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I've said it before and I'll say it again: if you don't back up your important information to more than one other location, you only have yourself to blame if you lose it. But to where to back it up? My rule is that one location can be online but the other should always be offline other than when you are copying to it. Offline storage could be writeable DVDs or CDs but with the amount of data we all keep these days there's going to need to be dozens of those! Anyway, recent revelations about DVDs and CDs state that you can't rely upon them still being readable after more than a year so you have to do it over and over again.
I implemented my first solution some 5 years ago: I bought a network-attached Buffalo Technology 250GB LinkStation. I reviewed it here some time ago. As the name suggests, it plugs directly into a computer network (I have installed a Cat5e wired network in our house) and so doesn't need to be directly connected to a computer in order to do its stuff.
It has worked pretty much faultlessly ever since but I have always been aware that the data it stores for me is very vulnerable as there is just one hard drive inside it. It contains simple direct copies of all the files. If it failed the whole lot would be lost were it not for the fact that I periodically copy everything on it to a portable Freecom 250GB USB-attached hard drive. I should do this more often than I do, hence the reason for looking for an alternative.
Finally I decided to implement a new solution and the one that I chose was the Synology DS409slim DiskStation, after I read some very good reviews of it on Trusted Reviews. I chose this particular model not just because of it's features but also because of it's size: as you will guess from the name, this device is very compact and so fits perfectly where I planned to install it in the house.
The device holds up to 4 hard drives but comes without any as bought. It is your choice what hard drives you decide to use with it, with the proviso that they must be 2½" SATA laptop type drives. I chose to use Hitachi TravelStar 250GB 7,200rpm ones for the simple reason that Hitachi always gets good reviews for quality and reliability. I also chose the 7,200rpm models for their greater data transfer speed, even though they are slightly more expensive.
I got four of these from Oyyy.co.uk at under £40 each, with free delivery. The DS409slim I got from DABS for just under £290 with free delivery. In use the total usable capacity is just under 700GB which, considering I haven't even used up all of the 250GB on the old LinkStation, should leave me enough at least for the foreseeable future. The DS409slim will accept hard drives of up to 500GB so the total possible storage capacity is between 1½ to 2TB, depending upon configuration.
What makes the DS409slim more than just your average Network Attached Storage (NAS) device relates to the 4 hard drives. There are a number of ways that these can be configured and the one in which I am interested is RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks). This is a way of storing data so as to ensure it can survive a disk failure.
The format I chose to implement is RAID5+Spare. This spreads the files across 3 of the 4 disks such that no one file exists on just one hard drive. Bits are stored on each drive with information also stored (Parity) such that should a drive fail then the original data can be recreated from what remains plus the Parity information.
The 4th drive is a Hot Standby, ready to step in and take over from any hard drive that fails. This explains why the total available storage is less than the combined capacity of all of the hard drives. This gives you a pretty secure storage system and only someone stealing the entire device would result in all the data being lost.
Once all of the bits had arrived the time had come to commission the device into use. This I found a bit daunting: the installation process is perhaps a bit of a challenge for the non-technically skilled. In theory you simply insert the provided CD and follow the instructions.
The initial stage is the guidance on installing the hard drives. Each is held in a plastic caddy which slides into the back of the body. Each drive is secured to the caddy with provided screws. There should be no problems with this stage. Each caddy can be labelled with a small sticker indicating its number, 1 to 4, so that if removed it can be replaced in the correct slot.
It then just remains to plug it into the network and switch it on. Once the installation CD has recognised the device on the network you should be able to simply click the Quick Setup and the device will be brought into service. For some reason that didn't happen in my case and I then had to follow a step-by-step manual setup procedure. However, that did go smoothly but, at the end the Status light on the front panel was still flashing amber rather than steady amber or, better still, green!
What had not been explained adequately was that the setup process doesn't take you through defining how you want your hard drives configured. Next I had to install the Synology Assistant software so as to help me through this process. Once I'd done this I opened the app but the screen didn't look like the one shown. I then checked the Synology website and discovered that there were more recent versions not only of the Synology Assistant but also of the firmware for the device itself.
So, before going any further I downloaded all the latest versions and carried out updates. Once I'd done that I eventually figured out that I needed to access the device as Administrator and configure the hard drives for RAID usage. Connecting to the device from the Synology Assistant actually launches your Web browser as it is accessed using a URL. In this it is similar to the old LinkStation.
From the Manager you access the Storage > Volume Manager and it is here that you decide how many logical volumes you want and how you want them organised. I decided to set the entire storage up as a single volume configured RAID5+Spare. Once you have done that you need to leave the device alone for an hour or so whilst it formats all the hard drives for the chosen configuration. When finally completed you reboot the device and now all of the indicator lights on the front panel shining green. You are ready for action.
I decided to do one more thing first: set up the device to switch off over night when no one would be using it and then come on automatically in the morning. This you do from System > Power. I have the LinkStation set up this way as well. No point in having the hard drives active if no one needs them. Of course, if you are using the DS409slim to host an externally accessible Web or FTP Server then you can't do this. I also set the hard drive inactivity hibernation to 10 minutes.
All I had to do then was copy everything across from the LinkStation to the DS409slim. Despite having less than 250GB of data to transfer, it still took a couple of days to complete, over the network, via my laptop. I suspect I may have been able to do this direct from device to device using the DS409slim's built-in Backup service but I was keen to get it into use and so didn't investigate this possibility. As I already have a backup app (Synchredible) I may not use this at all, but I will take a closer look at it later.
You will probably have gathered by now that the DS409slim is more than just a data storage device. It has many additional capabilities. It has a couple of USB ports (unfortunately only USB2, not the newer, faster USB3) to which can be attached an eternal USB hard drive or printer. The device has a built-in print server; I don't need this myself as I have a couple of network-attached printers anyway. There is also an eSATA port for attaching this type of external hard drive.
The DS409slim also has many built-in application. It can act as a Media Server, centralised Photo and Video sharing centre, File Sharing across the network and also as an authorised iTunes server for uses on the same subnet to access without contravening iTunes terms and conditions.
One other app that I will use in due course and which is possibly the one that finally decided me on this device, is Surveillance Station. This enables you to set up the DS409slim to directly monitor video streams from IP surveillance cameras. I don't have any yet but I do plan to set a few up around property, to monitor for intruders. The application can be set up to monitor for movement and to record it in many ways. It can also be set up to send warning messages and enable external access to see what's going on when you're away from home. You can't have too much security!
Talking of security, you can, of course, set up multiple folders and restrict access to those folders to specific users. That way everyone can have their own data storage without anyone (other than the Administrator) having access to them. The device also has it's own built-in firewall so that you can have even greater security over who can access it.
So far I have probably only scratched the surface of the DS409slim's capabilities but what I've seen has impressed. It's fast, quiet and, so far, reliable. It may be a tad expensive but I believe that it has been a good investment for the sake of peace of mind. I shall no longer be worrying about not having recently backed up all my data in case I get a hard drive failure. Hopefully it will offer good service for years to come, just as has the old LinkStation.