Long-term storage solutions

This problem is something I’ve been thinking about for quite some time and remain fascinated by.

Let’s say you’re out of storage on your primary machine and need another place to store your files. Because that solution is on another hard drive, you’ll need a backup of that drive too. Let’s assume as well that you want to do Time Machine backups (or something similar, i.e. constant and consistent backup of incremental file changes based on dates and times).

The way I see it, you have three options:

  1. If you have a laptop, you could buy two copies of the hard drive you need. Let one act as the backup and storage tool, and the other act as a clone. Back up both to Backblaze (or something like it) at no additional cost, since they’re attached to your main machine. Plug them in every time you plug in your machine. This has the problem, of course, that you’re not always plugged in.
  2. If you have a laptop, give up and buy a desktop for this purpose. If you have a desktop, problem solved: your machine is already always on and you just need to add drives as in step 1. You could even allow laptops in your home to connect to this machine when they’re on the same network and run their backups too.
  3. Get a NAS. The problem here is, if you want to really make sure your archive is safe, you need two of the same NAS in two separate locations. One clones to the other. Otherwise, you’re still at risk of losing this data. If you want to back it up to the cloud, you’ll unfortunately be paying per GB for something like Backblaze, meaning your costs will not be as predictable as they would be if you were dealing with DAS.

I have a laptop that I mostly use at my desk, but will very often unplug from my desk and walk away with. I’m currently using option 1, but I’m perpetually out of ports on my machine and only ever have 1 drive plugged in at a time. This solution is also kind of noisy.

For what I suspect my long-term needs are, I looked at a Synology DS1522+. Filling that with 4TB drives, and buying two of the whole unit, would cost me $3049.88 CAD.

Buying a whole Mac Studio kitted out with specs to match my laptop would be $4699. If I lowered the storage to 2TB, knowing I could have plenty of archival storage attached to the desktop, it would cost $3099. Only $50 more than Synology. Then I have power at the desk and power on the go.

Of course, buying an always-on Mac Mini for this purpose would cost under $1k. Using it just for file storage wasn’t as successful as I hoped it would be when I tried it last, and I ended up returning it. (One of those things where it wa quickly obviously Synology would be better at staying attached to the Mac, have fewer security holes in that scenario, etc.)

I don’t have a solution today and I’m not looking for one necessarily, but I wanted to raise this topic as an area where I feel the solutions today don’t match what the needs of consumers.

There is technically a fourth solution, but it’s so expensive as to be hilarious: buy a Mac Pro, attach a bunch of external storage. Eat $12,000 CAD for breakfast.


I forgot to mention one other possibility: use enough Studio Monitors with a laptop that one gets enough ports to support everything that is usually plugged in via USB. This is going to sound ridiculous, but that would take two Studio Displays for me:

  • Two out of three USB-C ports on the MacBook Pro would be occupied. I’d leave one for emergencies or short-term use (like a thumb drive).
  • One Studio Display has three ports. All three are hard drives. This allows one to plug in the Mac and automatically start backing everything up. Unfortunately, it does not allow remote backups.
  • One Studio Display has LG’s dongle plugged in for my mouse, and it has my guitar FX unit plugged in via USB, and it has another charging cable plugged in for keeping my keyboard, or mouse, trackpad, or Airpods charged up. And that’s every cable.
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Maybe I’m missing something.

Why not have a hub or two for your laptop and external drives? You could even buy long cables to keep the hubs out of sight.

If your external drives are noisy and therefore spinning disks , you can make use of the USB-A ports.


Nope, I was missing something. This is a very good idea too, and certainly another option. Thank you!


I went with the always on Mac mini as a server. Most recent update is described here: Updating my Mac mini server setup

Pertinent to this thread:

  • Backblaze account only backs up the server.
  • Server holds Time Machine backups for other systems. These are not backed up to Backblaze.
  • Chronosync/Chronoagent used to do daily backups of data on other systems to the server. Backblaze then backs these up.
  • Drive “toaster” used to clone server drives to bare drives that are kept offsite. Two sets of offset drives are swapped.

This means that data on the “work” computers, two iMacs and a MacBook Pro, are backed up to two places on the server, to Backblaze, and alternating offsite drives. None of the “work” computers have external drives.


This looks good! I had a lot of issues getting things to work with a Mac Mini, but it’s quite possible I configured it wrong. Do you have any suggestions or tips on what to enable to make the system work smoothly?

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+1 for a Mac mini.

I’ve used them as both a home server and a departmental server for 6 - 8 employees in the past.

You already know macOS which should help keep things simple. A personal NAS means managing and protecting an additional OS.

eCh0raix Ransomware Got Me - 4.5 TB of Data Gone on DS216j

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My 2014 Mac mini has a hard time keeping an external spinning disk drive available as a wireless target for Time Machine backups from my M1 MacBook Air. Works fine for much of the day if I start the mini up in the morning but by early evening the external disk drive can no longer be found. A restart of the mini always fixes the problem but of course is inconvenient. Have played with many settings changes that so far have not made the issue go away.

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This is very thoughtful, thanks. I’m aware that I’ll have to be the admin of yet another computer, but the one thing that might make it worth it is remote backups of each laptop in the house.

