“Well, I really geeked it up this weekend in an effort to avoid future data loss from HD failure. I took an old PC that was gathering dust, and converted it to a NAS by using a neat little open source program called FreeNAS. Really works great with the handful of old, small HDs I had, and seems to transfer data much faster than a USB drive. I am waiting for delivery of 2 new 300gb SATA drives that I will install in the FreeNAS device in a RAID 1 configuration, which should give me adequate protection.”
This is indeed considerably geekier than I expected my not-so-little brother to get. It’s geekier than I’ve gotten myself, though the Ur-Guru tells me it’s a relatively simple procedure if you’ve got an old computer sitting around. You do want it to be an old computer, one you’re not using anymore, because once you convert it to a NAS device, you can’t use it for anything but storage.
NAS, for those not familiar with the term, stands for Network Attached Storage, and we’ve discussed it a few times in this newsletter. The basic idea is that instead of attaching the storage device directly to your computer, the way you do with external hard drives, you attach it to your network and transfer files to it that way. There are a number of advantages to this, such as being able to back up more than one computer to the same drive and not having to keep your computer and your backup device in the same room.
For the DIY model, you can use any old PC as long as it has at least 96MB of RAM, a bootable CD-ROM drive, at least one hard drive, and someplace to install FreeNAS: a floppy, USB, or additional hard drive. My brother had an old eMachine that fit the bill, so he downloaded FreeNAS from www.freenas.org and followed the instructions in the 41-page PDF manual.
If you don’t have an old computer gathering dust, or just don’t want to attempt anything that geeky, you can easily buy a NAS device—but it will cost you. The Buffalo TeraStation (which looks like a safe and provides 1 TB (1000 GB) of storage) goes for about $800; a 400 GB Mirra Personal Server will run you about $500. Both come with backup software.
The homemade FreeNAS model does not, so my brother concluded his message by saying “What is the best way to automatically back certain folders to the network drive? I’d like some sort of set it and forget it method. Any ideas?”
Backing up to a network drive isn’t really any different from backing up to any other drive, but I consulted the Ur-Guru before sending the following response:
“Karen’s Replicator should do the trick—another freeware program, the one I use for my own file backups. I’ve also been quasi-testing something called SyncBack to do periodic backups from my main interal drive to my secondary internal drive. In either case there’s a bit of setup time where you pick the directories to be backed up and then tell it the schedule you want it backed up on.”
And if you’re tempted to think of all this effort on my brother’s part as locking the barn door after the horses have escaped, bear in mind that he’s got two young children and will be taking many more pictures. We keep generating new data all the time, which is why it’s never too late to start backing up—and why it’s never too early, either.