NAS backup offers the possibility to back up data according to the 3-2-1- Strategy. This method requires three data copies on two media and one external backup. One of these could be a NAS backup.
(It's important to note that NAS is rarely used for cold storage, but it can work wonders as a warm storage option.)
What Network Attached Storage (NAS) is, what benefits NAS data backup has, and how to back up data with the Acronis Cyber Protect can be seen below.
What is network-attached storage (NAS) backup?
The NAS data backup describes a backup of network-attached storage, also known as networked storage or network drive. The NAS backup system requires a NAS device built like a small computer – with a housing, processor, operating system, and one or more hard disks. The network memory is connected to the network via a router or other distributor. With the help of transmission protocols, the data can be shared on the network.
The system does not require a dedicated PC or server to function; it is directly connected to the network and works autonomously.
Using a NAS backup system, data backups of multiple devices can be performed simultaneously. All data is stored centrally in the network. A NAS data backup usually runs automatically — whenever one of the PCs on the network is turned on. This ensures that all data is saved to secure storage at all times.
What is NAS?
As we've said, NAS stands for "network-attached storage." It's a dedicated file storage that multiple users can access to retrieve data from a centralized disk capacity. If the users are all connected to the same local area network (LAN), they can access the NAS file storage via a standard Ethernet connection.
As NAS devices don't have a keyboard (or a display), they are configured and managed via a browser-based interface. Each NAS device resides on your LAN as an independent network node. Every NAS node is defined by a unique IP address.
NAS is most known for its ease of access, low cost, and high capacity. NAS consolidates storage in a single location and supports cloud functions, such as backup and archiving.
NAS and SAN ("storage area network") are the two primary types of network storage. NAS is best at handling unstructured data, with SAN designed primarily for block storage.
Unstructured data comprises audio, video, text files, websites, and MS Office documents. Block storage, or "structured data", focuses on databases and enterprise applications.
NAS device components
Regardless of the NAS size and scale, NAS devices typically comprise the following components:
NAS devices are powered by a central processing unit (CPU) and memory. The CPU runs the local NAS device and OS, reads and writes data to storage, handles user access, and integrates with cloud storage (if permitted).
While traditional computers use a general-purpose CPU, NAS devices rely on a specialized CPU to ensure high performance and low power consumption.
Every NAS device must pack physical storage (typically in the form of disk drives).
The drives may vary — traditional magnetic HDD, SSD or other non-volatile memory devices. (Modern NAS usually supports a mix of different storage options.)
NAS can also offer logical storage organization, ensuring redundancy and optimal performance — mirroring, RAID, etc. However, the CPU is responsible for the logical organization, not the disks.
- Network interface
Desktop or single-user NAS often allows a direct PC connection (via USB ports or limited wireless (Wi-Fi) connection).
However, any business-oriented NAS intended for data and file-sharing demands a physical network connection. Connecting your NAS via an Ethernet cable gives the NAS a unique IP address.
- Operating system
Like a home PC, NAS relies on the OS to organize and manage its hardware and storage data. Basic devices rarely highlight specific NAS operating systems, but more advanced ones often employ a dedicated OS — QNAP QTS, Netgear ReadyNAS, Zyxel FW, TrueNAS Core, etc.
What features does a NAS backup system have?
A NAS backup system enables data backup first and foremost. To make it work, the network memory is equipped with the following features:
- The database of multiple PCs, smartphones, and other devices can be backed up on a NAS backup — regardless of location.
- The NAS device can be operated with a more fail-safe hard disk configuration, e.g., RAID-1 mirroring (two hard disks) or RAID 6 (four hard disks). (If one of the hard disks should fail, the data is still backed up on the other hard disks and is not lost.)
- An administrator controls user access on the local network. It is also possible to allocate different access rights to maintain data protection.
- Access to the NAS server can be from any device on the network.
- The network memory has a USB interface for extensions or a printer — so documents can be printed from any device on the network.
- If a NAS device is paired with backup software such as Acronis Cyber Protect (formerly Acronis Cyber Backup), further data security processes can be implemented.
- NAS servers have the following protocols: SMB, CIFS, AFP, NFS, and others.
Uses for NAS
NAS can be used for multiple data-securing purposes, among others, for the following:
NAS as data storage
Network storage is ideally suited as a backup system. With up to four possible hard disk drives, you can store up to 40 TB of data on a NAS backup system. In addition, the NAS backups can be automated using appropriate online backup software from the manufacturer — small businesses in particular like to use NAS backup solutions, as they are easy to manage.
