In this post I’ll explain – best way I found – the structure and scheme that I personally use for backup.
It’s not the cheapest, not the easiest, nor the safest method, but after trying several ways, I believe it’s a well balanced and accessible system, that can be recommended for different situations.
The two main points considered were: not to be tied to monthly payments, and to combine local redundancy plus free cloud storage services.
Folks who already have a certain knowledge with backup systems will perhaps only need the image above to understand, but I’ll detail everything after the jump.
Disclaimer: I’m not a specialist nor a professional in this complicated area of backup and security.. there are other solutions, and it is possible that for you, this isn’t the ideal one. Which is why I say I’m posting my specific case. Use your critical thinking! Oh, and I’m not sponsored or paid by any of the brands/companies in the article.
The main element needed for my setup is a Synology NAS.
Mine was puchased on Amazon, with two 3Tb HDDs inside, model DS214play.
Unfortunately I can’t say if it’s possible to do the same with other NAS brands because the operational systems are different. Worst, I’m particularly using Synology branded apps, so I’m not sure if there are counterparts on other brands. But I’m going to give some alternative recommendations after explaining how my system works.
With the NAS installed on the local network – I recommend it’s installed in another room at your house/apartment, connected via Ethernet (wired network) if possible – and with initial configurations made, it’s necessary to install two apps: Synology Cloud Station and Synology Cloud Sync.
Synology Cloud Station – this app will build a storage and synchronization system that works similarly to most known cloud systems (Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, iCloud, etc), only locally.
The app also has links for the client counterparts to be installed on your own devices (in my case: Desktop PC, Smartphone and tablet).
For further step by step information on app installation and configuration, watch:
The first time you configure the app both on NAS and other client devices, you will choose a folder for synchronization (or the app will choose it for you). This is the focus point – the app is contained into that folder. Everything that’s inside the folder will be synchronized to the NAS.
Take a look at my initial scheme (first image on this post) on the folder named CloudStation.
Synology Cloud Sync – similar name, but this app works only inside the NAS (no clients), and is there only to synchronize the NAS with cloud storage services. It’s something like your Dropbox app, but it handles different services and accounts in a single app.
The image above shows a few of the services it supports (there’s a second page with more there).
To use it, you must first create accounts in each of those services. I have a free account in several of them.
With the accounts created and passwords in hand, it’s necessary to use the NAS system to connect each of those accounts one by one. The app connects to the services using their own APIs, but you don’t need to worry about that… only that you’ll need to give specific permission to each one of them so the whole thing works.
For further information on how to install and setup the app, watch:
Here comes the “trick” that I use so that my system synchronizes everything among devices, NAS and cloud automatically: When you are configuring each account (Dropbox, Google Drive, hubiC, etc), create a subfolder for each of those services INSIDE the Synology Cloud Storage folder (in my personal case, the CloudStation folder) on the NAS.
In practice, this forces all folders related to cloud storage services to also be synchronized on the local network using Synology Cloud Storage, assigning the NAS to connect and sync with cloud services by itself, using Synology Cloud Sync. With this, you also won’t need to install those services (Dropbox, Google Drive, etc) on your devices, since it becomes the NAS responsibility to handle it.
Example: you copy new photos inside the CloudStation\Dropbox subfolder in your Desktop PC. The Cloud Station app on the PC syncs with the NAS, copying the photos there. Then, the NAS uploads the photos to Dropbox servers using Cloud Sync. You now have 3 copies in 3 different locations done automatically (Desktop PC, NAS and Dropbox).
With this, we have the functionality of Synology Cloud Station plus Synology Cloud Sync added up, with local storage on your devices and NAS, plus cloud storage, all automatic.
With this system set up, what I did then was sketch a chart with how much space I have in each of the cloud storage services, plus some other specs, to decide what I should put in each folder.
Example: I have only 4Gb of space on Dropbox, so I set it aside for text documents, a selection of finalized .jpg photos, and other small files. On OneDrive, I have around 30Gb free space, so I’m saving full video project folders in it. On Google Drive I have only 5Gb, but the service is now connected to Google Photos that gives you unlimited space for those, so all supported photos goes there.
Another step into automatization: set the standard folders for you photo editor, video editor and/or text editor inside those. This way, everything you create with those will automatically be sync’ed.
Even more advanced scenario: Synology Cloud Sync allows you to choose the filetypes that the service can synchronize. So if your space is limited, but you’d still like to sync at least some important files in a given service, it’s possible to filter those.
Example: you have a project folder with tons of different raw files, but wants to sync only jpg and mp4 files, it’s possible to do it.
Extra space on cloud services: you just need to either pay for them, or to open extra accounts.
Unfortunate: Synology Cloud Sync still doesn’t support Mega, Flickr and some other services that gives you a TON of space free. Users have been asking for those in the forums though, so perhaps it’ll come in future updates.
