Synology NAS or iMac with Time Machine

Here are the some issues I have and I am unsure which way to resolve this.

  1. My family members all have external drives to connect to and back up using time machine. This satisfies one backup but doesn’t get anything offsite. I am also pretty confident that there is no regularity to this. None of them will care until one day when they lose their photos.
  2. I have a library of PDF documents as I have tried to be paperless as much as I can. I am only storing these on a local machine and use time machine to back that machine up.
  3. Most importantly - Photo libraries. The wife has upgraded her computer and does not have near the storage space on the internal SSD that her previous MacBook had. So, the primary family library is about 200gb worth of photos. I have a separate library as well.

So I have considered a couple of options

  1. Set up a Synology NAS. Partition part of it for Time Machine backups for all of the MacBooks in the house. Most don’t have too much data. Store the photo libraries on the NAS. So the Photo libraries are not backed up in this scenario. My thought was to set the NAS up to backup to a cloud service. Not sure how this would work as it really isn’t the three copies recommended unless I stretch the rules and use iCloud Photo Library as a third copy.
  2. Set up an iMac on a desk with 1TB internal drive, a regular time machine drive attached at all times and use a cloud backup solution to keep an offsite backup. I could use this for my primary photo libraries and PDF document storage. One copy on the iMac, one on the external time machine and one in Backblaze or something similar. I also thought I might succeed in setting up a shared additional external drive on the iMac that the other MacBook could use for time machine.

Unless I missed something, this leaves the question of NAS or iMac configuration? Cost is similar if I purchase a 3-5 year old iMac or a Synology 918+ and start with 2 drives of 4TB. Anyone have have any suggestions?

Thanks you in advance for your feedback!

NAS with a backup to backblaze…?

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There are so many ways to deal with this scenario and I do not think that one of them is right or wrong… It totally depends on what you and your family members are comfortable with and where your data is being stored.

It all depends on the applications involved, how much you and your family are using a cloud solution, how much of the data has to be accessed from multiple devices and so on.

The thing with Time Machine backups on a NAS is that it does work except when it doesn’t. It should work. And it will work, until it won’t. And then you might to have to start over. Time Machine works best and reliably with local drives only. Everything else can be flaky. There are a lot of users who are fine with Time Machine on network drives and there are also a lot of users who do have issues.

Apple seems to think that the easiest solution is to use iCloud. And I think that this is true as long as you do use Apple Photos and everything else from Apple. A family plan will get you 2 TB of storage. Set up iCloud Backup on all iOS devices and sync all your photos with your Mac. I you are doing Time Machine backups locally on your Mac(s) and maybe even a Clone Backup, then you end up with:

  1. Data on your Mac (iCloud),
  2. Data on Apple’s servers (=off-site),
  3. Data in your Time Machine backup and in your clone backup.

That is quite a good starting point and easy to set up. Yes, it is no ideal solution if you have family members who do not care about attaching external drives to their Macs, but to be honest, the Time Machine network option needs monitoring, too.

There are many, many different solutions.

I tell you about my situation:

I have a photo library in Lightroom. Photos inside of this library date back up to 40 years. The library is living on my iMac, the actual photos are being stored on my NAS (to be clear: I am not talking about my Apple Photos library, but actual photos in a folder system being accessed by Lightroom). If I take pictures with my iPhone, I will eventually add those that are valuable to me to my Lightroom library. All of my data and all my documents are living on my NAS in the long run. If I need data from my NAS, I access it there directly. I have several NAS shares mounted on my Mac(s), I am able to access my NAS via my iOS/iPadOS devices anywhere - and even via a web interface. My NAS is my cloud. My NAS is my server. My NAS is doing a cloud backup to the Synology cloud. I am backing up the data on the NAS once a week to external USB drives locally. Apart from that, I do have clone backups from my Macs. My iOS devices are being backed up to iCloud.

Running an iMac as a server is an option, too. For me, it is not an option because I do not like to have a device like an iMac running 24/7 (waste of energy). Apart from that, Apple is not really pushing using a Mac as a server any more. But it can be done of course.

A NAS is great, but you will have to work with your family members how to use it properly, even with Time Machinge backups. After all, your family members will have to do their fair share to protect their data. I do not see anything easy here with the exception of data in the cloud that is being backed up somewhere else.

I just want to advise you against putting your Photos library on a NAS, this is a very bad idea. I would suggest taking the 2TB of iCloud storage and activate family sharing. Use iCloud photo library for everyone’s photos and iCloud documents for their documents (your pdfs for exemple). Then keep the TM drive local and as others have suggested, maybe a Clone. Sure a NAS is great, but do you need all the features or you would get it only for TM? If you need more than 2 TB of data, then yes, if you need to run Plex or video station, run a VM, or other stuff like that than a NAS might be great for you, but only for backing up your photos and document if you have less than 1 TB is not worth it IMO. It doesn’t need to be complicated and expansive:-)


Second @JeffLambert670.
NAS - Nociceptor Ass Stimulator (pain in the ass)
I wish I’d just bought a Mac Mini and hung drives on it.

TimeMachine backup works over WiFi to my Synology without problems. Synology’s Drive and syncing across computers is wonky. Security updates are frequent and something you need to stay on top of. The UI is shiny, but options are in non-intuitive places. Etc.

@JohnAtl I’m not saying NAS are bad, but they are more involved and serve a different purpose. I have a Synology DS918+ which I love, BUT, I use Lightroom AND photos. Lightroom is for everthing that was shot with my mirrorless camera and RAWs, and Photos is for the exported jpegs (from lightroom) and everything taken with my iPhone. The RAWs are stored on my NAS, but the photo library is stored locally on my macbook pro 2016 with 1TB SSD. I store all my movies on the NAS and run Plex server on it. Like I said, the NAS has a place if you use it, but in the OP I thought it was overkill, especially for TM which is so so in stability compared to an external drive connect to the mac.

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I should probably clarify that I have iCloud photo libraries, a local TM, 4 clones that rotate each week, and that my RAWs on my NAS is also synced with Dropbox, and the NAS is backup on an external drive that I take to my work. So, I think I’m covered :wink: Since the OP was talking about backup and I hadn’t mentioned my solution for backup in my previous post. And, before you ask, yes, it is a bit complicated, so do as I say not as I do I guess :wink:

While all good comments, again, I will bang the drum for RAID.
We all know RAID is not backup, but it was designed to protect
data by spreading it across x number of drives. X decided by
your version of RAID.

No need to create partitions for TM, just set a (size) quota.
Replace those external drives with home directories.
With Synology you can install a package that will allow you
to sync (or backup) NAS to the major cloud providers.

Be prudent in your selection of RAID level and the file
system you choose to install and it’s a set it and forget it.

I was burned in my early days by a backup system that said everything was OK, but wasn’t. And I lost three days of data for my company.

My brother was called in by a custom software company to replace the raid on their midrange system. Turns out their backup system had a similar problem and they had not backed up for 18 months. The employees were laid off that afternoon and the company never reopened.

IMO, you set up your backup system, then check it regularly by actually restoring some files to confirm it is working.

Don’t learn the hard way, like me.


Absolutely! Great call out @WayneG