NAS as media archive
You can store backups of documents and all kinds of media in NAS device backups. You can access backed-up movies, pictures, music, and video files anytime and play on computer-like or DLNA-enabled media devices like a TV. To do this, you must activate the specific NAS services UPnP-AV server and iTunes server so that smart TVs, multiple computers, or smartphones can recognize the NAS. Only in this way can the contents stored on the hard disk be played back. Enter the desired folder for this and then indicate the NAS.
Since every device on the network can access the same NAS server, a NAS backup system is worthwhile as a media archive, especially for families and residential communities. In addition, the NAS device can convert the content into the format in which the receiver device can play it. If, for example, the file is stored as MKV, but the tablet can only display MP4, then the NAS device transcodes this file automatically.
NAS as own cloud storage
A NAS device is usually connected to the router so all network members can access the data anywhere. Like a standard full cloud backup service, NAS data backup also takes place over the Internet. This means that you can use a NAS server as cloud storage as well. Thus, a full NAS cloud backup system presents an excellent alternative to conventional cloud storage such as Google Drive, OneDrive, or Apple's iCloud. Companies benefit from such a solution, and families can, for example, back up their holiday photos immediately with the NAS cloud backup system.
NAS business backup systems
If companies want to use NAS professionally, they often opt for a NAS device with its own mail server. In addition, they use VPN connections to access files on the internal NAS network securely. This works, for example, via a secure FTP or a WebDAV standard.
With NAS, calendar entries or address data can also be synchronized so that each employee can access the same information.
You can also use NAS systems for surveillance. Surveillance cameras are connected to NAS servers, and the corresponding software is used. If you want to implement a NAS backup solution in your company, opting for dedicated backup software like Acronis Cyber Protect is best.
Interfaces to the NAS backup system
NAS backup systems are usually connected to the network via Ethernet and TCP/IP. Due to the unique construction methods, NAS devices can be used over several interfaces. However, software architectures such as SAP require additional NAS implementations, as multiple file accesses are performed here.
If the NAS is intended for home use, it can usually be configured via a web interface. Unlike SAN systems (storage area networks), access to NAS servers is via protocols such as NFS, CIFS, HTTP, FTP, or SMB.
Pros and cons of NAS backup
NAS data backup brings many benefits as well as some challenges to users.
What are the benefits of NAS Backup Systems?
- They have low energy consumption. Servers require very little power, even though they run almost 24 hours during the day. The hourly NAS device energy consumption is usually 10 to 20 watts.
- They can handle large amounts of data, as NAS devices can be backed up with additional hard disks.
- They have high data security if the NAS device supports RAID.
- They indicate a high transmission speed. However, only for high-end models with gigabyte LAN.
- Data from numerous devices can be stored centrally, and all users can access it simultaneously.
- Fast and uncomplicated storage solution
What are the disadvantages of NAS Backup solutions?
- NAS backups may get affected by cryptotrojans under certain circumstances. This can be prevented by RAID 1 or RAID 6.
- The data transfer is usually slower than a USB 3.0 hard drive but can be faster for a NAS model with a gigabyte LAN.
- For proper use, a proprietary software solution is required in part — however, backup software such as Acronis Cyber Protect (includes Acronis Cyber Backup) also offers numerous benefits.
How to create a backup from a NAS?
Because your data is well secured according to the 3-2-1 backup principle, it is not enough to perform only a NAS data backup. Instead, it is advisable to choose at least one additional storage location. If you do not use your NAS as a backup server but only as a storage location, you should, in any case, additionally back it up.
There are various possibilities for this.
- NAS backup to an external device, e.g., a USB hard drive: it works fast and is uncomplicated; however, it doesn't support automated backup or backups of applications or system configurations.
- NAS backup on another NAS: Data can be transferred using NAS protocol.
- NAS backup to a file server: requires more memory space compared to backup on another NAS system; supports protocols HTTP, WebDAV, rsync, S3, and OpenStack.
- NAS backup to a cloud service: flexible solution, low storage space, low procurement costs, and low maintenance required; easy to scale.
We will explore NAS backup strategies more in depth later in the article.
The importance of choosing the right NAS devices
Network-attached storage devices are an investment. Whether they are a home user, an SMB or an enterprise, NAS provides critical resources for users.
However, not every NAS solution will be the right fit for your specific needs. You should do your due diligence and only then make an educated purchase.
Implementing suboptimal NAS devices may lead to a series of undesirable outcomes.
- Poor performance
A network-attached storage device often serves multiple client systems — users, apps, upload files, and project data across a network. Your NAS should be able to handle significant network traffic and support input-output (I/O) operations required to read and write data to storage efficiently.
Hindered performance may lead to application lag and a poor user experience.
- Poor data security
Every organization demands high data security. NAS devices must support adequate access control (two-factor authentication) alongside traditional security features (native data encryption) to fulfill company and compliance requirements.
NAS devices that lack such features can likely expose your business to unnecessary risks.
- Storage capacity issues
NAS backup relies on sufficient storage space to operate effectively. While NAS can usually support additional storage devices to reach the desired capacity, businesses must predict their needs and meet NAS capacity requirements across the system's lifecycle.
Purchasing too much capacity will result in unnecessary spending. Buying too little capacity will require additional purchases.
- Low resilience
Simple NAS devices are primarily used to store data on a remote disk. Businesses relying on multiple NAS devices for data storage must implement resilience features - e.g., RAID.
A NAS backup solution lacking such resilience features puts your revenue and compliance at risk.
Perform backup from a NAS with Acronis Cyber Protect
With the Acronis Cyber Protect (includes Acronis Cyber Backup) software, you can efficiently perform a NAS data backup on a second storage location. But since you can only backup files or folders from a NAS, you should first go to the folder or switch file display.
If Acronis Cyber Cloud is installed on your computer, start the backup wizard and select the network release. Now choose the files you want to back up.
As this is a file-level backup, no snapshot of open files can be created simultaneously. This technology normally allows users to edit files during the backup process. With NAS data security, however, this is not possible. Therefore, schedule your backup for a time when you are not using your NAS system.
Note: The Acronis development team is considering a dedicated backup agent for Synology NAS/QNAP devices for future releases to allow advanced NAS backup options.
Solutions to NAS backup challenges
If there is a problem during the NAS data backup and the backup is interrupted for this reason, there are the following solutions:
- If the NAS is connected as a drive, try to disconnect it.
- Give your folders shorter names (too long folder names with more than eight letters can lead to backup difficulties).
- Disable access to the NAS for all users by disabling authentication.
Network-attached storage file-sharing protocols
Modern NAS devices are designed to support virtualization. Advanced NAS often supports flash storage, data deduplication, data replication and multiprotocol access.
Some NAS devices rely on a traditional OS, while others run proprietary operating systems. IP is the most common data transport protocol, with some midrange NAS solutions supporting additional protocols. (Network File System, NetBIOS Extended User Interface, Server Message Block (SMB), Internetwork Packet Exchange, Common Internet File System (CIFS))
Moreover, high-end NAS can support Gigabit Ethernet for faster data transfer speeds across the entire network.
NAS vs. DAS
Direct-access storage (DAS) represents a dedicated server device not connected to a network. You'd need to have direct access to the physical storage space to access storage. The HDD on your PC is one example of DAS. On the other hand, you can access NAS remotely.
As DAS doesn't rely on network traffic, it outperforms NAS, especially regarding power-demanding (heavy) software programs. However, DAS requires users to manage each device separately, which adds complexity to storage management. Moreover, DAS is not nearly as convenient for shared storage purposes for multiple devices or users.
NAS vs SAN
Storage area network (SAN) organizes stored file data on an independent media server. While NAS handles I/O requests for single files, SAN focuses on I/O requests for contiguous data blocks.
NAS uses TCP/IP (e.g., Ethernet) to enable traffic. SAN routes network traffic via Fibre Channel (FC) protocol to satisfy its storage network. SAN can also use an Ethernet-based protocol (iSCSI) instead of FC.
Typically, NAS represents a single device, while SAN enables full block-level access to the disk volumes on a server. From the user's OS perspective, NAS appears as a file system, while disks view SAN as the user's OS.
NAS backup strategies
As NAS is majorly used by businesses to store sensitive data, it's crucial to set up NAS backup strategies for all devices to ensure quick data recovery in a data loss event.
Your NAS backup strategy should also address the number of backup copies, retention periods, retention terms, data redundancy locations, platforms and more.
Let's review why you need a NAS backup strategy and how to pick the most suitable one.
NAS data loss risks
As companies use NAS appliances to store important data, they must take any data loss threat seriously.
- Human error
The primary reason for data loss of any kind — human error — can affect your NAS file data storage. If a user accidentally deletes files, initiates improper updates, overwrites a drive or reformats it, you may lose your data for good.
- Hardware failure
RAID systems are designed to compensate if a single NAS drive fails. Nonetheless, if multiple drives fail, the remaining ones may not be able to compensate for the NAS capacity failure.
- Power outage
Various voltage issues can cause issues with the NAS local area network. If overvoltage occurs, NAS disks may be incorrectly reintegrated into the RAID, causing potential data corruption or data availability problems.
Insufficient cooling or a component malfunction can lead to overheating, which, in turn, can cause drive failure.
- Maintenance errors
If the dedicated team responsible for your own NAS storage space fails to replace a malfunctioning disk, or accidentally replaces the wrong one, this can lead to disk failure and partial data loss.
- Cybersecurity threats
Ransomware (or other pesky malware) can infect your NAS devices, resulting in data loss or sensitive data exposure to cyberattackers. Moreover, malicious insiders can abuse their NAS access to tamper with or delete NAS data.
