatnot. We’ll see.
The point is, it’s a simple fix with little downtime. That’s happening because I planned, I spent some money, and I did this correctly. If I hadn’t, I can assure you that I’d be writing this article through a waterworks of salty tears if I wasn’t simply having a full on emotional breakdown.
The short answer is yes. The long answer is “absolutely, 100% yes”. Relying on Google Drive, Apple Cloud, or Dropbox isn’t a good solution. Outside of the privacy considerations, it’s not a failsafe solution. Accounts get hacked all the time, files get deleted by accident routinely, and there’s even instances of these providers completely locking users out of their accounts for using them to store data that’s “against our policy”. Boom, you’re toast and have basically no recourse. That’s a scary thing, and it’s why you should ALWAYS maintain control over your data.
Don’t get me wrong, these options are outstanding and super helpful as they give you access to all your data no matter where you are. Sharepoint / OneDrive is something I highly recommend if you’re in a corporate environment or can afford it personally, where-as the home user is more likely to be on Google Drive or Dropbox which is more or less the same thing except with a lot less features when it comes to sharing data & granting permissions (plus a lot of other things that aren’t relevant for the home user).
If you’re a business without a backup, you’re only asking for a massive problem and this should be addressed IMMEDIATELY. If you’re a single home user, keeping a small NAS is a great idea as a file store, backup, and it can even run a bunch of other cool things like Plex, Docker, and other media services. One could argue that the average home user could skip the second NAS and simply backup their laptop to the NAS, then the NAS to the cloud. This would still maintain a 3-2-1 rule. Synology has a cool little program that will backup your entire PC to the NAS automatically as files change on your computer. For Apple users it’s available too, but you can also use time-machine if you’d like. Both are acceptable. Your NAS backs up to the cloud daily (or more), and you’re laughing should anything ever go wrong.
The reality is that data loss happens to nearly everyone sooner or later. If you’re without a backup solution, you’re leaving yourself incredibly vulnerable if not outright screwed. You can fix this, and you should absolutely be fixing this. And, chances are you aren’t all that sure where to start, what to use, or how to set it all up. If that’s the case, I can help you. Getting your data into a 3-2-1 solution is a lot easier than you think and likely a lot cheaper than you think.
Reach out, let’s talk, and I can give you a good idea on what it’ll take to never worry about data-loss ever again.