Aside from hardware characteristics, NAS vendors also differentiate their offerings based on the type of backup software included with the device.
However, for home networks, you really don't need external software to manage backups. All you have to do is mount the NAS onto your regular file system such that it appears as an attached hard drive. Then, Windows XP users can run the NTBACKUP utility and Windows 7 users can run the Backup and Restore control panel.
If you want or expect to support Macs with your NAS, check that the device supports Apple's Time Machine capability. A note about Apple: For a street price of $470, you can get a Time Capsule with 2 TB of non-mirrored storage. Nice when your Mac's hard drive fails, but not so nice when the hard drive on the Time Capsule fails.
In line with Apple's general philosophy, the Time Capsule is designed to be dead simple and doesn't come cluttered with "unnecessary" features that you'll find on competing, less-expensive products. It just does one thing -- backup files -- and does it well. Although the company does offer the media-ready Apple TV and Mac Mini, Apple has yet to release a category-killer in NAS. We should expect them to try.
If the built-in capabilities of your operating system are insufficient, such as if you're using Windows Server or another server OS, one of these bundled options may appeal to you:
- Buffalo Technology TeraStation NAS devices include NovaBACKUP Business Essentials, which includes automatic backups, system imaging, and bare-metal restore with support for Windows Server, Microsoft Exchange, and SQL Server files.
- Iomega, an EMC company, includes EMC Retrospect Express with its StorCenter NAS devices.
- Seagate BlackArmor NAS devices enable discounts of over 20% on Acronis Backup & Recovery products.
Backing Up Your NAS Backup
Once you've successfully backed up every PC and device on your network onto the NAS, the natural progression will be the realization that someday, something bad could happen to your precious NAS. Here are some of the common approaches to backing up the backup device.
USB, eSATA, or Firewire connection: Most NAS devices come with at least one USB port, which you can use to connect an external hard drive. True, external hard drives are not RAID-enabled, but if you have one of those drives lying around, it can't hurt to make just one more copy, right? Your files will transfer even faster using either the eSATA or Firewire interface, if available.