- Natural disasters
As with any on-premises file server, NAS is liable to natural disasters. Fires, floods or other disasters can affect the NAS hardware, rendering data stored inaccessible.
NAS backup strategies
Below are five common strategies to initiate NAS backup.
- NAS to DAS backup
NAS devices provide ports to connect to an external hard drive. (either via a USB port or eSATA protocols)
You can connect an external drive to your NAS device and copy all files needing protection.
The method is easy to implement, especially if the NAS vendor provides you with a web interface to easily copy and manage files.
However, manual backup can be cumbersome. You'd need to physically attach the drive, copy all required files, and ensure a complete transfer. If anyone accesses and modifies a file during transfer, the copy may be inconsistent. The copied file will most likely be outdated, corrupted or not copied at all. The same goes if an app opens or modifies a file while it's being copied.
- Backup to a secondary NAS
You can quickly copy data between NAS devices. For example, you can copy an entire shared folder from a remote NAS to a local NAS device.
Copying data from one NAS to another minimizes the additional costs of a backup server.
If your NAS device can mount a remote shared folder, you can initiate a direct backup. Some NAS devices enable backup scheduling - you can automate and perform the backups without additional third-party software or equipment.
However, NAS-to-NAS backup poses a similar issue to the previous method. If a file is opened or modified during transit, the backup copy will be inconsistent.
- NDMP backup
Network Data Management Protocol (NDMP) focuses specifically on NAS backups. It allows NAS devices to send data directly across a network to a backup server or tape devices without further intervention from the backup client.
The backup server communicates directly with the NAS and pinpoints storage device data available for backup. Most modern backup solutions support NDMP alongside various functionality and integration features.
The NDMP approach is well suited for file data backups. However, most database apps — SQL, Microsoft Exchange, Db2 — do not support full NDMP integration because they require app awareness to ensure backup consistency.
- NAS-based data replication
NAS-to-NAS data replication provides enhanced capabilities compared to the previous strategies we've discussed, as it includes application awareness.
You can use a combination of remote and local data replication to ensure NAS backup protection. As you will replicate the data to on-premises (local) and off-site locations, you can ensure backup data redundancy.
- NAS cloud backups
Modern cloud services enable online backup for NAS devices. As long as you have a stable internet connection, you can improve NAS capacity and send continuous backups to the same cloud service.
Keep in mind, using a cloud sync solution is not recommended, as your backups will depend on dynamic data on the NAS device. Moreover, using public clouds like Google Drive may be more affordable but can quickly raise memory usage issues. (also, if you want to benefit from unlimited storage, it's best to go with a paid subscription to a dedicated NAS backup solution)
For example, Acronis Cyber Protect and the Acronis Cyber Protect Cloud enable NAS network shares backup, including shared folders created on the NAS device.
As mentioned, file access and modification can render the data backup inconsistent. However, you can install an Acronis agent into the NAS OS and enable file-level snapshots in the backup options.
Benefits of NAS data backup with Acronis Cyber Protect
With Acronis Cyber Protect, you can use a NAS system not just for backup purposes. You benefit from numerous other data backup options, for example, cloud backup. The biggest benefits include the following options.
Data protection for the entire company
With all your company's sensitive data secure at all times, our solution uses a disk imaging backup of the original drive. This works on your NAS device as well as with Cloud Backup. Using agent-based backups reduces security risks. Moreover, you can save a NAS backup to the cloud anytime or secure your Microsoft 365 mailbox, Amazon EC2 cloud workloads, or similar cloud environments.
Protect yourself against downtime due to data loss with Acronis Universal and Instant Restore: You can restore your Windows, Mac, or Linux system and achieve RTOs (Recovery Time Objective) in just 15 seconds. This is possible by pulling out your data directly from the storage location as a VM and getting it to remote systems, thanks to remote access at all times.
Flexible storage options
With Acronis Cyber Protect (includes Acronis Cyber Backup), you can enjoy a wide range of storage options:
- Local hard drives
- Acronis Cloud Storage
Due to the integrated deduplication, your network traffic and your required storage volume decrease. In addition, it eases meeting central tape device compliance and disaster recovery requirements with backups.
User-friendly and scalable management
With Acronis Cyber Protect software, you can manage all backup activities from the central web console. There, set up dashboards and reports to meet your requirements. In addition, access to data can be assigned by configurable administrator roles.
Acronis is a Swiss company, founded in Singapore. Celebrating two decades of innovation, Acronis has more than 2,000 employees in 45 locations. Acronis Cyber Protect solution is available in 26 languages in over 150 countries and is used by 20,000 service providers to protect over 750,000 businesses.