Making sense of the various NAS hardware and software solutions

This past weekend I realized I had a sufficient need at home for some type of centralized storage solution. Ideally this solution would allow me access my data from all of my machines via NFS, CIFS and iSCSI, and have some capabilities to stream music and videos across my wireless network. The number of NAS solutions I found astounded me, and I have been digging through reviews to see what is good.

During my research, I came across a slew of hardware and software solutions. The hardware solutions I added to my list came from various vendors, though I decided to scratch one large vendor (Drobo) after reading Curtis Preson’s blog post about his drobo support experience. Here are the hardware vendors that made it into my possibility list:

Buffalo Technology

In addition to pre-built hardware, I also debated buying a low power system and running one of the following software NAS solutions on it:

EON OpenSolaris-based NAS distribution
FreeNAS FreeBSD-based NAS distribution
NexentaStor Community edition
OpenFiler Linux-based NSA distribution

Once I had a better feel for what was out there, I decided to pull out my notebook and write down the things that I wanted vs. needed in a NAS device. Here are the items I really wanted to have out of the box:

– Support RAID and drive auto expansion
– Support for NFS, CIFS and iSCSI
– Ability to run a DLNA/UPnP server to stream audio and video
– Easy to use and manage
– Low power consumption
– Extremely quiet
– Built-in hardware fault monitoring
– Well supported organization or community

The synology devices seem to provide everything I’m after and then some, but the FreeNAS and openfiler projects provide a lot of flexibility that can’t be matched by the Synology (e.g., all the source is available). I’m currently leaning towards the Synology DS411J, but I may end up nixing that idea and build a small quiet machine that runs openfiler/freenas. If you have a centralized NAS device at home that meets the checklist above, please let me know in the comments.

14 thoughts on “Making sense of the various NAS hardware and software solutions”

  1. Great minds think alike I guess :-) I was at the exact cross roads about a year ago and came to the exact conclusion.

    I decided to go the build-a-nas route with freenas. I purchased a nice Antec case, ECS mobo, 4 1TB drives (Hitachi, Segate, WD), mem, cpu and LG bluray burner.

    I run the freenas off a thumb drive and the disks are configured with raid 5 with a hot spare.

    I mainly use the nas for serving backup iSCSI LUNs to all my machines, upnp for multimedia shares.

    Overall I am pretty happy but considering how I don’t really use many of the other features, I am contemplating just setting up Linux on it and configure those services manually.

    Overall I am pretty happy, but YMMV. Good luck and let us know what you ended up doing.


  2. @jawildman — the QNAP devices look pretty sweet, but they are way out of my price range. While I don’t want to skimp since my data is involved, I think I can build something pretty solid for < $500 (I already have the disks).

  3. I just went through the same process about a month ago. I had initially settled on a Synology diskstation (a particular requirement of mine was out-of-the-box support for my Squeezebox, which the Synology definately had)…but after looking at the numbers a little bit, I ended up building my own, largely because I’ve been spoiled by ZFS — I want snapshots and writeable clones and block-level replication and deduplication. I’m currently running FreeBSD stable (so technically I’m still waiting on the dedupe), and I’ve been very happy. I’ve got all my application services (like squeezecenter) running inside FreeBSD jails, which keeps the core installation nice and clean. I’ve got a low-power AMD motherboard and a hot-swap disk chassis. It’s somewhat larger and noisier than the turnkey solution would have been, but it’s hella more flexible.

  4. …and I saved about $200 to $300 over the equivalent amount of storage from Synology or QNAP (basically, the system I configured *with disk* cost about as much as an unpopluated Synology DS1010+, and I purchased 3 * 1.5TB drives).

  5. @Lars — which case, motherboard and CPU did you purchase? Also, how stable is the FreeBSD ZFS implementation? I haven’t been keeping up with their port in the past few months.

  6. I got myself a Synology dual-hd box (209+) and I am _very_ happy with it. Synology does a great job of upgrading the software/firmware, adding features and increasing the life and functionality of already purchased product. It is also quite fast.

    Having said that, I have been thinking about buying more storage and I am thinking about going the DIY route. Fact is that I mostly use the Synology unit as a pure NAS and all of the added software and functionality is lost on me.

    Matty, check out this box from HP:

    It is a great unit that doesn’t consume all that much power. Low power dual core AMD cpu (1.3 GHz) and space for 4 drives in the rack, but you could also add a fifth drive instead of attaching a SATA DVD drive in the 5.1/4 bay. You also get 6 USB ports and a single eSATA port.

    This machine means great value. RH is supported by HP but I also know that people have been running Solaris/ZFS on it.

  7. I used to use a ReadyNAS for home. Then one day the controller more or less died (not any of the 4 RAIDed disks). The system was out of warranty, so no help or reasonably priced replacement. I vowed NEVER to buy a proprietary NAS box again. I run Solaris10/ZFS right now, and am happy. I do not yet have a great solution for your DLNA/UPnP media streaming requirement. I run SqueezeCenter to stream audio to squeezeboxen, and I can access it remotely (itunes client) via ssh tunnel when working remotely. I am rooting for the FreeNAS project, but haven’t taken that plunge yet. Good luck!

  8. I decided to build my own. I’m waiting for the new FreeNAS which is in beta. iX systems took over development of it and they built it so that they can keep it in line with FreeBSD releases, thus taking advantage of ZFS updates, etc.

    I used the beta and it works SO MUCH better than the old 0.7x versions based on monowall.

    I used to run OpenSolaris, but that’s pretty much gone. I never liked Solaris anyways.

  9. @Dave — are you currently using the HP compact server? That looks like exactly what I want! Need to do some digging to see which chipset and pieces HP settled on. Also need to see if I can install an Intel Pro Ethernet adapter in it.

  10. I currently not using the HP Microserver but if I go the DIY route then that is what I am buying. Some info provided by lspci, lshw etc can be found over here:

    And yes, you can put an Intel Pro adapter in there. The expansion slots you got are 1 half-height, half-length PCIe x16 Gen 2 1 half-height, half-length PCIe x1 Gen 2. You should be fine.

  11. On the micro server freenas with zfs raidz crashes with kernal panic with anything above moderate IO. With native bsd raid5 geom, and resync takes about 4 days for 4 2TB drives. I’m still searching for a more ideal solution that supports media players and/or squeezbox…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *