What I learned when my NAS failed

Or – how I learned to love Synology

I had a Synology NAS in my home office for a little over seven years, until one Monday morning when I tried to stream music from it. My computer refused and said the server couldn’t be found. No worries, though, I’d been away for the weekend and sometimes the NAS takes a while to start up. Once it didn’t seem like it was starting though, I looked at the power light and it was flashing blue. Probably not a good sign. Maybe it was just complaining about an unexpected power outage (even though it’s on a UPS – one can always hope), I powered it down and started it up again. The drive lights all came on yellow and the power light was flashing blue again. Suspecting the worst, I checked the internet and it confirmed my fears – the unit was toast. I checked my email to see when the last successful backup was and it had successfully backed up on Friday morning, but not since then.

I knew all my “important” data was safely backed up by iDrive, but there were two problems with the “unimportant” data. First, it should be entirely entertainment files – mainly MP3s ripped from my CDs – but I wasn’t entirely certain. I hadn’t kept track of what was on the non-backed up share. One can make a good argument that if I don’t miss something that was not backed up, maybe I didn’t need it anyway, but I wasn’t so sure. Second, while I could recreate the MP3 library from my CDs (and I did have a partial backup on a hard disk from before I started using the NAS) that would be a lot of effort. So, while I had rationalized not backing up the MP3s with the theory that the physical CDs were my “backup,” when push came to shove, I wasn’t entirely pleased with that approach.

My suspicion was that the hard disks were fine and the problem was with the chassis itself given the suddenness of the failure. Synology allows you to move hard disks from one system to another. “Great!” I thought, I’ll just get a new chassis and pop in the old disks and I should be good to go. The problem is that since my system is seven years old, the hard disks I have may not be compatible with any current Synology chassis. If I had updated my hardware more recently, it wouldn’t be an issue, but I had just let it run because it was all working fine.

eBay to the rescue – I found an identical used chassis on eBay which I ordered. Once it arrived I put the disks in (with some trepidation) and it came up perfectly – hats off to Synology. I was down for less than 48 hours which, when I think about it, is quite amazing and fortunate.

And the first thing I did, of course, was copy all those MP3s to my AWS archive.

I certainly learned a number of things from this experience.

  1. Keep a record of what you are not backing up and why. Review whether you really can afford to lose that data and if recreating it is as simple as you think. It turned out I had been able to remember everything that was not backed up. And I had been a bit better about archiving some data than I thought. But this experience is going to get me to review some of the other things I don’t have backed up and make sure I really can lose them.
  2. If you are storing data long term on hardware, it’s not a matter of if the hardware fails, it’s just a matter of when. That hard disk you have ten-year-old videos on won’t last forever. Ask yourself how will you feel when you want to get the cute video from when your kid was two and now the hard disk is making a clunking noise.
  3. There are good reasons to update hardware that is still working. I will be getting a new NAS shortly and then plan to update my NAS hardware on a regular basis so I don’t have to rely on picking up used equipment from eBay.

Thankfully, my story turns out to have a happy ending, AND I learned some valuable lessons.