Special cases: Bittorrent Sync
On my tablet, I have a temporary folder which I need that everything thrown there to also be backuped on the NAS, but with one way sync. Meaning that everything I copy into the folder on the tablet is also copied to the NAS, but if I erase files on the tablet, it’s NOT erased on the NAS, and it’s also not copied back again into the tablet.
Example: there’s a folder on my tablet (Temporary) in which I put a collection of videos, photos, art, music and sound effects for an editing job. But on the tablet, it’s only important to me that after using all those, the only thing that remains is the final result, because I have limited space. Problem is that, even though I have limited space and it’s necessary to delete files to free it up, those original files that I used for the project needs to be backuped – for future jobs and restores.
Which is why I need everything backuped on the NAS, but not necessarily on the tablet.
This is usually how a backup service works – without the bidirectional synchronization of cloud storage. But with this solution, the copies will be made everytime a new file is included. By comparison, most backup services will ask for a certain time interval for backups to be made (ex: once a day, once a week, etc).
This special case can also be used for local smartphone image and video backup, when you don’t want to use cloud services, whatever the reason is.
For those cases, the app I found was BitTorrent Sync – available for Synology NAS, Windows, OSx, Android, iOS and several other systems.
It works in a similar way to Cloud Station, but with one key difference: the app allows one of the connected sides to be “Read Only”. That is, you can read and copy files, but can’t erase or modify.
The configuration of it would be subject to an entire other post, but just so that this information isn’t abandoned, here’s an extra official video:
Redundancy Expansion: another NAS, Amazon Glacier, HiDrive, Elephant Drive
Let’s say you need an extra safety net for more security with backup on the cloud, or other physical locations (protection against disaster scenarios). It’s possible to connect your NAs to another NAS that is in another address (state, country, whatever). And then there are also apps for backup specific services like the ones on the image. Amazon Glacier, for instance, has lower costs charged in different ways (they charge by access and transfer needs). I can’t say much more about this because I don’t personally use them nor need them.
Extra tip: Desktop Area
This is something I need specifically, but it’s worth sharing.
I have a PC and a tablet running Windows 10 which are used only by myself. As many, I have the habit of throwing everything on the Desktop Area, and only put some order to it when the mess is going out of bounds.
So I started thinking if there wasn’t a way not only to backup the entire Desktop Area, but also synchronize it between my PC and tablet, so I don’t have to worry about cleaning up and organizing two different Desktop Areas all the time.
The answer is pretty simple, but lots of people don’t know it’s possible to do this.
You just need to open Windows Explorer, click with the right mouse button on the Desktop folder, choose Properties, “Location” tab, and then redirect it to a subfolder (create a new one) inside the Cloud Station folder. Once you do that with all the devices you need, in practice you’ll end up with a common Desktop to all your devices. Of course, that’s if you have several devices with the same OS.
If you don’t have a Synology NAS, the same could be done with Bittorrent Sync, or even a cloud storage services like Dropbox, Google Drive, etc – you only need to take care on space and file size limitations.
I believe this strategy works with Windows 7,8 and 10. Other OSs I wouldn’t know.
Guess that’s it. Some observations: a Synology NAS can do all that, but this is only a small share of what is possible to do with one of those. Even though the straight definition of NAS is a Network-Attached Storage, one could say that Synology NASs are almost like tiny servers. You can configure it to be accessed via Internet, you can host webpages, create a mail server, manage projects and do a whole lot of other things, as long as your internet provider and router allows you to.
It’s relatively expensive, but with good reasons to it, and ease of use is only one of them. But the ease of use alone already justifies the price, even if you are not going to use some of it’s other functionalities.
Curious as to what more my NAS can do? (it’s a middleground model.. there are cheaper ones, as there are big business solutions WAY more expensive than mine) Check the official page… it does a better job than me explaining everything it can do: https://www.synology.com/en-global/products/DS214play
Regarding other systems: I personally already tried to use an older computer with the operational systems FreeNAS and Amahi. Both are free and very good, but they are more difficult to install, configure and to maintain. For both I know there’s a free app that does something similar to Synology Cloud Station, which is called OwnDrive. I believe BitTorrent Sync is also available for both.
But to replace Synology Cloud Sync it’ll depend on each system to have a specific app for each cloud storage service. In fewer words: the entire process is WAY more involved, and it wasn’t worth it for me personally.
But I believe it’s a cheaper alternative (you’ll still have to buy the HDDs, and have an older computer lying around), for those who are willing to deal with all the configurations, and know what they are doing. In those cases, FreeNAS is based on FreeBSD, and Amahi on Linux. If you don’t know how to deal with those OSs, I wouldn’t recommend.
All images and videos in this post are from either the official pages, or from press kits available online by the respective brands/businesses, or captured locally on my PC.