Help with basic beginner NAS setup

Am contemplating setting up NAS and have no experience with such. Need to backup two Macs (new iMac running High Sierra, older MacBook Air running El Capitan) plus multiple external hard drives containing files, photos, archived disk images, SuperDuper backups, etc. Time machine currently running on the new iMac but not on the Air, but would like to add it to the Air. I use iMazing for non-cloud backups of iphones, ipads, and these are on an external drive connected to the iMac.

The goal is to keep the setup as simple as possible, and reasonable costs. Have cruised reviews and Synology seems to get the best ratings, including ease of setup. I have never set up a RAID system and am not sure if I should. Our wifi is via a CenturyLink DSL modem/router that has a USB port as well as ethernet.
I would probably have gone with an Apple Time Capsule but they are being discontinued and get mixed reviews. I can’t imagine needing to access files remotely (away from home).

A hot-swappable disk station makes sense but sure gets pricey by the time I add the drives. I can’t seem to determine if SSDs can be used, or, should I go for SATA drives to keep costs down?

Recommendations? Advice? Questions? I am tech-savvy, but not so much when it comes to networking (it’s all smoke and mirrors, right?) Thanks!

Have you read Jeff’s article to start?

Color me chagrined! Was so busy looking online, forgot to check my main source of reliable info. Thanks!

Personally I would consider using some external drives on the iMac and letting the laptop do it’s Time Machine to a shared drive…it’s a much cheaper solution than the NAS would be. I’ve done basically the same thing in the RV we live in full time…although mine is a mini hooked up to the TV as a media server with a bunch of drives hanging off of it, all of the 2.5 inch USB3 variety. I’ve got a bunch of CarbonCopyCloner scripts running to manage backups automatically and an extra pair of drives that live in the car and truck for “offsite” backup. Using a Mac for this does require that it be on 24x7…but then mine is already anyway.

Jeff’s article is good info. If you really want RAID storage…then perhaps a Drobo is a better option than a NAS would be…it’s certainly easier to setup. After some thought though…I went with just the standard USB3 drives. One is the main data drive that has all the data on it including the Time Machine .dmg files for the laptops. That gets cloned nightly to one drive and twice a week to another pair along with one final clone to another one that happens every 2 weeks; along with the offsite ones out in the vehicles. In the event of an emergency evacuation…for anything other than a fire my wife knows exactly which drives to yank off of the mini and carry out with her.

It’s true that a NAS can be larger than any single drive…and RAID can save you in the event of a drive failure…but in the event of a NAS controller failure your NAS drives are pretty much useless until you can get a new NAS controller bought or built since macOS doesn’t really understand the RAIDing that the NAS did. You used to be able to RAID drives with macOS directly or via SoftRAID…but I haven’t really looked at that since we went on the road in 2012.

No matter what you do…if it’s going to be accessed over wifi at any point SSDs probably aren’t worth the expense. For a USB3 or Thunderbolt connected drive to a Mac that is doing video or huge image files they might make sense…but for the most use cases over a network the limiting factor is network speed and not drive speed.

Neil Laubenthal wrote: “Personally I would consider using some external drives on the iMac and letting the laptop do it’s Time Machine to a shared drive”

I agree. If there were more computers involved, or a need for other NAS features such as file serving, or storing security camera footage, it might be worth a NAS. But a drive attached to the iMac can easily take care of both time machine backups (use High Sierra’s built-in Time Machine Server), and if you size and partition the drive right, it can handle clone backups too. I use Chronosync to clone my macs to shared partitions, one for each Mac’s system disk.

Another advantage to the mac drive is that you can encrypt it easily. I played around with a consumer NAS (seagate) for awhile, and those slow processors just can’t handle encryption. It crawled. The NAS enclosures that are fast enough for encryption cost about twice as much.

You can get 4TB bare drives for about $100 now, 8TB for $250. USB 3 enclosures are about $20 (or a dock for $30 if you want to swap out drives that way). If you get two drives, you can rotate them and keep a copy off-site. Or you can get a 2.5" external 4TB in an enclosure for about $100 which makes them easier to find space for and carry back and forth, but they’re slower. (Newegg prices, since I loathe Amazon.)

