So last year it came to that point in my career that I was just running out of space. All the time. It didn’t help that every time I filled up another external HDD, I’d just go & buy another one. My desk eventually had 6 external Western Digital HDD’s which I had to run into a 10-port USB hub, into my Macbook Pro. It worked, yet was rather messy. Not to mention I had my data backup up, but it was getting harder & harder to keep track of file duplicates.
I have been using the same file structure on my file backups for a very long time. It was a merge between Chase Jarvis’ system of using chronological structure & my own method of file & folder naming. I’ll get into that a bit later.
RAID is something that always scared me. How did it work? Why does it have to be so complicated? What are all these RAID numbers about? Why this price tag!? You know those moments in life when you hype something up so much in your head, and then you get to the day when you actually DO said-thing and it’s nowhere near the notion? Yeah, well getting a RAID setup is one of those things.
This post is mostly for those of you who feel the same way I did and are in the same position as myself. So much data, so much effort to keep it all well stored. And I’m happy to say, in the background I’ve helped a couple people take the plunge. My good photographer friend in LA, Webb Bland is one of them. I held his hand as he went through the process. It helps knowing that someone did it before you.
Now for those of you who have rolling in ‘hunnets’ this is an easy thing for you. You walk into a store & buy a Drobo. Chose how much space you want & part with your money without flinching. If you’re counting your pennies, you can still get a fantastic RAID setup for considerably less. This was my method.
You need something to house your RAID HDD’s. There are many brands who make units like this, but one brand stands out for me: Synology. A friend of mine who works in the IT infrastructure setup world swears by Synology. After doing extensive reading on what their units do technically, it was an easy choice. I had *almost* pulled the trigger on buying a (very cheap) unit from another brand, but fortunately I double checked the transfer read/write speeds -shockingly bad. Crisis averted there!
Once you’ve decided on your Synology housing unit, you need to fill that with physical HDD storage. Now depending on which Synology unit you go for, you need to get either 2, 4 or 6 HDD’s. Now personal history has me put my faith in Western Digital as a brand. I know this is one of those things where every person will tell you differently based on their experience. Unfortunately mine has been Seagate = failed drives. Western Digital = happy drives that last years & years. Now WD makes a series of HDD’s specifically for RAID setups. Isn’t that convenient! They’re called the WD RED series. They’re a lower RPM range (the disks spin slightly slower than conventional HDDs), but built like tanks. They’re meant to be used in servers that are running 24/7. So I got 4x 4TB WD REDs for my Synology unit.
That is the hard part. All the homework goes into knowing what combination you need for your purposes. The rest is really easy! Now RAID is defined as, “Redundant Array of Independent Disks. A data storage virtualisation technology that combines multiple physical disk drive components into a single logical unit for the purpose of data redundancy, performance improvement, or both.” The concept of data redundancy is that you never lose data, should a HDD fail. So your data is spanned over multiple physical disks, while the RAID system does its sorcery in the background to make sure that your data is never isolated, thus lost.
There is a little bit of maths involved in RAID. So for example, I bought 4x 4TB = 16TB of physical data. However, we need that thing called redundancy, so you don’t get all 16TB of storage. RAID reserves a portion for it’s redundancy & gives you the balance. Now in modern Synology RAID systems, you get something called “Hybrid RAID” or SHR. It is “an automatic RAID management system from Synology, designed to make storage volume deployment quick & easy”. Basically, this system takes 1/4 of your available space & uses this to make your “hybrid redundancy”. So for mine specifically, my 16TB of physical space becomes 12TB of usable storage space. This makes the different RAID structures (RAID0, RAID1, RAID5, etc) obsolete. I didn’t know this when I bought my Synology unit, but has been one of many incredible features to Synology.
Installing the 4 HDD’s into the Synology unit is a piece of cake. Each HDD has it’s own drive bay which just clips in. These trays just slide into the Synology unit. It’s impossible to get it wrong because everything can only go in one way.
I need to add something in here before we continue. Synology makes units that are meant to be used as a network based server/storage/NAS unit. So when I bought the unit, I didn’t realise that the connection port for I/O would be ethernet. I’m pretty sure I read it, but it didn’t register in my head. There ARE USB ports on the DS414, but these are for adding extra external USB drives, should you wish. If you’re going to be using your RAID unit on a PC that has an extra Ethernet port, then you’re ready to rock-n-roll immediately. If you’re like me, who uses one of the new(er) Macbook Pro’s that have no ethernet ports, then you’re in for one more $2 purchase. You’re going to need a Ethernet-to-USB3 dongle. I bought mine on eBay for about $2 I think. Be careful that you’re buying a USB3 (!!) dongle & not USB or USB2. This WILL become the bottleneck in your data transfer and you will wonder why your backups are taking forever. That is my disclaimer.
Moving onto powering up the unit, you’ll connect to it like you would a router or remote device: by IP. Your quick start guide in the box will give you this IP. The setup is automatic prompt-type. The Synology system will format the HDD’s in the correct file structure & your Hybrid RAID setup in one go. Once you’ve run through it all, you’ll be greeted with Synology’s virtual desktop for your RAID. Here you can go wild by installing server services, streaming services, hosting options, you name it. I feel like I could be using my DS414 for so many things, but use it for 1% of what it can do. But in my case, it is there for 100% work data storage, so I’m not interested in the list of things it can do.
I like the idea of plugging my NAS unit into my Macbook Pro with 1x USB cable & having access to every single work file I’ve ever created. This is what this system offers me. Again, I could use my DS414 as a wireless RAID unit, but I’ve never even gotten around to being that fancy. Now for my MBP, I enabled “Simple File System” in the settings somewhere. Basically this allows me to “mount” my NAS unit as I would a USB external drive. The bonus is that I can login/password protect my unit. So my data is both safe AND I have file redundancy.
Because I’m only writing this blog about my NAS unit over a year later, I can say that it has been one of the best investments I’ve ever made for my data. It has been the most rock solid, FAST and reliable setup on a budget. At the moment, I’m sitting on 9TB of 12TB used. When I hit the 12TB mark, Synology has a daisy-chain setup. So I just purchase another unit, link the two with an Ethernet cable & carry on like normal. It couldn’t be simpler.
I think this blog post has been long enough, so I’ll save how I handle my file structure to the next post.
EDIT: Synology is constantly updating their product range. It appears that the DS414 unit is no longer available & has been replaced with an updated DS416 unit.