For years now, I've been worried about my backup situation. I kinda have my photos and important documents backed up, but not really.
I've also wanted to have a low-power home server that I could run various tasks on.
Home server hodgepodge
My current solution to my backup and home server desires is a bit incoherent. I have an external hard drive hooked up to a 6th Generation Apple AirPort Extreme where I store the Time Machine backups for my computer and my wife's computer.
I also have some photo backups stored there, but I'm not very confident that they're really backups. I think I have another copy of most of my photos on Amazon S3 Glacier. And some photos are still on my iPhone and my wife's iPhone? I don't really know. My photo backup situation has gotten pretty bad since Google Photos became non-free.
I also have a Raspberry Pi that I run some home server things on. I use it as a print server for my Brother HL-2040. It runs Octoprint to control my Monoprice MP Select Mini 3D Printer. It also runs Homebridge and some custom software that allows me to control the lights in my apartment with Siri.
I've been looking around for alternatives to Dropbox for a while. I was able to get 20 GB of free storage through referrals and various other means back when Dropbox was just starting out. Now, that 20 GB doesn't feel nearly as spacious as it once did.
Recently, Google Photos stopped offering unlimited storage for free as well. I used Google Photos as my one and only backup because it was so easy to upload images from my iPhone.
With these two services having seemingly run their course in my life, I've been feeling a bit rudderless.
I'm pretty firmly against adding any subscriptions to my monthly bills. When faced with the rent versus buy dilemma, I'd much rather buy new hardware than rent a service. It just seems to be more economical to me.
The biggest reason I haven't built my own backup solution is because I know how much time that can consume.
I recently became aware of Synology and their selection of desktop network-attached storage (NAS) appliances. These desktop NASes are basically computers that you connect to your network and use to store anything you like.
I had heard of NASes before, but I mostly thought of them as being like dumb folders you could access over the network. It wasn't until recently that I discovered Synology NASes can install Synology-provided packages that replicate some of the functionality of Google Photos, Dropbox, and more.
Once I realized that Synology NASes could provide a kind of "home cloud", I researched their offerings a bit more deeply.
Choosing a NAS
I originally found the Synology product list a bit daunting. They have a "NAS Selector" tool, but it asked questions that I thought were just not technical enough to really suggest the right NAS for me.
Abandoning that, I quickly realized that their DiskStation (DS) line was the one aimed at consumers.
I then read that the DS Plus Series has faster CPUs better suited to video transcoding (useful for running Plex) and running VMs and Docker containers. A faster CPU would be helpful when running my home server tasks.
The DS Plus Series has 10 NASes as of writing which is still daunting.
I played around with the Synology RAID Calculator and looked at NAS hard drives on Amazon and Newegg to get an idea of their price.
I figured that I'd probably start with two 8 TB hard drives in an SHR1 (Synology Hybrid RAID, 1-disk redundancy) RAID configuration. That would give me 8 TB of usable space with one redundant drive. If I wanted to add more storage, I could add one more 8 TB drive to double the space available.
With that in mind, I decided I'd need at least 4 bays in my NAS. I figured I could start with two drives, add one drive more if I needed space, and still have a disk bay available to add a hot spare when any of the drives get close to dying.
Having decided on a DS Plus Series with 4 bays, I found there were only two models to consider: the DS420+ and the DS920+. There were several differences between these. The DS920+ has a faster CPU, more RAM, and can be expanded to 9 bays with the addition of a DX517 Expansion Unit.
I don't really care if I can add more bays or not. Four bays should be plenty for me. For me, the tipping point was the faster CPU and greater amount of base RAM in the DS920+. Those would both be very useful for the home server workloads I'm planning to run.
My NAS and hard drives should be arriving in the next few weeks. I have a few goals that I'd like to achieve with it.
Google Photos replacement
I have some secondary goals as well. I would like my family to be able to backup their photos from their Android and iOS devices to my NAS in a private manner. I'd also like to be able to share photos with links.
Time Machine destination disk
I'd like to be able to make Time Machine on my laptop and my wife's laptop point to the storage on my NAS.
A secondary goal would be to get my iPhone and my wife's iPhone to also backup to the NAS.
I want to be able to sync a specific folder from my laptop to the NAS and to any other computers I own. I think this can be done with the Synology Drive package.
A secondary goal would be to allow those files to be shared with a link.
A secondary goal would be to have multiple audio libraries on my NAS. Another secondary goal would be to allow these audio libraries to be downloaded to my phone for playback later without a network connection.
I'd like to be able to run Plex on the NAS as well so I can use it to watch movies and series I've downloaded. I'm sure this will work, so it's not really a goal.
I don't have a strong need for a VPN. It's just something that could come in handy in the future if I'm ever away from home and need to access my home network or appear as if I have an IP address in my home country.
I've read that Home Assistant is really great, but I'm not clear on what it offers that I don't have already.
My home automation setup is pretty rudimentary right now. I have about 10 switched outlets, a smart thermostat, and a smart lock. If I buy a home, I'd probably look to expand the number of smart devices in my home, but at the moment Homebridge on my Raspberry Pi is doing just fine.
My Raspberry Pi is currently my print server. It doesn't do a great job of it though. The printer disappears and has to be re-added from time to time. Also, print jobs take forever to print. I think this is because the Raspberry Pi's weak CPU takes a while to process each print job before it can send it to the printer.
If I move to a house, I'd like to get some IP cameras and use Surveillance Station to keep all recordings on my local network. In an apartment, I don't really have anywhere it makes much sense to install an IP camera.
I'll be working on achieving each of these goals after my NAS arrives. I'll keep you all updated with my progress.