Andrew P Watson

Web Developer

Home network, backup solution – now I can sleep.

Sun, 07/11/2010 - 19:58

It’s been about two weeks since I updated my home network with a file server and backup drive. So far, the performance is fast and the backup has been flawless. I didn’t have a ton of cash to spend on setting it up, so I went on the “frugal side”. Here is an outline of the set up if anyone is thinking of doing this.

Need

I realized not too long ago that all my music, client work, finances, pictures, emails and everything was in danger of being completely lost in the case of a drive failure. It hit me with an uncomfortable unease to think that I had no way of saving any of this data because I had no copy or backup solution for home (big) media files. I needed to set something up, asap. Once I realized it was all at risk, I became all paranoid about even faintest “odd noise” my laptop made.

I also have a big media collection on my machine (80 or so gigs of mp3s). I share the library across the network to my wife’s laptop, but it’s availability was contingent on my machine being on. And, she could only “read” the files. This meant that I had to actually burn CDs when she wanted one. I wanted a way for her to be able to manage the same library as me, but of course did not want to actually duplicate it on her machine. I also stream media to my PlayStation 3 from my laptop. Again, my machine needed to be on for this to work.

I figured it was time to build a backup solution and media server at home to deal with all this. Besides, I’m a web developer/techie anyways. My home network was lacking to say the least.

Equipment

  • Dell 1705 laptop (XP pro) – This is my primary machine. I drive it pretty hard with media applications, recording and multi-tracking, graphics programs, etc.
  • Dell 1505 laptop (XP MCE) – My wife’s computer, and is basically used for web and music.
  • Hp 750n tower (XP pro) – I’ve had this for ages. It’s pretty aged (1.4 p4) but I put 2 gigs of ram in it and it runs ok. It’s been in a closet for months because I use my laptop primarily.
  • Linksys WRT610n – Dual band, wireless agn router. I got this recently as an upgrade to go with an “N” chip (Intel 4965 AGN) I put in my laptop. The router’s range is fair at best when using the N band, but my place is not huge so it’s fine.

What I did

First things, I wanted to set up the server in the basement. Most of the gear is wireless, so I don’t really need it all upstairs. I have cable (internet) access down there so I can set the router up and leave it there.

I cleaned off a little corner and set up the Hp 750n tower (with monitor, etc.). This was going to become my file server. Once in place and running, I set up the wireless router next to it. I did this on purpose. The tower is not wireless, so I wired it up using the standard Ethernet ports. This way, I have access to the internet/router if there is ever any issue with the wireless signal. It’s also running at gigabit speeds into the router. I wanted to make sure the file server was as fast on the network as I could make it.

The tower had one big flaw. The drive space was inadequate for any useful storage (70gigs). I fixed this by purchasing a very inexpensive Maxtor 250gig internal hard drive, and installed it into the tower as a “slave” drive. Once installed, I logged into the tower and “shared” the drive on the network as “storage drive”. It should be noted that I just use the standard Windows “workgroup” type of home network. This way, all machines on my workgroup can now see and write to the drive.

This solved my need for central storage, and I quickly moved all my files from both laptops over to that shared drive. The issue was, there was still no backup. If that drive failed, I’d still lose everything. I needed a redundant backup solution. Something that would copy that drive every so often, ensuring the data is safe somewhere else if the drive fails.

I looked around a lot for the best solution. I wanted a network drive (NAS), but the cost was a bit high for what I could spend. I ended up with a Seagate FreeAgent Desk 1TB USB2.0 external hard drive. I set this drive up on my basement machine (server) and configured the software to periodically backup the main storage drive in the server.

What this means is that every time I save a file on the “house storage” drive, it gets backed up on to the external drive as well. Finally all my worries about losing data were going away.

Actually, it’s only a decent data backup solution. It would be better to have an off-site backup. Every few days I could copy the house storage drive to an external location. Then if there is a fire, or flood at my house the files remain intact. For now, this will have to work. It’s way better than what I had, which was nothing.

How I use the new system

Previously, all my data was saved on my laptop(s). I never bring my laptop anywhere, so what I did was “map a drive” to a folder on the file server in the basement. That way, every time my machine boots, I connect to a folder on that machine. All I do is save files to that folder when I’m working. Nothing is ever actually saved on my laptop. So far, it’s worked great. It keeps my laptop all cleaned up and it ensures all my data is backed up.

Having this new server has also been pretty awesome when it comes to serving MP3s around the house. I have a media library on the storage drive, and stream it to the PS3 via the Windows Media Player 11 sharing functionality. I also point the iTunes on my local machine (laptop) to the storage drive as it’s “iTunes music folder”. That way I can add files, burn cds, and do anything else over the network the same way I could if all the files where local. I did the same for my wife so she can also have un-obstructed access to the media.

There are couple of issues I still need to solve with this system:

  • Backing up email: Outlook saves email locally (on the laptop) so I need to occasionally move them to the storage drive to get backed up
  • Recovering from a Laptop crash: This solution is just to save files, not recover computers. If my laptop dies, I would need to re-install everything. But, once done, I just need to re-map the storage drive and all my files are back

Data is safe, and everyone is happy. All with little investment over what I already had kicking around.

*note – I have a very secure wireless network. If you are going to try this, make sure you don’t have an unsecured network. While it’s not easy to do, you don’t want people getting access to your shared drives form outside your home network.

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