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I'm in the market for a expandable data backup solution. Some things I'm considering are:

  • Drobo (S) (which don't ethernet connections)
  • Drobo FS (which does have ethernet)
  • Promise Pegasus RAID (which Apple tries to sell with newer macs)
  • Synology products (which do have ethernet)

Before I can make a decision, I need to have a better understanding of what the advantages are of buying dedicated NAS vs attaching devices to my AirPort Extreme. I mostly plan on using this for:

  • offloading large data (photo collection, videos, music) since I'm going to get a smaller SSD for my laptop
  • Time Machine backups
  • A big plus would be the ability to access any file from anywhere. i.e. - I'm on the go and really want to fetch some photo album or music.

Here are my thoughts and understanding, so you can help by correcting me:

  • For offloading data and time machine backups, any of these solutions will work. The advantage of NAS (or even connecting DAS to AirPort) will be that I can do these backups and accesses over the air while I'm at home, and not have to "dock".
  • I'm not even sure I can attach the Pegasus drives to the AirPort because of the thunderbolt cable. Maybe if the pegasus is attached to the thunderbolt display and that is attached to the AirPort it will work? But if I do that, I'm paying for thunderbolt i/o speed and then bottlenecking it with the ethernet cable.
  • If I want to access files from anywhere, it seems like the AirPort may not work unless I have a dedicated computer at home as a server (which I don't... I'll only have my laptop which will be with me on the go). So I probably do need dedicated NAS? I also read I probably need to set up VPN and dynamic DNS... something that I am not sure how to do. So if you can give me insight into this and talk about which of the above products are conducive to this type of use case, that would be great. Is it hard to set up?
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2 Answers

Time Capsule

If you really want to use Time Machine Backups on your NAS, I would recommend an Airport Extreme. In the past, Apple has changed the way Time Machine talks to the Airport multiple times and each time something broke with the other manufacturer's products until they updated their software.

Thunderbold

You will not be able to connect your Pegasus RAID to the Airport Extreme. If you want RAID, choose some system which (also) offers USB connection. Maybe future Airport Devices offer Thunderbold, but until then you will need USB.

Internet Access

You can access your files on your Airport Express from "the internet" if you use it as your router or configure some port forwardings properly. No chance to use iTunes with your media on your NAS on the go, latency is too high and bandwith too low. iTunes isn't build for NAS access, it works quite fine using gigabit ethernet (fast ethernet and great wireless reception will be fine too, I guess), but not over the internet. Put your hands on iCloud which promises much for this use case!

I never used an Airport Extreme as NAS, so I cannot tell for sure, but as far as I know Mobile Me (now iCloud) and "Back to my Mac" will replace DynDNS for you. If you use it with another router, you will have to setup some port forwards (best would be to configure the Airport as "exposed host").

If you use another NAS, you will have to configure DynDNS and port forwards.

Offload Data

If you want to offload data (moving iTunes to an NAS works, but requires some hacking - I guess this will be possible using iPhoto, too), think about how to backup this data to another disk (as this data will not change too often, maybe a regular copy started manually to a cheap external hard drive will be fine)! A RAID in the NAS extends availability, but will not help you with software/user errors - user errors are most common reason for data loss, also with advanced users/IT guys!

Comparation

Advantages of non-Apple-NASes:

  • Mostly cheaper
  • Sometimes including more advanced server software (torrent downloads, media streaming, ...)
  • Available with integrated hard drives - less devices

Advantages of Airport Extreme:

  • Works flawlessly with Time Machine
  • Integrated dual-band wireless access point, router and gigabit ethernet switch - may replace other devices

Think about a Time Capsule? Like an Airport Extreme, but with integrated hard drive. I do not recommend using DD-WRT without extended network knowledge - it offers a lot of possibilities, but this extends complexity a lot.

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Although this is just my opinion NAS is the way to go, because it's easily accessed from other devices. I know you only have a laptop but you never know; you could be like me and start with one PC and expand to 4 devices all with different OS's.

So, if you decide to go NAS, the cheapest way is to do it through a fancy/hackable router that supports NAS. The benefit here is that as long as your computers are connected via ethernet or wireless to the router you'll always have access, and if you want to mess around with external access you can. The downside is that you'll need a USB hard drive enclosure to connect the HDD to the router.

I have a netgear wndr3700 hacked with DD-WRT firmware to allow both NAS and outside sftp access. That's probably a bit more complicated then you are willing to go through, but by default the router has some basic NAS support. 'By default' meaning you don't have to do anything but plug in a usb HDD and turn it on :).

If you are willing to go a bit more homebrew I would check out the list of dd-wrt or tomato compatible routers and pick one up that you like. Like this list. Actually your router might already be supported, just punch in the router name here.

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