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Protect NAS device backups with these tips

NAS devices provide reliable data storage for businesses of all sizes. Backing up that data requires organizations to implement additional data protection efforts.

Network-attached storage systems store data on external and physical drives, which frequently lack any built-in backup and recovery capabilities. Fortunately, multiple NAS device backup methods are easily and widely available.

NAS operating systems are optimized for performance and do not include typical backup software agents. Previously, the only way to back up large amounts of data from a NAS device involved a lengthy process of shipping tapes to another location. Compression technology and the rise of the cloud have made NAS device backup much easier.

NAS use cases

Organizations of all types and sizes use NAS to safely back up and recover just about any form or amount of digital content. This step protects information in the event of a hardware failure, disaster, or internal or external network attack.

The most common use case is unstructured data storageWhile structured data resides in organized systems, such as databases and enterprise content management systems, unstructured data is another matter.

"Unstructured data is all the other stuff that we need to put somewhere and, hopefully, create meaningful file and directory hierarchies to organize them," said Fred Chagnon, principal research director at IT research and advisory firm Info-Tech Research Group.

Additionally, particularly in the SMB space, a NAS device frequently serves as a central point to store documents and multimedia files that are accessed by individual users and entire departments. "In large enterprises, a server will often mount data from a NAS [device], maintaining an important degree of separation from its own operating system files," he said.

Organizations that are less operationally minded will often procure a NAS and neglect to design a system that will protect that data once it's stored.
Fred ChagnonPrincipal research director, Info-Tech Research Group

Common NAS backup challenges

The most important NAS device backup challenge that enterprises need to address is remembering to deploy a backup and recovery tool.

"Organizations that are less operationally minded will often procure a NAS and neglect to design a system that will protect that data once it's stored," Chagnon said.

NAS devices are multidisk systems with mirroring or parity capabilities. These mechanisms only protect data in the event of disk failure. They do not protect against accidentally deleted files or ransomware attacks.

Traditional NAS backup requires organizations to back up NAS to another external device, such as a backup media server. They then back up the media server to off-site tape storage. The problem with this approach is that it is time-consuming and costly.

Modern NAS device backup approaches compared

The best NAS backup method varies by organization. Existing infrastructure, as well as the amount and type of data, affect which NAS backup method is best. There are three basic ways to create NAS backups: data reduction through compression and deduplication, snapshots and cloud-based storage.

  1. Compression and/or deduplication. Compression and deduplication are data reduction methods that cut the amount of storage capacity required by the backup target. With reduced capacity requirements, the backup server doesn't need to contain a 1:1 ratio of storage space to the primary source. The compression or deduplication ratio will vary based on the type of data.
  2. Snapshot backups. Storage snapshots are data reference markers that act like a table of contents. They enable users to easily access a copy of data from a specific point in time. Snapshots provide a space-efficient approach, especially on systems that don't see a lot of changes.

    On the downside, storage snapshots are frequently marketed as backup solutions, which is a misleading claim. Snapshots, unless copied to secondary media, do not fully protect against media failures. Snapshots are a helpful backup tool with NAS devices, but cannot replace a full backup.
  3. The public cloud. The public cloud is a secure off-site backup target and the most popular NAS device backup method.

"NAS devices today need to support integration to popular cloud storage providers such as AWS, Microsoft Azure, Wasabi and others," Chagnon said. Working with a cloud provider, backup admins can establish the frequency and retention period of backups. With public cloud and NAS integration, the cloud targets are addressed directly as part of an organization's backup policies.

NAS vendors of all sizes offer cloud storage integration support. The challenge of cloud backup integration is typically not the NAS device but finding the right provider. There are a few key pieces from different vendors at play. The challenge is plugging them together to work for backups, he said.

A managed service provider can be responsible for set up and data protection to bridge the gap between an organization's NAS device and its backup storage at a cloud provider, Chagnon said. Expect to pay a managed service provider a retained service fee for using the cloud storage, the day-to-day operation of monitoring backups and the work to handle restores after a failure or other data-loss event.

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