Thoughts on building your own NAS device

In a previous post I shared the research I did on the various NAS solutions that are available. I’ve been experimenting with the software solutions I described in that post, and have decided to forego a pre-built solution in favor of a DIY project. There were a couple of reasons for this:

1. The hardware costs were significantly less than the pre built solutions.

2. I have quite a bit more flexibility rolling my own box.

3. The commercial solutions come with a ton of bells and whistles that I don’t really need.

4. There are functional streaming solutions that run on top of Linux and FreeBSD.

5. I don’t have to worry about my NAS being EOL’ed or the company that sells it going under.

I’m not sure if I’m going to run FreeNSD or openfiler, but I have settled on my hardware. Based on a recommendation from a reader named Dave, I ordered a HP micro server along with 4 2TB Samsung disk drives. The server cost me $300, and I got the disk drives on sale for $80 each. That puts the total price tag for a NAS device with 8TB of RAW disk at just over $600. Not bad! I’m planning to do a thorough evaluation of freenas and openfiler, and will post my thoughts on the two as I start digging into them further. Also planning to do some serious performance benchmarks to see which performs better. Viva la NAS!!

*** UPDATE ***

Part two of this series is available here.

26 thoughts on “Thoughts on building your own NAS device”

  1. Very interesting, I’m looking for something like this too, so will look forward to your benchmarks!

    Did you get the 633724-421 or the older 612275-421? I couldn’t quite figure out if the only difference between them is the size of the included hard disk.

  2. I am looking forward to reading about your benchmark adventures. I would also recommend benchmarking a regular Linux distro instead of using OpenFiler or Freenas, to establish a baseline. It would be interesting to see if these NAS products could beat your own setups of NFS and/or Samba.

    And don’t forget alignment if your disks are using a 4k disk sector!

  3. > 1. The hardware costs were significantly less than the pre built solutions.

    I must disagree!

    Synology DS221 or DS211J only cost 320$ and 240$ (unit cost data can be found here)
    which is less than the HP micro server 310$. You can even get them cheaper elsewhere. And it comes with very bells and whistles.

  4. I think you made a good decision. I also think you’re going to really like the new 0.8 FreeNAS. It’s been re-written and is in Beta. I wouldn’t bother with the .7x version.

  5. Hi Matty,

    this is a cool post.
    DIY is THE thing, always fun and often cheap no matter the field of application. And a DIY NAS solution will give you for sure flexibility, manageability and, most important, performance, which is something everyone appreciates.
    But, even if building a NAS yourself is fun and cheaper in the startup fase, costs in the long term may be much higher in terms of power consumption (24X7).
    Have you considered that parameter and have you compared power consumption of differrent solutions?
    Maybe idle power consumption is what truly matters to me, so if you have benchmark on this, please share.
    Maybe you can check this also:
    http://mindinthewater.blogspot.com/2010/01/building-nas-part-5-minimizing-power.html

    Carlo
    http://www.happysysadm.com/

  6. @ r3dlin3 — the device you listed only has 2 disk bays, while the HP micro server has 4 disk bays. Not sure these two pieces of hardware are equal.

  7. I also like to see some benchmarks.
    @matty: Are the 4 “Disk Bay” included by the NAS?
    I just made a short smb performance test with openfiler on this hardware:
    Intel(R) Atom(TM) CPU D510 @ 1.66GHz, 500 GB SATA Drive (WD) no RAID
    I used the h2testw program (http://www.heise.de/software/download/h2testw/50539) for the test. I think this gives you a good enduser performance overview.
    ————————–
    Warning: Only 1500 of 462797 MByte tested.
    Test finished without errors.
    You can now delete the test files *.h2w or verify them again.
    Writing speed: 24.0 MByte/s
    Reading speed: 31.0 MByte/s
    H2testw v1.4
    ————————–

  8. snap! I’ve ordered the same server. Please keep us updated on how you utilise this great bit of kit – i’ll be very interested to know.

  9. Matty, how are you planning to install the OS? I’m considering installing to a couple of mirrored USB sticks (assuming the system supports booting from them).

    Also, I’m guessing you decided you didn’t need 7200RPM drives for this box?

  10. @rayvd — I’m planning to install from a USB stick. My hardware is on it’s way, so I’ll have to experiment when it gets here. I may also use a DVD drive if the USB stick doesn’t work (not 100% certain the HP firmware supports booting from USB).

  11. I was thinking more along the lines of installing the OS _to_ external flash media and devoting the rotating media entirely to data storage…

  12. @rayvd — that is a solid approach as well. I’m currently doing that with my Intel SS4200, and should probably test that out for this approach as well. Separating the OS and data will definitely make upgrades easier, and ensure that you don’t accidentally overwrite your data when you apply updates or upgrade the base OS.

  13. @Mario — did you run your tests with a single disk drive? Curious how it performs with four drives configured in a RAID 1+0, 5 and 6 configuration.

  14. @Joe — got the disks but decided to nix the HP micro server and use an existing machine. I’ll have some more info up this weekend or sometime next week.

  15. Wondering how your search is going for NAS. I settled on freenas after seeing the prebuilt/installed media possibilities. But on the HP micro server, ZFS raidz panics the kernel after a bit under heavy load. native bsd5 raid5 takes about 3 days to rebuild when the raid5 goes out of sync due to power fail or such. So neither situation is ideal.

  16. Matty,

    Any update on this project? I want to build a NAS, and I’m debating between the HP Microserver or going with a more powerful but efficient processor like the i3-2100t (35w).

  17. Hey guys,

    Just found this post as I searched Google. I’m on the same situation, debating whether to build my own box or get a Synology or Qnap unit.
    I honestly prefer to build my own box and run either FreeBSD or Solaris 11 Express to run ZFS. Ever since I tried ZFS (in a virtual environment, for playing, testing and learning), I have decided that my server MUST be capable of doing ZFS.
    But on the other hand, I find it somewhat difficult and time consuming to build a box and add some of the features already found in Synology and Qnap NASes, such as web-based file browser, music streaming, photo streaming, etc.
    Any thoughts on your progress?

  18. @matty, too bad you didn’t stay with the hp microserver, it will be my next pick to replace my qnap or adding along with it. I have the qnap ts-419p, great unit, totally satisfied with it. The community is great on their forum. But i am running gig speed, and this 419p will top at 30 meg/sec all because of the arm single core processor. So i want more, and the HP seem pefect for this: low power + DIY. I think i’ll choose the freenas, it did test it and it was running pretty good from Usb boot up, and i miss ZFS.

    But please, keep us posted of your result :)

  19. It is Oct 2011, anychance we could get you to update your blog? I am volunteering at a non-profit charity and helping build this for their office setup. They are limited on cash and I would love to know what robust your solution turned out to be. I wont always be available to work on it for them, so my intent is to get a simple setup that works well. Please do put a follow up blog if you can. thanks!

  20. Ben,

    I am definitely going to pick one up in the future. The microserver is a great system and I would have one now if it weren’t for some shipping issues. :(

    – Ryan

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