It was bound to happen. After 4+ years of running multiple NAS units 24x7, I finally ended up in a situation that brought my data availability to a complete halt. Even though I perform RAID rebuild as part of every NAS evaluation, I have never had the necessity to do one in the course of regular usage. On two occasions (once with a Seagate Barracuda 1 TB drive in a Netgear NV+ v2 and another time with a Samsung Spinpoint 1 TB drive in a QNAP TS-659 Pro II), the NAS UI complained about increasing reallocated sector counts on the drive and I promptly backed up the data and reinitialized the units with new drives.

Failure Symptoms

I woke up last Saturday morning to incessant beeping from the recently commissioned Synology DS414j. All four HDD lights were blinking furiously and the status light was glowing orange. The unit's web UI was inaccessible. Left with no other option, I powered down the unit with a long press of the front panel power button and restarted it. This time around, the web UI was accessible, but I was presented with the dreaded message that there were no hard drives in the unit.

The NAS, as per its intended usage scenario, had been only very lightly loaded in terms of network and disk traffic. However, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to note that the unit had been used againt Synology's directions with reference to hot-swapping during the review process. The unit doesn't support hot-swap, but we tested it out and found that it worked. However, the drives that were used for long term testing were never hot-swapped.

Data Availability at Stake

In my original DS414j review, I had indicated its suitability as a backup NAS. After prolonged usage, it was re-purposed slightly. The Cloud Station and related packages were uninstalled as they simply refused to let the disks go to sleep. However, I created a shared folder for storing data and mapped it on a Windows 8.1 VM in the QNAP TS-451 NAS (that is currently under evaluation). By configuring that shared folder as the local path for QSync (QNAP's Dropbox-like package), I intended to get any data uploaded to the DS414j's shared folder backed up in real time to the QNAP AT-TS-451's QSync folder (and vice-versa). The net result was that I was expecting data to be backed up irrespective of whether I uploaded it to the TS-451 or the DS414j. Almost all the data I was storing on the NAS units at that time was being generated by benchmark runs for various reviews in progress.

My first task after seeing the 'hard disk not present' message on the DS414j web page was to ensure that my data backup was up to date on the QNAP TS-451. I had copied over some results to the DS414j on Friday afternoon, but, to my consternation, I found that QSync had failed me. The updates that had occurred in the mapped Samba share hadn't reflected properly on to the QSync folder in the TS-451 (the last version seemed to be from Thursday night, which leads me to suspect that QSync wasn't doing real-time monitoring / updates, or, it was not recognizing updates made to a monitored folder from another machine). In any case, I had apparently lost a day's work (machine time, mainly) worth of data.

Data Recovery - Evaluating Software & Hardware Options
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  • deeceefar2 - Friday, August 22, 2014 - link

    If instead of using one qnap and one synology they were both the same brand, you wouldn't have had an issue. You could have just popped the drives immediately into the other nas, and sent the synology back for refurbishing. They way we did it was 2 Qnaps, one at the office, and one at my house. When we had a failure of the main Qnap we sent it in for repairs, and brought the one from home in. You have them doing remote replication, and then using dropbox sync we had one version in the cloud that was synced to individual workstations. So workstations doing video editing could do that much faster locally and then that would get synced to the main drive and then to the remote version at the same time.
  • ruidc - Friday, August 22, 2014 - link

    we had a Thecus that died and were told that we could simply plug the drives into the shipped replacement unit. When we did so, it initialized the array. Now, I'd go UFS every time instead (having used it successfully on a single drive to get the contents of an XFS drive that would not mount on another occasion). But I did not have a spare machine capable of connecting all the drives. Luckily nothing of importance was lost.
  • imaheadcase - Friday, August 22, 2014 - link

    Ganesh T S any plans to do a custom NAS buying guide like the one done in 2011? Lots of custom options out now for that.
  • matt_v - Friday, August 22, 2014 - link

    This article really takes me back to my own experience with NAS data recovery. After a firmware upgrade in 2012, my QNAP completely lost its encrypted RAID 6, and claimed it had 6 unassigned drives. After much Googling and careful experimenting with nothing but a CentOS VM on my notebook, I was able to extract all the files with all Unicode filenames intact (VERY important in a tri-lingual family).

    - SSH into the NAS as root and create a new mountpoint that's not referenced in any possibly corrupted config (I used /share/md1_data, where the default is md0_data)
    - Assemble and mount the mdadm volume using the same console commands Ganesh used
    - go into the web GUI and unlock the volume that "magically" appears in the Encrypted File System section
    - Open WinSCP and log into the QNAP as root
    - Copy out the contents of /share/md1_data to a backup volume of your choice (I used a NexStar HX4R with a 4x4TB RAID 5+1)

    After successfully extracting all the files from the array, I completely nuked the QNAP configuration, built a new array from scratch, and copied the files back. These days, the Nexstar acts as a backup repository using TrueCrypt and a Windows batch script. Ugly, but functional, and the QNAP hasn't had a single config panic since.
  • Oyster - Friday, August 22, 2014 - link

    "If QNAP's QSync had worked properly, I could have simply tried to reinitialize the NAS instead of going through the data recovery process."

