When I built my main FreeNAS server, the machine it replaced was put into backup duties with a nightly replication created to move some of the files from one (freenas1) to the other (freenas2).  freenas1 has 9 x 4TB drives configured in an RAIDZ2 pool (similar to RAID6) which means that any two drives could fail, and I wouldn’t loose any data, but everyone should know that redundancy is no substitute for a backup!  Using two drives for parity, along with the ZFS overhead leaves me with around 24TB of useable space on freenas1.  freenas2 only has 5 x 4TB drives, but these are just configured as a stripe (like RAID0) so provide more storage at the expense of any redundancy.  It leaves me with just over 18TB of useable space, so not enough to backup a full freenas1, but certainly the most important stuff.

My original plan was to relocate freenas2 off-site, as having it sat right next to freenas1 doesn’t provide much protection in case of fire or theft, but I never got around to it as I discovered CrashPlan.  Quite a few people were using CrashPlan in a FreeNAS jail, and while lots of people reported ongoing issues, they were generally resolved quickly.  $60 a year for unlimited storage it seemed like a no-brainer, so I had a go at setting it up.  The actual set-up was pretty straight forward, and while the initial backup took several days, everything looked to be working pretty well, so I subscribed at the end of the free trial period.  It was only after a CrashPlan update that I realised what the problems, or limitations, of running in a FreeNAS jail were!  

CrashPlan updates automatically, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.  And every time it updated, it broke something with the FreeNAS jail, more often than not relating to Java.  After a number of updates, it became clear that this wasn’t a great solution, and the trend other users had started to take was to move CrashPlan into a VirtualBox jail on FreeNAS.  This again was pretty easy to set-up, and I chose CentOS (6.7 at the time) for the VM.  It even picked up where it had left off, and didn’t need to backup several TBs and hundreds of thousands of files after moving from a FreeBSD to VirtualBox/CentOS jail.  Running like this has been problem free, even with the automatic updates.  I’ve added more and more to the backup job, and now have almost 4TB (3.9TB to be precise) of data in over 5.5 million files safe in the cloud should something happen to the original files, and/or the backups on freenas1 and/or freenas2!

I was once told that data isn’t truly safe until it exists in at least three places, one of these being away from the others.  This set-up provides just that for all my irreplaceable data (in some cases I have four copies) along with redundancy on the main system, with the replaceable stuff in at least two places, although not all in the cloud.

If you have stuff stored only one one machine, give some serious thought to your backup strategy before it’s too late!  I couldn’t imagine loosing photo dating back to the early days of digital photography, music dating back to the first iPod, and documents collected during my 25 years of working life.  My approach is probably overkilled, and I know I have stuff saved and backed up that I will probably never look at again, but better to be safe than sorry.  My advice, for what it’s worth would be:

  1. As a minimum, have at least two copies of anything you couldn’t replace if lost, but three is better!
  2. Ideally have one of those copies stored on a redundant storage device, allowing for at least one disc failure, but two is better!
  3. Make a third copy off-site – the cloud makes that easy for everyone, and CrashPlan is a great and cost effective solution.
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