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5 NAS Backup Strategies: Pros and Cons Explained
Learn about the importance of implementing a NAS backup strategy and explore five different strategies to back up your NAS devices. Understand the pros and cons of each approach to choose the most suitable one for your organization's infrastructure.
A modern data-driven world makes organizations of different scale and size use NAS devices as their data storage extensively. The nature and use of that data may vary, but in most cases, organizations cannot afford losing their NAS data assets under any circumstances. To keep control over data even after major disasters, an organization should implement a thorough NAS backup strategy.
In this article, we explain the NAS backup definition, reasons to have a data protection strategy, and five main strategies to back up NAS devices. You’ll be able to evaluate the pros and cons of every strategy yourself and pick the most suitable one for your infrastructure.
What is NAS Backup?
The word “backup” in IT means a copy of data, which is stored independently and can be used for recovery purposes even when the original infrastructure is unavailable. Thus, NAS backup is a spare copy of NAS data, which has another storage destination and can help you recover the original data in the event of an incident.
Why You Need a NAS Backup Strategy
The key use case for NAS devices in organizations is data storage provision. Usually, a corporate NAS device runs disks where sensitive data is recorded. That data requires special measures taken to protect the storage and the data itself from loss or unauthorized third party access.
Common threats causing data loss or breakage include:
- Human error: a user’s mistake or carelessness can lead to accidental file deletion, drive overwrite, improper device usage, password compromising, active protection disabling etc. Improper hardware or software maintenance also falls into this threat category.
- Mechanical failure: you can configure RAID for NAS disks to overcome a failure of one disk. Still, even after one disk failure, NAS can be rendered inoperable because of overload resulting in storage bottleneck.
- Malware threats: ransomware or any other malware can reach your NAS storage and either cause data loss or grant unauthorized third-party access to the data. A bad actor can then alter, delete or steal an organization's sensitive data.
- Overheating: drives or other parts in your NAS device may fail after a cooling system malfunction that causes hardware overheat.
- Power outage: power supply in your office or data center is another factor that you can’t control. Once the power is off, your NAS can lose data that had been being recorded at that moment. Then, on supply restoration, RAID settings may apply wrongly, blocking access or corrupting the remaining data as a result.
- Natural disasters: a fire, a flood, an earthquake or any other natural disaster is always a risk for your office or datacenter, as well as for the hardware running your organization’s production.
Regarding the complexity and variety of the data that an organization may need to store and use in production, the implementation of a reliable backup and recovery approach requires a carefully designed plan.
5 NAS Backup Strategies Overview
Again, carefully organized regular backup is the only way to keep control over your NAS data after data loss incidents. Therefore, a thorough strategy can ensure the efficiency of NAS backups and recovery workflows. Check the five main NAS backup strategies and consider their pros and cons to pick the strategy most suitable for your organization.
Direct Backup to a USB Disk
Particular NAS devices have USB or eSATA ports enabling you to connect external disks to those devices and transfer data. Therefore, the simplest way to backup NAS data is to connect an external HDD or SSD to your NAS appliance and copy the necessary data manually.
Pros: Simple implementation, relatively low costs. Usually, NAS appliance vendors pack their solutions with default web interfaces for file management. Additionally, buying an external hard drive does not require huge investments.
Cons: The main downside of data backup to USB drives is manual implementation. You need to manually attach the disk with a cable, start copying the required data, and then ensure that the backup was successful. Any failure or interruption during the workflow makes data in the backup copy inconsistent and potentially unrecoverable. You also cannot copy the data that is used in writing operations at the moment when you start the workflow. Lastly, the capacity of a single external hard drive can be insufficient to fit all the data you might need to back up from NAS.
Backup to Another NAS
Copying the data from the main NAS device to a NAS backup appliance is another strategy you can consider. To implement that, you can, for instance, share a folder between a remote and a local NAS appliance.
Pros: Mounting a remote shared folder on a NAS appliance is a simple native way to enable direct data copying between two devices. Particular NAS models have the data operation scheduling function built in, meaning that you can configure backup automation with native software. Additionally, when you copy the data directly between NAS appliances, the backup server overhead is not the case.