    It seems you're blaming QSync for the failure as well... didn't you say the Synology circuit board died? How do you expect any external applications to "talk" with the Synology unit? Can you share your thoughts on why/how you expected QSync to function in this scenario?

    This is no different than having OneDrive on two machines, and then blaming OneDrive for not syncing when one of the machines die on you!?!?
  • ganeshts - Friday, August 22, 2014 - link

    The fact that the circuit board died is orthogonal to QSync's working.

    The data was in the hard drives of the DS414j for more than 12 hours before the 414j died. The CIFS share on the unit was used to upload the data, so there was actually no problem accessing the CIFS share at that time and for some time thereafter too.

    The CIFS share was mapped as the 'QSync' folder on a separate Windows 8 PC (actually a VM on the TS451). QSync was installed on that PC. QSync's design intent or the way it presents itself to users is that it does real time bidirectional sync. It should have backed up the new data in the QSync PC folder (i.e, the DS414j share) to the TS451, but it didn't do it.

    I had personally seen the backup taking place for the other data that I had uploaded earlier - to either the TS451 QSync folder or the DS414j share - so the concept does work. I actually noted this in my coverage of the VM applications earlier this week - the backup / sync apps don't quite deliver on the promise.
  • Oyster - Friday, August 22, 2014 - link

    Thanks for the detailed clarification. Much appreciated.

    Two things I want to point out:

    1) I was under the impression that QSync is simply for syncing folders. I'm surprised you're using it for full blown backups. Was this something QNAP suggested? I'm asking because I own a QNAP and would be good to know where QNAP is taking QSync.

    2) I have backups setup on my QNAP NAS using the Backup Station app. I was always under the impression that Backup Station is the go-to app for maintaining proper backups on QNAP (it even provides rsync and remote NAS to NAS replication). This app has a notification feature which ties in with the notification settings in the Control Panel. I haven't had anything fail on me, but I tested the notification functionality using a test email, and it worked fine. I'd think had you utilized Backup Station, you would have been notified the moment things stopped working.

    Just to point out, I'm in no way being defensive about the QNAP. I'm in full agreement with you that some of these utilities could use more work. Especially, something that allows us to read raw drives in a PC environment in the face of a failure.
  • ganeshts - Friday, August 22, 2014 - link

    I am not sure how QSync is being understood by the users, but my impression after reading the feature list was that it could be used as an alternative to Dropbox, except that it used a 'private cloud'.

    Do I use Dropbox for folder syncing or backup? I would say, both. On my primary notebook, I work on some files and upload it to Dropbox. On my work PC, I could work on other files and upload them to the same Dropbox. In the end, I expect to be able to work with both files on both the notebook as well as the work PC. Extending this to QSync - I could put the files to 'sync/backup' through the QNAP QSync folder or upload it to some other path mapped as a QSync target along with the QSync program / application on a PC.

    I believe backup and RTRR (real-time remote replication) are both uni-directional only. My intent was to achieve bidirectional sync / backup, which is possible only through 'Dropbox-style' implementations. If there are alternatives, I would love to hear about it.
  • Gigaplex - Saturday, August 23, 2014 - link

    "I was under the impression that QSync is simply for syncing folders. I'm surprised you're using it for full blown backups."

    What is a backup? It is a copy of the data. What does syncing do? It copies data.
  • hrrmph - Friday, August 22, 2014 - link

    I noticed AT's steady increase in NAS coverage and I wondered how long it would take to get to this point. Well, not too long it would seem.

    It just proves that once again, complexity kills. RAID, NAS, etc. aren't backup solutions, but rather are high capacity, high availability, and high performance solutions.

    It's good to see that most people writing articles, and commenting today, already understand that a NAS isn't a 'safety' device. It is a fools errand to think of a NAS or RAID as providing any safety.

    The value of a NAS as a high performance solution is questionable because a single SSD popped into a spare bay on a desktop system will outperform the NAS. Except when the NAS is populated with SSDs in a performance RAID configuration. Then you have the problem of getting a high enough bandwidth connection between the NAS and client. For performance, you are best sticking with a high performance desktop. If you insist on a laptop as your main machine, then connect it to the high performance desktop using Thunderbolt.

    As for high availability, you are either a business and know how to do this yourself (and have a competent IT department to implement it), or you are a consumer. A consumer can just buy high availability as a service (such as from Amazon services). Or the consumer is a tinkerer, and doesn't care about efficiency, or cost effectiveness. Which brings us back to AT's series of articles on NAS devices.

    If you are like me, and aren't ready to relinquish everything to the cloud, or a dodgy proprietary NAS scheme, or an even dodgier RAID setup, an alternative is to just build a low-power PC fitted with a 16-port HBA card and an appropriate chassis with racks. The hardest part these days is finding a case that is appropriate for a bunch of front loading racks to hold all of the quick swap drives. But, it is nonetheless one of the most viable ways to improve capacity and safety without going to the cloud.

    As SSD prices slowly descend, this even becomes a viable performance option, with non-RAID drive setups capable of supplanting a bunch of spinning disks in a performance RAID setup.

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