How We Do Backup

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Tim Higgins

Maybe it’s the approach of spring. But this past weekend, I finally made long-planned changes in the backup routine here at SmallNetBuilder. I’ve long been an advocate of avoiding RAID if possible and backing up one NAS to another for data security. (See Smart SOHOs Don’t Do RAID.)

But here I was, using an aging NETGEAR ReadyNAS NV+ in RAID 1 as my main NAS and backing up to an even older Buffalo HD-H120LAN LinkStation. I originally started out with the NV+ in XRAID2. But after a drive died on me, I decided to simplify and switch over to standard RAID.

Since my storage needs are under 100 GB (no, that’s not a typo!), I could easily have dropped down to a single 250 GB Seagate 7200.8 drive in the NV+. But had I left two drives in and configured them in a single RAID 1 volume.

The Linkstation is so old that it doesn’t even have any backup capability. But it did the job just fine as a network share that the NV+ ran scheduled backups to every few hours during each work day.

The main thing that caused me to put off making a change was my reluctance to install a backup client on my main Windows-based work machine. I’d come to rely on the NV+’s ultra-flexible built-in backup capability, which can back up pretty much anything to or from anything else. And the few backup apps that I’d tried were either too clunky, too slow or both.

But the NV+ had been acting kind of strange of late and it is pretty slow. I had already moved its SqueezeCenter duties over to an old QNAP TS-109 Pro that I have on long-term loan. But I was just having a hard time breaking away from the NV+’s built-in backup capabilities.

I’d been waiting for other NAS vendors to copy the ReadyNAS’ backup tricks, so that I could retire the NV+ and move to a speedier NAS. But, to date, only Iomega has made the move and added the ability to back up to and from SMB shares to its ix4-200d and ix2-200. But I didn’t have either of those on long-term loan from Iomega, while I did have the QNAP TS-109 Pro and a Synology DS109+ on hand.

Since the QNAP was already doing media serving, I decided to make it the primary NAS and use the Synology as an rsync backup target. I probably should have swapped their roles, given the Synology’s higher performance and especially given Synology’s better backup features in its DSM 2.2 OS vs. QNAP’s 3.1.

But once QNAP gets around to issuing 3.2 firmware for its older Marvell-based products, the two will be equal enough. And I was able to schedule a once-a-day incremental rsync backup of the QNAP to the Synology without a problem.

Backup Apps

The real work started when it came time to choose a backup application. I’d tried the free ones that Synology and QNAP include with their products awhile back. Both QNAP’s NetBak Replicator and Synology’s Data Replicator 3 could do both monitored (immediate) and scheduled backups. But the scheduled backups were at most once per day and I definitely didn’t want monitored backups due to their overhead.

So I hit the SNB Forums and started working through the free backup program recommendations found there (hey, I like free as much as anyone!). First up was Siber Systems’ GoodSync, which I really liked. Setup was easy with a helpful wizard that was easy to use. I liked the Analyze mode, which performed a dry run without copying so that you could see what was going to be done.

Scheduling was flexible enough and included a "Periodically" mode that ran the jobs on a scheduled period that seemed to operate independently of the Windows scheduler. And the backup ran really, really fast!

But for some reason, GoodSync insisted that there were thousands of errors in each backup due to its inability to set "file attributes to normal". And since that made it hard for me to tell whether a backup had really been successful, I reluctantly shut it down and moved on.

Next up was GFI Software’s GFI Backup – Home Edition. It also had Sync and Scheduled modes and the ability to run multiple times per day. It has the ability to use Windows’ Volume Shadow Copy service to copy open and in-use files, too.

Its main drawback is that it is very slow, taking 9 minutes to do an incremental backup of a 1 GB file set (even after the first run). It didn’t complain about errors, though, and if it weren’t for the lack of speed, I would probably have stayed with GFI Backup.

My last trial was with 2BrightSparks’ Free SyncBack. It appears to use Windows’ scheduler, but I had no problem scheduling backups for every two hours. And speed was excellent, taking only 109 seconds to do an incremental backup of the same backup set that it took GFI Backup 9 minutes to do.

SyncBack’s main drawbacks are its annoying habit of opening a new browser tab with an HTML format log at the end of each run and its inability to copy open files. I can fix the latter by shelling out the $30 for SyncBackSE, but I’m not sure how to stop the log browser tab opening. No matter, since I’ve settled on using SyncBack free for now, since it’s easy to check the the few open file errors when that ol’ log window does open in my browser!

So I’ve accomplished my changeover in backup routine using two single-drive NASes (generously loaned by QNAP and Synology) backing up one to another and using a free Windows backup program to back up my work machine to one of the NASes.

Of course, both NASes (and my work computer) are on UPS, which has saved my data more than once during the all-too-frequent power outages and glitches we seem to get here.

The main missing element in my backup routine is getting my essential data stored offsite to the cloud or in a fireproof box here at home. I had been using the ReadyNAS Vault service in the NV+, paying $6 per month.

I may give the Amazon S3 backup service that QNAP has added a try, once the TS-109 Pro’s firmware is updated to support it. But I’d rather wait until after June 30th, when Amazon’s current free data transfer offer (for the first 50 TB) expires. Or maybe I’ll just get a couple of portable USB drives and do rotating backups. For now, though, the two NASes should keep my data safe enough from harm.

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