SATA is a connection type, most 3rd party internal SSDs are connected using SATA. I agree with Neil that for storage accessed over a network, stick with cheaper magnetic drives.

Do you have a sense of how much storage space you need? If it was just to backup an iMac and a MacBook Air, I’d guess that a single 8TB drive could be sufficient but if there will also be clones of multiple external drives, that could easily make that one drive not sufficient.

Drobos are slow and weird. Direct-attached storage (DAS) that use RAID (probably RAID 5, maybe RAID 1, never RAID 0) with multiple drives may make sense but I wouldn’t use Drobo hardware.

Before choosing a storage solution, you might experiment to see if the WiFi access point built into your DSL router works well or not. If you’re counting on moving a lot of data, especially big files, over WiFi, you want to be sure the network hardware can handle it. It’s expected to be the bottleneck but sometimes it’s unusably slow (e.g. a backup can’t finish in the available time). Assuming the iMac is connected to the Ethernet and the Air is on WiFi, you can create a shared folder and try some performance tests using a stopwatch and dragging a known quantity of data and/or using a program like Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, it works with network shares (note that it reports mega_bytes_ per second but network throughput is normally described in mega_bits_). You’ll probably need to share the results and ask if they’re okay or if it would make sense to use a WiFi router instead of what’s built into the DSL modem.

Good point. Another point about the cheapest NAS (and also DAS RAID) hardware, they are sometimes slower than you expect. 3-4 drives in a RAID5 configuration should be faster than a single one of those drives but the lowest-end hardware takes too much time creating the parity data inherent to RAID5. For a NAS, it doesn’t matter much so long as its’ still fast enough to saturate the fastest network connection available (probably gigabit Ethernet) but for a DAS it’s bound to be disappointing.

I used to think this was a given, too, but I’ve discovered that many (most) NAS use a Linux OS, and therefore typically only (on lower-cost models) allow you to format the disks in EXT[2/3/4] format.

On a NAS I mange for someone else, I found that using CCC to clone to a disk image, over time, began not only to take longer and longer and longer to complete, but also to slowly break down with cumulative errors due to timeouts reading files on the destination drive, and would then later start generating errors while writing. Upon closer examination, these files were invariably very large, and often disk images (with thousands or tens of thousands of bands), themselves.

Eventually, CCC would report the master clone disk image as corrupt, and beyond repair; attempts to repair it over the network failed; attempts to transfer the entire disk image to the local drive and repair there also failed – and all of these operations were murderously slow.

Eventually, I would just give in and delete the remote disk image (clone), and start over; a process that could literally take 3-4 days to complete (backup image around 780GB), with the deletion itself taking almost 2/3 of that time.

It finally occurred to me to check for fragmentation. Doh! Turns out, disk fragmentation was indeed the issue. But, I could only check it; I could not defrag it, since there doesn’t appear to be any defrag utilities on most of the lower end NAS available, unless you get uber geeky and install your own open source NAS software.

On a hunch, I threw in a spare SSD, and not only were the overall backups and nightly incremental backups faster (than an otherwise snappy 7200RPM drive), so were recovery and basic transfers of other data (music, movies, photos to the general household network shares).

Moreover, CCC never slowed down again, and never ran into any errors since. Now, I am concerned that there is no TRIM features for the SSD I installed, and I’d have to purchase an expensive SSD with internal TRIM features to override that worry (or purchase a new NAS with SSD TRIM support enabled), but this allowed me to keep an eight year old NAS going without spending anymore money.

tl;dr: SSDs can make any NAS that doesn’t self-defrag reliably faster and consistent in the long run since they don’t care about file fragmentation.

If you don’t want to spend money on SSDs (and it really doesn’t make a ton of sense to not put in a big, fat, 6TB-12TB drive in a device you’re using to make backups from multiple machines and possibly use as a household media/file server), just make sure that your NAS has automatic defrag capabilities, or at least the ability to manually defrag if necessary.

If anyone knows of a utility available to remotely defrag an EXT volume on a remote NAS, please let me know.

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