I didn’t feel like the Mac Mini came with a plethora of ports for connected drives, but I’ll have to look into it again. Perhaps I was not being realistic about my needs. Edit: I see it has four. That’s not bad.

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QNAP makes a TR-004 DAS (not NAS!) setup. Buy one of those, populate it with cheap 4TB drives in RAID 5, and you’ll have 12TB of storage (3 4TB drives with one extra for parity) that’s a direct-connect to your laptop, with fault tolerance for a single drive failure. Then add Backblaze, which backs up all DIRECTLY ATTACHED drives - including the QNAP.

There are other RAID options available to you with that QNAP, depending on your fault tolerance requirements, and obviously larger drive sizes - but that gets you in the ballpark.

Oh, and just thought of a bonus - any computer in the house could theoretically be plugged directly into the QNAP for backups. Especially if they’re laptops and can be brought to the QNAP. :smiley:


In my case it’s been smooth out of the box, but then I have amassed lots of experience over the years. Difficulties were really in just migrating everything over from the older mini.

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As a consumer (read: not a business with sensitive documents) I don’t need that level of backup performance. But maybe I’m the one missing something.

I have a MBP that is almost always running in clamshell mode and is (mostly) plugged into a Time Machine backup drive. Two or three times a week I unplug and work from the sofa or the back deck. When I’m done, I plug it back in, and (usually) remember to reconnect the backup drive.

If some catastrophe happened and I lost a day’s (or a few days’) worth of work, it’s not really that critical for me. Most everything I do is in the cloud, and the truly important stuff is all stored server-side on someone else’s equipment. I’m talking about things like my shopping cart transactions and customer database.

And yes, I know that can fail as well, and I do keep backups of that database, but again, how much redundancy does a consumer really need?

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:rofl: Sometimes I forget that my freelance needs aren’t the needs of everybody. Thanks for the reminder, and good point! Most people really don’t need this.

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This is a really interesting idea. Do you happen to know how loud something like this is? If it’s got a bunch of clicking drives, a fan, etc, and it’s all on my desk, I’d imagine that’s not exactly silent.

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Four spinning drives definitely aren’t silent. I have one next to me, and it’s not unpleasant - but it’s noticeable. Of course a Synology would make the same noise - it could just be tucked into a basement or somewhere else well-ventilated-but-far-away (i.e. not a tiny closet).

Mine also runs 24/7 - but you could shut it down if there were some need for complete silence during a project (audio/video recording, etc.)

Note also that any external spinning drive is going to make noise. The only way around that would be to build something out of SSDs, and that’s going to be pretty pricey.

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Mac vs Synology

(thanks for the reminder, I was meaning to write a blog post on my shift to synology)

I recently bid farewell to my 2012 Mac mini and moved to a four bay Synology. From a management perspective, Synology is super easy compared to the Mac.

The Synology is made to be a very good server and backup point for your devices. The Mac OS is not. It’s not its primary purpose.

Both do the job. It’s that pickup trunk analogy. Sometimes a pickup truck is just a better fit compared to any other car with a boot.

I setup the Synology once and left it in the garage. It just does what it has to.

Synology also has whole drive encryption so even if the Synology is stolen, it’s protected.

I will say, my Synology has no remote access because I don’t need it and as such I remove the risk of ransomware.


I do something very similar to @tomalmy with a 2012 Mac Mini I picked up dirt cheap. I have 2 OWC drive bays attached with 24tb (2x8+2x4) of storage. One drive is for media and archive files, one is for TM backups, third is for CCC backups of all the other computers in the house, and 4th is a spare. Media and CCC drives get backed up to BackBlaze.

Since my media/archive drive is backed up to BackBlaze I can access my of the files remotely as long as I have a good internet connection. My iMac and MacBook Air both have 1tb drives which is plenty for all my routine stuff. They are synced via iCloud so that data is easily accessible via my iPad and iPhone.

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Thinking about combining a few of your answers, getting a QNAP DAS, attaching it to a Mac Mini, and just running all that remotely.

@glenthompson what are your thoughts on these OWC drive bays? The last time I used a RAID setup it nuked an archive containing years of my work, so I’m leery of any physical RAID itself. Hence my interest in something like Synology (and I hope QNAP is also a software-based RAID).

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Not setup as RAID, just JBOD. I don’t need fault tolerance and my backups are adequate for recovery. As JBOD enclosures they do fine and provide good performance. I keep the Mini, drives, and network gear in a cabinet in the basement that’s less likely to burn in a fire - lots of concrete.

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I use a couple of OWC enclosures. One USB, one Thunderbolt. Today they are connected to my Mac Studio. The USB enclosure houses four spinning drives and I originally used it with a 2010 MacPro. The Thunderbolt enclosure has three SSDs and the 1 TB spinning drive that came with the MacPro. (For those keeping score at home I have 11 drives total attached to the Studio. I get my money’s worth form Backblaze!)

Like @glenthompson I use them as JBOD.

So while not your use case, I can say that I’ve been happy with the OWC enclosures.

Good luck sorting out what you want to do.