ioSafe N2 Review: Go Ahead, Set Your Files on Fire

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After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, in which dozens upon dozens of lawyers suffered everything from damage to their building to a total loss of their practice, David F. Bienvenu, a New Orleans lawyer and chair of the ABA Special Committee on Disaster Response and Preparedness wrote in the ABA Journal that lawyers have “a responsibility to our clients to make sure we’re adequately prepared to address possible emergencies.”

Now, almost ten years later, we have much more accessible and user-friendly options for even a budget-conscious solo practitioner to go entirely paperless with redundant off-site backups — or, at the very least, to create and maintain a digital backup of their paper files. For those who want the additional flexibility of their own “private cloud” (despite most legal technologists’ disdain for that term), a Networked Attached Storage device (commonly written as “NAS” and pronounced “nass”) is an affordable and easily-configured off-the-shelf file server that can be set up without hiring an IT consultant.

Now, lawyers can meet and possibly surpass their ethical duties to with the new fireproof and waterproof ioSafe N2. The ioSafe N2 (now called the 214) is a fortified NAS device that runs on Synology’s linux-based operating system, also used on the Synology DS212+ that I previously reviewed.

The ioSafe N2 retails for about $600, plus the cost of two hard drives (about $80 each). It is certainly more expensive than the non-diaster-proofed Synology NAS devices that offer comparable specs. So, should you dig into your budget? Let me answer that questions with another question: would you regret not paying an extra $200 to waterproof and fireproof your file server after the water pipe in the upstairs tenant’s office bursts and turns your current file server into a very expensive doorstop?

Waterproof and Fireproof

Are you concerned that your intern may leave a space heater running as they lock up on Friday evening? Is that roof still leaking into the drop ceiling of the back room after it pours? The engineers behind the ioSafe N2 created an affordable NAS with a spec sheet that looks and reads like it was designed for firms with endless IT budgets. Having encountered both of the above-mentioned scenarios in the past year, I was ecstatic to find out that the N2 would defend my newly-paperless office from utter disaster. Particularly now that I have gone completely paperless on most of my practice, a loss of my NAS device to water or fire would potentially set me back weeks while I downloaded backups from Amazon S3 rather than the time it would take me to pick up a new NAS unit into which I could install my dry and unburned hard drives.

The N2 protects data from loss up to 1550°F for 1/2 hour per ASTM E119 standards using “DataCast endothermic fire insulation technology.” This feature will limit the internal temperature of the unit to 160°F by releasing water vapor during a fire. The also N2 protects data from loss in up to ten feet of water for 72 hours using a “HydroSafe water barrier.” I’ll repeat: the N2 will keep your paperless office and all your archived data safe and recoverable if your office floods to the ceiling for three days.

iosafe n2 data protection ioSafe N2 Review: Go Ahead, Set Your Files on Fire

(Thanks to smallnetbuilder.com for permission to use this graphic.)

ioSafe sent me a review unit so I could see how those cleverly-branded features actually work. I decided to take it apart to show you what it looks like.

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The exterior of the N2 appropriately looks like a consumer-grade safe you could install in your closet. The sleek black front panel of the N2 is secured with two screws and takes a little extra elbow grease to unscrew for the first time. If you are buying the N2 without the necessary two hard drives, you will have to disassemble it before you can install them.

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After removing the front panel, you can see that the back of the panel is affixed to a white plastic mold that fits like a glove into the hard drive container. This molded backing fits against the inner door to the hard drive enclosure.

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The patented DataCast fireproof insulation is finally revealed after removing the inner door panel. This insulation material uses chemically-bound water molecules that vaporize in a fire to create steam that will keep the drives cool when flames invade the enclosure. With this panel removed, you can fully appreciate the technological advances that have brought us to the point where hard drives can be protected from fire and water for under $1,000.

I had fully intended on turning my unit into a fireball and then dousing it with water from my garden hose but the Polar Vortex that hovered over Ohio for the last few months have left me unable to either stand outside long enough to film this or have an unfrozen method of putting out the fire. Not to mention the fact that the local Fire Chief hasn’t yet responded to my request for permission to burn this in the city limits. Neverthless, the guys at LinusTechTips did a great job filming the destruction of an ioSafe N2 so that you can see how well the ioSafe’s water and fireproofing systems:

They toasted their N2 unit at over 800 degrees Farenheit before hosing it down and recovering the hard drives. Needless to say, ioSafe is not messing around with its claims.

