Data backups – dedicated solution vs. home made server

Some years ago (~10) I was puzzled by the choice between dedicated backup machine (something like one describe here: QNAP TS-231P – rok i trzy fackupy później (na szczęście z happy endem)) vs. my own setup. There are advantages of dedicated backup solutions (so called NASes). These machines have close to zero configuration setup, look very nice on the desk, and have a dedicated purpose – to serve data well.

Even though very convenient, NASes are quite expensive. QNAP TS-231P, for example, is priced at 261€ (without hard drives). On a contrary, a very basic solution based on Intel NUC would be priced at 150€ (depending on what you decide for when it comes to SSD and memory).

There is one more issue when it comes to NASes – you are completely bound to whatever is offered by the company that sells them. NASes are, simply put, nice looking black boxes that might bring some harm in the future – once considered by the company as a legacy systems. At the same time, home made system can be easily upgraded, updated, modified and will serve its purpose for years. In my case, I have the very same hardware for more than 10 years already. Over that time, the only thing that has changed was the operating system. I have tried FreeBSD, Ubuntu, and Debian.

When it comes to RAID, I can already hear people saying that NASes provide RAID 1 and it gives you additional safety net (it seems RAID 1 is overrated these days anyway). First of all, RAID can be easily configured on FreeBSD/Debian with software based solutions. Secondly, you can “emulate” RAID 1 with rsync, and this way, you are free to spread your data over as many additional drives as you like quite easily. This task can be scheduled as overnight activity. This way, you won’t even notice it happening. Last, but not least, the advantage of this approach is the ease of accessing data once something goes wrong. You can simply unplug one of USB drives, plug it somewhere else, and you are ready to go. At the same time, resorting to NAS and its RAID implementation might leave you helpless.

Note that you can also buy a refurbished machine for less than 100€ and you will still get a really decent performance and save the environment at the same time.