Using a NAS to back up and protect your data

Macworld Australia Staff
17 August, 2016
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With so much of business now dependent on computers, it’s critical to have a robust strategy to deal with data loss. That loss can happen through equipment failure, accidental deletion of files or, in extreme cases, as the result of malicious actions such as a ransomware or some other type of malware attack.

In order to be able to quickly recover from data loss, it’s critical to have a robust backup and recovery plan in place.

The Backup Countdown

The generally accepted best practice for backups is the 3-2-1-0 approach. Here’s how it works.

Three – for the number of copies of your critical data you need to retain. It may sound difficult but the three copies could be the original data, a backup on a local storage device and a third copy at an off-site storage facility.

Two – for the number of different storage devices you should use. By storing your backups on two devices you aren’t left wanting if one device fails. For example, you could use a cloud service as one type of backup media and a local NAS as the other.

One – for the minimum number of copies you should keep off-site, away from your main work area. If the worst happens and your office is destroyed, having your backup wrecked makes it useless. Make sure one of those copies of your data is at a location, away from where you work.

Zero – for the number of errors your backups should contain. It’s important that you test your backup system regularly to ensure the data you’re protecting is actually safe. Also, make sure the recovery process is easy, well documented and as fast as possible.

Anatomy of a Backup

There are two types of backups.

Full backup – this is where every single piece of data on your computer or server is copied, exactly, to another data storage device.

Incremental backup – once you’ve taken your first full backup, automated backup systems only need to capture changes from the last backup. Capturing the changes to a full backup is called an incremental backup.

Another term you may hear is snapshot. This is a point in time backup. Think of it as a being like a photograph. It represents a point in time view of your systems. Whereas backups tend to capture each file, snapshots work at a lower level, capturing all your data in its binary form.

Synching, Backups and Archives

Many people think using a cloud service like Dropbox is all they need. The trouble is, if a file is accidentally edited or deleted, that action replicates to Dropbox, OneDrive or whatever service you’ve chosen.

So, while file synching using the cloud is handy, it’s not really a backup solution. At a pinch, it may help if you lose your entire computer, but it won’t help you in every situation.

And those cloud-based file sync services store your data on servers that could be anywhere in the world. That could be a problem with some data types that aren’t allowed to go offshore because of local laws and regulations.

You might also be subject to government obligations to retain some data for an extended period of time. That’s where you need to have a data archiving solution. Whereas backups tend to be altered from the time you take a full backup through the regular incremental backup process, an archive is a point in time backup that is not altered.

Backup systems, file syncing services, and archiving programs overlap in some of their functions. But each has a different primary purpose.

That means each needs a different process even if the tools each uses are similar.

Backing up your data

Now that you understand the difference between syncing, backups and archiving, and have a handle on the 3-2-1-0 backup countdown, it’s time to put it all into practice.

We’re going to use a Synology NAS device to put together a robust backup solution.

A NAS is a network storage device. We’re all accustomed to connecting external hard drives to our computers. A NAS is similar but it connects to your network so multiple devices can access it easily. Also, most NAS devices contain multiple hard drives so, if a drive fails, your data is safe as the drives are configured to provide redundancy.

Synology offers different backup solutions that work together to protect your data.

Cloud Station Drive is similar to services like Google Drive, OneDrive, and DropBox. As you create and edit files, they are automatically synchronised to the NAS in real-time. Up to 32 previous versions can be retained.

Unlike those file syncing services, Cloud Station Backup keeps your files at a location you can access so there’s no danger your data leaves the country, putting you in potential breach of any laws or other obligations.

Most of the cloud-based services limit their capability to synching data from a specific folder. This forces you to organise your data in a specific way. Cloud Station Drive can be configured to synchronise data from multiple folders.Cloud Station Backupprovides real-time backup of your files every time they are changed. Unlike Cloud Station drive, this is a one-way process that also holds up to 32 previous versions of each edited file. So, even if you accidentally edit the file, delete it or it becomes corrupted on your computer, you’ll find a safe version to retrieve on your Synology NAS.

You can choose to back up specific folders or the entire C or D drive. It means you can also back up non-work related files such as system files, allowing you to go back in time and recover files that were overwritten or accidentally deleted.

While Mac users are accustomed to using Time Machine, Cloud Station Backup is multi-platform so one solution can be used for your entire business regardless of what computers your staff use. This is a great benefit if you have a BYOD policy or need to support different operating systems for different purposes.

Hyper Backup is a fully-functional backup solution that lets you back up your Synology NAS to external hard drive, another Synology NAS or rsync compatible system, among others.

That means the work files, applications, and configuration files stored on the NAS are all protected.

As Hyper Backup starts with a full backup and then takes incremental backups on a schedule, it’s possible to go back to a particular point in time. So, if your business is attacked by ransomware, you can restore your systems to a point just before the attack. The Hyper Backup Explorer allows you to look into what files are in each backup copy, and choose to restore even just one single file (instead of the whole backup).

Hyper Backup lets you choose the destination for your backup data. Businesses can choose the best strategy based on their budget and requirements.

And, for further protection, you can configure Hyper Backup to copy your backups automatically to cloud services such as Amazon S3, Microsoft Azure, HiDrive, IBM SoftLayer, RackSpace and other OpenStack Swift compatible servers.

Bringing it back to 3-2-1-0

So, how do Cloud Station Backup, Cloud Station drive and Hyper Backup satisfy the 3-2-1-0 backup plan?

Three copies (plus one!): By using both Cloud Station Backup and Hyper Backup you’ve got

  • The original data on your Mac
  • Synchronised copies of your files using Cloud Station Drive
  • A real-time backup copy through Cloud Station Backup
  • A backup using Hyper Backup to a remote server or an external cloud solution

So, not only do we hit the three copies but we potentially exceed that requirement.

Two storage devices: A solution using Cloud Station Backup and Hyper Backup means you are using a NAS and a cloud service if you back up your backups to Amazon S3, Microsoft Azure, HiDrive, IBM SoftLayer, RackSpace, and some other OpenStack Swift compatible server.

One offsite copy: Your NAS doesn’t have to be on the local network – it could be stored at a remote site. So, it becomes your off-site copy. And let’s not forget Hyper Backup for backing up your NAS to another Synology NAS, rsync-compatible device or cloud services.

No errors: It’s important to regularly test your backup system. That means setting some time aside each month to carry out test recoveries of files and folders to ensure nothing has gone awry.

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