Additionally, the guys at MaximumPC burned their N2 on top of an outdoor charcoal grill and the reviewers at SmallNetBuilder fully recovered their test data after burning and drowning their N2 (they even took photos of all the charred remains of their brave NAS).

In the end, here is what you need to know: the various reviewers who filmed and photographed their efforts to melt and soak their N2 were able to fully recover their entire data set when they removed the two hard drives and installed them into a dry and intact NAS.

Data Recovery Service

What happens if you actually suffer a fire or a burst pipe in your IT room (for most of us, a room that is a combination of our janitor’s closet, the “break room” with a Keurig machine, and likely the storage location for those few paper files that you are ethically bound to keep like your firm’s accounting records)? What if someone drops the NAS while cleaning the computer closet or your disks simply fail after six months? No worries. You get a year of data recovery service free for charge for the first year if you buy the N2 with the hard drives preloaded. This includes up to $2,500 of forensic recovery expenses per terabyte for the first year of ownership. If you suffer a disaster and the DRS team is able to recover your data, they will ship you a replacement unit with your data pre-loaded at no additional charge.

If you want to extend your coverage up to five years and double your allowance for forensic recovery to $5,000 per terabyte, it’s only $100 more through the ioSafe website. Spread out over five years, that means you can ensure recovery of your data for about $20 a year — far cheaper than simply relying on most cloud storage options.

Now that we’ve established it will last through a short fire or an overnight flood, and how the DRS feature will help get you back up and running if you do suffer a natural disaster, let’s see how it adds value to your office’s network setup.

Redundancy Matters

The N2 is far more capable of protecting your data from water and fire damage than any other NAS on the market (I am unaware of any other NAS that even purports to be fire or waterproof). Other than theft (which would be deterred by the sheer weight of the 28-pound chassis (( There is also an optional security kit available. Buy it here.) or physical failure of the drives (the consequences of which are greatly reduced by the built-in RAID configuration), there aren’t many scenarios in which your data will be easily destroyed. So if you are going to buy only one NAS for your office, it should definitely be this one.

On the other hand, if you already have a NAS device, the N2 is a great addition to your current setup. You can upgrade to the N2 as your primary file server and relegate your current NAS to a backup role or take the it to your house and use it to remotely back up your new N2 file server. If your current NAS runs Synology’s DiskStation Manager operating system (like the N2), you can use the built-in software in about five minutes time to easily configure a backup schedule that copies your files over the internet to your backup NAS.

How the N2 fits into Backup Best Practices

Here is the bare minimum backup plan, the “3-2-1″ method:

  • 3 copies of your data (1 original + 2 backups) on
  • 2 types of media with
  • 1 backup offsite.

In our office, I used to keep one backup copy of our file server’s data on (1) a Seagate external hard drive stored in a safe location in the office and another on (2) a set of DVDs that were stored in my house. I also store a copy on Amazon’s S3 cloud using a tremendously helpful (and affordable) built-in feature of the Synology operating system. However, as our data grew to over 200 gigabytes it became very clear that burning our archive to 40 DVDs was going to take way more time and effort than necessary.

In our setup, we have kept our Synology DS212+ as our primary NAS and tested the N2 as a backup server located at an off-site location on the other side of town. As both of these devices run the Synology DiskStation Manager operating system, it was a breeze to follow the online guides to link the two devices and start backing up our primary server (the DS212+). Here’s a hint: run the first backup with both NAS devices on the local network (as in, plugged in using Ethernet connections to your router or switch while physically in your office) as it will complete much, much faster than if you try to backup all of your files for the first time over the Internet.

Using one NAS to store your files on mirroring RAID-configured hard drives is good. Using two NAS devices in order to have a complete and incremental daily backup is better. Ensuring that at least one of them will weather a plumbing disaster or an electrical fire? That’s improving your practice.

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