Cons: The most significant downside here is the backup inconsistency in case when apps run files during the data copying workflow.
Created and designed purposely to manage backup workflows of NAS devices, NDMP (Network Data Management Protocol) simplifies the process of sending data via the network. With NDMP, you can directly send data copies to backup servers or tape devices. No additional processes from the backup clients are required.
The protocol enables direct communication between a NAS device and a backup server. NAS backup solutions from mainstream vendors (such as IBM and Commvault) usually have NDMP support built-in with different integration and functionality levels.
Pros: Backing up file data via NDMP is convenient. Additionally, NDMP is fully supported by Oracle Secure Backup.
Cons: The lack of full NDMP backup integration in the majority of other database apps, such as Microsoft Exchange or SQL. Ensuring data consistency in those apps requires application awareness support. Although you might think about customizing app awareness with specially created scripts, such a solution makes you shut down the app’s process to enable the backup workflow. Thus, your production environment loses stability and continuity. Additionally, script maintenance can take a lot of effort from your IT department.
NAS Storage Backup to Cloud
If your organization has accounts in such cloud services as Amazon, Microsoft OneDrive/Azure or Backblaze, you can consider sending backups from NAS to the cloud. Still, keep in mind that your policy and the nature of the data should suit the use of public cloud storage.
Pros: Sending backup data to the cloud helps keep control over sensitive data in case your office or data center suffers from disasters. You can enable cloud backup without investing in a backup server as well. Additionally, NAS solutions from particular vendors can enable synchronizing data between the cloud and your NAS.
Cons: Cloud backup workflows can pose serious network bandwidth requirements if you need to regularly send large amounts of data over the internet without losing connection quality for production. Also, you need to have that connection stable while performing the backup workflow, and when recovering the data from cloud storage. Lastly, there is always a risk of losing your backups due to an emergency at the cloud storage vendor’s side.
Block-Level Replication of NAS Devices
NAS device replication is another way to protect an organization’s data. Vendors can offer specific software to replicate disk arrays and implement array-based replication as a NAS backup solution. With such a replication approach implemented, the system replicates the data from the primary NAS (source), which is in production, to a disaster recovery (DR) site.
Pros: Direct connection between source and DR NAS appliances enables redistributing compute load from a server to storage devices. Additionally, replication can ensure NAS backup data relevance and minimal storage downtime in case of emergency.
Cons: Software performing array-based replication on the block level is not app-aware and can copy only blocks that changed since the previous replication job (for asynchronous replication). Therefore, you risk damaging the data in case replication and introduction of changes to that data are simultaneous. Additionally, you’ll need to place similar or nearly similar NAS devices on both sides of the process, increasing the overall cost of the entire backup infrastructure.
Third-Party NAS Backup Software: Versatile Solution for Efficient Custom Strategies
As you might already understand, coming up with an efficient NAS backup strategy is challenging and depends on the needs and capabilities of a particular organization. Customization is key to backup NAS systems reliably in such cases.
With the modern NAS backup software, such as NAKIVO Backup & Replication, organizations can create and manage automated data protection workflows according to the requirements and limitations of their infrastructures. Such software solutions can enable app-aware backup, fast recovery and near-instant replication running on schedule or on demand.
You can store backup copies of your NAS data on site, send them off site, to the cloud or tape to keep up with the 3-2-1 rule and avoid a single point of failure. Then, you can recover entire volumes or separate files to the original or custom location. The additional advantage of versatile backup software solutions is the variety of security and performance optimization features that increase the efficiency of your NAS backups even further.
Efficient NAS backup is impossible without a thoroughly configured and maintained strategy. You can back up NAS data manually to external drives, use another NAS, Network Data Management Protocol (NDMP), cloud, or replication as core elements of your backup strategy. However, each of these five strategies has particular downsides that may be critical, such as the lack of app awareness and high hardware costs. A deeply customized NAS backup strategy with the use of a third-party software solution can help you combine different approaches to utilize their advantages and eliminate disadvantages at the same time.