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I have quite a bit of photos I'd like to organize and get away from sparse DVDs and move to a NAS solution. Ideally, this would let me have some level of redundancy and more easily find what I'm looking for.

That being said, hard drives are relatively cheap. My next question is, I would like to run ZFS on the drives with the ability to add / remove drives for additional redundancy, or change the configuration of the drives possibly. Is there a NAS box that lets you run your OS of choice (FreeNAS) so all I'd need to do is get the hard drives, the NAS box, and modify the firmware / OS with FreeNAS?

Walter

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4 Answers 4

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Perhaps this isn't an answer to your question directly, but my own experience has been that typical NAS hardware costs about the same as a regular PC. The only reason you might get NAS vs a PC is its lower physical profile.

We evaluated the NAS vs PC question quite a bit and eventually ended up with PC, because it has significantly more flexibility for us. We could install any OS we wanted and in this case, getting the box(es) on our Windows Domain was much easier than with a NAS. The PC was also better-performing than ALL the different NAS hardware we tested. We can also add as many drives as we want, and even had eSATA capability.

With PC's able to be built to very low-power profiles, it would be easy to build a dual-core, multi-drive PC-NAS that consumes less than 60 watts or so under disk-intense conditions.

Just some thoughts.

Additional point: File serving and backup should be two different functions. My recommendation would be to have one or more external hard drives connected through eSATA or USB 2.0 for backup purposes, and create a process on the fileserver to automatically backup / sync the backup drive with your data folders.

The fileserver acts as a fast repository to serve / host files from. If the fileserver goes down, you still have easy access to your data by connecting it to any working box with USB or eSATA. The external drive is also useful when you go on trips - making it easy to take your data with you.

I would recommend this over any RAID configurations for most scenarios, because when RAID fails it is often difficult to recover or rebuild. Given the plummeting costs of storage, RAID is just not worth the hassle anymore.

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Yeah, that is what I was thinking. A NAS is more specialized, so you are more confined. Sometimes, becomes the device is more limited, the cost might be lower, but computers are more of a commodity than are NAS boxes (supply/demand). –  Walter White May 27 '10 at 17:24

As stated in the other two anwsers, hardware really isn't a problem anymore. Take any machine that supports the hard drive(s) you want to use and use it;PC, NAS, whatever. What you want to do is spend you time looking at is the OS/filesystem. Check out: http://www.unixconsult.org/zfs_vs_lvm.html

I recently created my own NAS and spent A LOT of time making sure mine will be able to expand in the future, and also with reliable while expainding. I ened up using Linux(Fedora 10) LVM + RAID in RAID 5. This way I can easily grow my RAID if I want to buy more hard drives. Any version of linux is fine, I just used Fedora because I have used it for a few years. I think my "NAS" cost me around $1000:
$200 for the PC
$450 for the Hard drives (4*1TB)
$150 for a 8-port SATA card (it did hardware RAID, this was unneeded) - a cheaper one would have worked fine.

I DO NOT suggest hardware RAID!! I worked in Server/PC repair and I have seen 4 hardware RAIDs fail, luckily 2 of them were just mirrored and the data was recovered. One other one we were able to get the same RAID card and get it to rebuild. The last one was onboard RAID and the motherboard was no longer manufacture and they lost everything. People say hardware RAID is "faster", my software RAID is faster then my network can handle (I did a benchmark, cannot remember the exect speeds). Software RAID is easiler to recover from if something does go horribly wrong. I also installed a nice web interface for mine so I could download to/manage my NAS from anywhere. :)
Any ways that is my 'little' rant on RAID/NAS.

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If you're going to go off topic and say that software RAID is better than hardware RAID, you could at least give links to relevant docs to support it. You also don't take the performance gain from Write Back into consideration, unless you're using Write Back on software RAID with no battery backing it, in which case you're asking for corruption in a RAID level that uses parity like 5. If you were on RAID 10 the likelihood of an array corruption is minimal, but there is still the risk of individual data corruption. –  MDMarra May 27 '10 at 18:51

This probably isn't what you were looking for, but for a cheap alternative, you can look into wall wart computers - they're basically just an ARM cpu slapped to a USB/eSATA port and Ethernet port.

They cost about $100 each so you can cheaply pair them up with a USB/eSATA external hard drive and have a working NAS for around $200 - $250 with 1.5 - 2 TB.

Otherwise, I'm not familiar with NAS boxes that you can customize unless you build it from scratch. In which case, you're looking for a cheap but decent motherboard that has hardware raid, a case big enough for how many drives you want, and power supply for everything. Unless you want to do encoding/transcording with the box, a cheap single core Celeron or Athlon II will be more than enough.

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It isn't exactly what you asked for, but I highly recommend Netgear's ReadyNAS line. They come with a Debian-based dsitro called, predictably, ReadyNAS and a web interface called FrontView. They are quite quick and easy to set up and support pretty much any feature I could imagine wanting with the preinstalled software. They have excellent RAID support, including the redundancy you desire. You can also get root ssh access using official plugins (Aptitude comes installed).

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