Drives safe!

We all know that we should backup our data regularly and ideally with some sort of backup strategy but let’s be honest: Many of us don’t. Over the years, I got a bit better, but after listening to one of the highly recommended episodes of the (mainly German) Working Draft podcast, it became obvious to me that there was still a lot of room for improvement. So I used some spare time over the holidays to spruce up my backup setup. In this post, I’ll share what I did – maybe it inspires you to do something similar or you might have much better ideas, in which case I would love to hear from you, of course. A warning upfront: I use MacOS, so this post might be of less use here and there if you prefer any other operating system.

The current situation

Daily backups: Non-existent.

Yes, this is pretty bad, I know. I used to have an external drive for a Time Machine backup but over time I completely stopped doing regular backups of my MacBook Pro’s hard drive. And although SSDs are much more reliable than SATA hard drives, you never know when disaster strikes (knock on wood…). So obviously, this was one of my major pain points I wanted to improve.

Home server solution: Synology Disk Station

A few years ago, I bought a Synology DiskStation DS214+. It’s a two-bay NAS server that comes with a lot of useful features for setting up your own little datacenter including a “cloud” solution that works a bit like Dropbox. I configured it so that I have one network volume called ARCHIVE and one called HOME. The ARCHIVE is where I move completed projects and all the other stuff I still need to tidy up one day but I definitely don’t want to lose. The HOME network volume is for daily work and automatically synced with a folder of the same name on my work computer – although I often switched off automatic syncing via the Synology Cloud Station application, because it slows down my Mac quite substantially – especially if I use a watch task in a tool like Gulp, for example. Overall, this setup worked quite well and gave me peace of mind regarding my work files, also because the two 2 TB hard drives are combined in a RAID, so if one hard drive fails I still have the other one.

The main problem with this setup was that the 2 TB RAID was filling up and was in danger of running out of space. So I was in need of a storage upgrade.

A bunch of hard drives on a table

Upping the game

Step 1: Upgrading storage capacity

To expand the storage capacity of the Synology NAS, I bought two 4 TB Western Digital Red hard drives which are optimized for use in NAS systems. The upgrade process itself was astonishingly easy – and yes, I use the word easy intentionally here, because it indeed was easy: I replaced one of the old 2 TB drives in the NAS with a new 4 TB drive. Then, I went into the Storage Manager of the Synology DiskStation Manager (DSM) and started a Repair of the degraded RAID storage pool. After the successful repair, which took a few hours, the two drives were in synch again so I then replaced the second old drive with a new one. I started a Repair again – done. Here is an article that explains the process.

Step 2: Wireless Time Machine backup

A Time Machine backup is a super convenient way to back up your work machine, but I didn’t want to fill the precious space of my NAS with incremental backups. So I put one of the old 2 TB drives inside an external HDD case to plug it into the USB 3.0 port of the Synology.

But before I connected it to the NAS, I formatted the external 2 TB drive with MacOS’s disk utility. Side note: Since MacOS High Sierra, MacOS switched to the newer Apple File System (APFS) which is also used by iOS, tvOS, and watchOS. Time Machine can’t make use of the new file system though, so if you want to use a hard drive with Time Machine, make sure to format it using the Mac OS Extended (journaled) aka HFS+ file system.

But, as it turns out, this step wasn’t necessary. The Synology already comes with the option to create a shared volume for Time Machine backups and for that, the drive can perfectly be formatted with ext4, a journaling file system for Linux. So I reformatted the external USB drive again, renamed the shared folder of the drive to TMBACKUP, enabled Bonjour Time Machine Broadcast via SMB in the DSM, and selected TMBACKUP as the Time Machine folder. After that, I was able to mount the TMBACKUP volume on my Mac and select it as the backup disk in the Time Machine system preferences. If you’re interested in the whole process, there is a helpful article in the Synology Knowledge Base.

Ultimately, after a pretty time-consuming first Time Machine backup, my MacBook Pro’s hard drive is now backed up hourly via WLAN onto the external USB drive connected to the NAS. Yay!

Outlook: Physical separation

So after all this tinkering with hard drives and DSM settings, I now have much larger storage capacity and a wireless Time Machine backup up and running. The last thing to do is to find a nice way to keep another backup copy offsite, which is especially important for the ARCHIVE.

Patrick suggested that I could buy a cheaper or used Synology to remotely backup the main Synology and this seems to be a pretty compelling solution. Another idea would be to rent storage online. I haven’t yet decided what to do regarding physical separation, all I know is that I don’t want to manually copy any data because I won’t do it anyway then.

Overall, I’m already much more satisfied with my setup than before. But now I’m also curious: How do you back up your data? Do you keep a backup offsite and if you do which solution did you choose? I would love to hear from you via Webmention or Twitter – or write me a good ol’ email.


6 Webmentions

Photo of Jonas Jäger
Jonas Jäger
I use Synology Cloud Sync together with Backblaze B2 for an offsite backup. Works great.
Photo of @marcthiele
@marcthiele If you need the advanced stuff, the DS432+ would be a good choice, I guess: But if you also want/need 10 Gigabit ethernet (🤔), the DS923+ – with an additional adaptor though – would be the right one. Synology DS423+ im Test: DSM 7.2 vs DSM 7.1
Photo of @marcthiele
@matthiasott @marcthiele I just switched from my old synology 2bay from ~15 years ago to the new model (ds223j), also 2bay and I am pretty happy because it's faster. Upgrading my disk space was always very easy (depending on which raid you're using). I always could simply remove one HDD, put in a bigger one, wait for the sync and then do the same with other HDD. Couldn’t you do that, too?