Backup Concerns: Network Attached Storage

So, I am looking at getting a better backup solution set up for my data. I have a desktop and two laptops to keep properly backed up. Each using a different operating system, Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Mac OS X.

About two years ago, I was doing monthly backups on three 700 MB CD’s a month. About a year ago, I started doing them on one 4.3 GB DVD each month. Now, with the increase in the amount of computers, and the raw data I am creating, I am thinking about going to a hard drive backup system.

I have an external hard drive that I use for backing up before formatting a system, but it is only 120 GB, and I would like to keep it as that quick, one time use backup solution for getting my machine ready for formatting.

So I am considering buying two 500 GB SATA hard drives, and an external USB 2.0 drive bay. This is the cheapest way to start backing things up regularly, but not the most effective. I will have lots of space, and I could stagger my backups so that one week they are on the first hard drive, and the second week they are on the second hard drive, and back and forth. That way if one hard drive ever fails, the most I would lose is a week of work.

What I am seriously considering though is going a step further and getting a small, two bay, network attached storage device. I could put the two hard drives inside, and set them to RAID-1, which would mirror the data on both hard drives. This would give me only 500GB of space, but if a single drive ever failed, I would be protected from any data loss. This is also one of the more expensive options I have to keep my data backed up, as it requires two drives, but really only gives me one drive worth of space.

I could take my computer tower that isn’t really being used for anything, buy a serial-ATA controller, throw some hard drives into it, and using some software, change it into a network attached storage box. This could also provide me with a RAID-1 setup, as well as some other features. I haven’t really looked into doing this as of yet, but it seems like a cheaper, and infinitely more expandable option. I am not sure which software I would use to do this, and would love to hear some options if anyone knows of some.

Of course, some might wonder why I don’t consider a Drobo, despite its popularity, the device, while really interesting, is far too expensive for me to splurge on. At nearly $500 for just the four bay device, Drobo would set me back over $700, where my other options are around half as expensive.

Yes, Drobo has some interesting features, like a light that tells you the status of the hard drive, and being able to used mixed size drives, among other things, I don’t think its features warrant the current price.

The last option on my list is to get some storage online. I haven’t really investigated something like this yet, but I think it would be interesting. Either something like using Amazon’s S3 service to back up my hard drives, somehow, or a data server from some web hosting-like company. If someone has done research into using a web service as an online backup solution, I would love to hear it. My main concern though is that the cost will mount quite quickly compared to a hard drive based solution.

How do you back up all your files? Do you have an automated system, or do you have to remember every week, month, or quarter? If you were going to buy a backup system today, and your budget was under $500, what would you select? I would love some advice if you have any.