I’ve got an aging external hard drive that I’ve been using for backups for some time now. It’s been getting kind of clogged up, and when we returned from Spain, it took a few tries before it would spin up. That was the kick in the pants I needed to move forward with a plan to get a network-attached storage (NAS) box.

I spent a lot of time reading the reviews at Tom’s Networking. It looked like there was no one product that offered both of two key features: two disk bays for RAID-1, and support for the Appletalk File Protocol (AFP). (I know that I could have dropped $600 on a four-bay box from Infrant, but I literally don’t have room for that, much less the budget or the need.) I decided to compromise on a “bring your own disk” one-disk box from Synology, DS-106e, which at least supports AFP. Eventually I can get an external box to plug into the DS-106 and backup my backup.

Getting this working has been a bear. The main point of this exercise, of course, is to back up. I had been using SilverKeeper, freeware from LaCie, for a long time. It works, but it is not easy to work with. I want to exclude things like caches and deleted mail from my backup, and while it is possible with SilverKeeper, it’s painful, and the interface is buggy enough (straight outta OS 9) that I’m never sure what I’ve added to the exclusion list. I looked around and decided to try out Synk, which offers pretty smart exclusions and looks nice.

Repeated attempts to make a backup fail in mid-stream. Tried with both Sync and SilverKeeper, and encountered some variation on the same problem each time. I do some reading on the forums for Synk and discover that most NAS boxes that support AFP don’t do a very good job of it, hence the problems I’m seeing. Trying to connect via SMB doesn’t work any better, for some reason.

Gnash teeth, rend garments, pull hair.

Inspiration strikes.

If you’re using OS X and are trying to back up to an NAS without success, here’s what you do. Launch Disk Utilities. Create a sparse disk image on your NAS box. Make that your backup target. I’ve tried this, and so far, it works. It seems to tax my Mac a lot more heavily, and it seems like taking the long way round. There may be other reasons this is a Bad Idea, and I would rather not have to do this in the first place. But, like I say, it works.

On the plus side, the NAS box is a lot quieter than my external drive, it lets me declutter my desk. I hooked my printer up to it, for additional decluttering, and that worked like a charm. Hardware assembly went smoothly: I stuck a 500-GB (Half a terabyte. Isn’t that insane? My first hard drive was 20 MB, making this one 25,0000 times bigger. Terabyte-drives will be unexceptional in commodity PCs in a year.) drive in it, and over gigabit Ethernet, it seems about as fast as my FW-400 external hard drive.