When my Windows Home Server (WHS) finally bit the dust last year, my shopping for a solution led me to the Synology platform. We used the Windows Home Server primarily for file storage for pictures and other documents, and while some of that was beginning to transition to cloud solutions like DropBox, I was still accustomed to having a central server repository for my computer files. Also, my WHS solution had off site backup via Carbonite, so I felt reasonably comfortable with my disaster recovery solution for WHS.
This was the criteria I used in evaluating other home server solutions since the WHS was cancelled by Microsoft. My investigation led me to the Synology platform, after I learned you could run CrashPlan offsite backup in a ‘headless’ configuration on these devices. I have been using this setup for a few months now, and while I mostly followed the blog posts of others (primarily from Scott Hanselman here), I thought I would take the time to share some of my investigations and issues I have run across while running this system.
Selecting a Synology Device
There are many Synology devices available. While the number of choices may be a bit overwhelming and confusing, I took heart that I was investing my dollars in a company that is very committed to continuing to develop and support the device (unlike Microsoft and the WHS).
After looking at the options and choices, I selected the two HDD bay DS213+* as a good balance between power and cost. This was a good choice for my scenario as I pretty much wanted to replace the file sharing and centralized, offsite backup features of my Windows Home Server without spending a ton of money. I read reviews pointing out that the non-plus models have underpowered processors, and that image indexing can be an arduous task on some of the base models. I also read that it might be a good idea to buy better server hardware in order to run a Plex video server, but being that cost was a big motivator for me, the DS213+ won when I was doing my comparisons at the time.
I chose to put two 3 WD Red 3 TB NAS Hard Drives* in the Synology. These are run in a (Synology proprietary) fault tolerant RAID configuration, so there’s local fault tolerance between drives if one of them were to die. Add to that offsite backup via CrashPlan, and I think this is a robust system for any home, or even small business that has lots of files to store (and the RAID might be overkill, but you could get by without it by purchasing just one drive).
Why Even Bother Running a Server at Home Anymore?
Why have all those hardware components lying around, rusting, getting antiquated with every passing millisecond? I really do not like having a lot of hardware around; it breaks, goes out of date so quickly, becomes retired by the company and leaves you in a lurch when it physically dies, you name it. And with cloud based services like Dropbox and CrashPlan, you probably don’t need to have a home server running.
But then there’s the issue with data, primarily pictures and videos. Lots and lots of data. Gigs and gigs. And I haven’t found the ideal cloud replacement for this that fits all my needs.
Sure, you could pay for Dropbox or another cloud service annually to store all of this. But in my cost comparisons between Dropbox and a home server running CrashPlan, my ROI on a home server like that above is about 3 years, depending on how much data you want to store. (Here I’m comparing to two $99/yr Dropbox plans to this setup above). And not to mention all the benefits I get from running a centralized server; file sharing, backups of other computers, on the network only file sharing, the ability to run tools like Photo Station, etc.
Another cheaper option would certainly be to just use CrashPlan clients on your local computers. But as I documented, I am used to and comfortable with a central server for shared files and was just looking to replace that.
But maybe next time around I won’t go the same route.
CrashPlan on Synology
I pretty much followed the exact configuration as documented by Scott Hanselman here and the awesome work done by PC Load Letter to enable CrashPlan to work on Synology. I did have some trouble finding the exact version of Java for the device, and after some trial and error I was able to get Java 7 up and running. The DS213+ is Power Architecture Linux – Headless – e500v2 core.
The setup was pretty much pain free, though I did have to stop and start the CrashPlan service running on the Synology server quite a few times. And that does remain a good troubleshooting technique when I run into issues; stopping and restarting the CrashPlan service on Synology.
CrashPlan Service Interruptions
The handful of issues I have had have been interesting. As I have been running this setup the past few months now, I thought I would document them here to be helpful to others.
CrashPlan Server Not Backed Up!
Out of the blue I’ll get an email from CrashPlan telling me that the server has not connected to cloud backup in 3 days. When I get this, my first steps are to go through all the steps again and see what isn’t working or functioning. I log in to the Synology and see if things are amiss.
Oftentimes, the CrashPlan service has stopped running, so I just restart that service (in the Package Manager) and away it goes again. I should probably figure out a better notification mechanism for this than that CrashPlan email (and why this happens at all), but it has so far served my needs in this regard.
CrashPlan License Key Update
I recently had the pleasure of updating my license key on the CrashPlan server. When I initially set up my system, I had a Unlimited+ Family license. Since I have this up and running, and this is the only computer I use CrashPlan on, the Family license isn’t needed. So I was downgrading to an Unlimited plan. Following the instructions on CrashPlan’s web site, I cancelled my Unlimited+ Family service, then set to ‘immediately’ apply my new Unlimited+ license key so as not to lose my CrashPlan backup data.
I launched the ‘client’ CrashPlan service (the client computer that I modified the /CrashPlan/conf/UI.Properties file to point to), and followed the directions to downgrade my service. Entered the license key and hit Save.
After some time, the error I got was:
Unable to connect, check your network.
What? Which network? My LAN between my ‘client’ and Synology, or the network to the CrashPlan cloud service. All other services were functional. Everything was working and connecting properly, ping to the world, my connection to Synology, etc.
It turns out, after much trial and error, that restarting the CrashPlan Service on my Synology was the fix for my issue. I logged in to my Synology Server, launched the Package Center, clicked Stop on the CrashPlan Package, then clicked Start. I also stopped and restarted the service from my ‘client’ installation of CrashPlan, just to be sure.
Then I tried all the steps again for updating the license key. And viola. It worked! It took my updated license key and didn’t give me that “Unable to connect” error.
All in all, I am pretty happy with this setup. The service fits my current needs well and I would recommend the same to others. I hope that by sharing this info here I can help someone else with these issues and save some time and frustration.