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I'm looking to setup some kind of network storage device, which can take multiple drives (preferable 3 or more) and still see them as separate drives which I can slot in or take out at any time without affecting the others. I gather that NAS devices that provides RAID or JBOD would not work in this situation.

The drives needs to be accessible from the 8 computers around the house simultaneously as well. The reason I'm looking for this is so that I can purchase additional HDDs for shared storage by the family as and when it is required, as opposed to purchasing multiple add-on drives for each PC, or moving around an external HDD.(Just caused physical damage to a Seagate FreeAgent Pro when it got tipped over accidentally while in operation over the weekend and lost all data - it WAS the backup drive.) I'd probably use the first 2 disks as a shared network-accessible storage area for the family, while using the 3rd or 4th as space for manual backup.

Any recommendations? Thanks.

EDIT TO ADD DETAILS: I would prefer a dedicated solution that would allow for lower power consumption, heat generation, small physical footprint, and ease of upgradability/maintenance.

I need the device to allow multiple physical disks to be seen as multiple logical drives so that users can choose exactly which drive they want their data to go into, and so that in the event of the device's failure, I can easily take any of the other disks, connect it to a computer and read data off it. I understand that with RAID you can't do that until you rebuilt the RAID array. Also, some data may be more valuable than others, so I have opted for a more manual way of backup (as opposed to automatic mirroring) where users have the choice of copying important files to all the disks, and only one or two disks for the less important files. It's certainly seems a bit more of a hassle, but it can gain us some flexibility in space usage and the usual problems that comes with recovering from RAID arrays.

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We've had a lot of NAS threads. Some were listed when you typed in your title, others are over to the right under Related, and some available by search superuser.com/search?q=nas. Briefly looking at your req's though, maybe look into Windows Home Server and Drive Extender. GAThrawn explains here superuser.com/questions/45497/… –  hyperslug Oct 14 '09 at 20:43
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re: "slot in or take out at any time" -- are you looking for hotswap capability here? (ie without shutting the server down?) –  quack quixote Oct 14 '09 at 20:50
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@hyperslug: Thanks, but I've actually read through all 8 pages that came up from my search for NAS solutions at SuperUser and didn't find anything suitable for my requirements. I'm looking more for a dedicated device with low power consumption and physical footprint than a server. Still, I'm not familiar with WHS and it may be worth looking into more. Would WHS with drive extender allow me to use the multiple disks as separate logical drives? If the setup fails, would I be able to take any one of these drives, connect them to another PC and read data off it easily? Thanks. –  Darkwoof Oct 15 '09 at 11:01
    
@~quack: Well, not really. I probably can afford quick shutdown and reboots every now and then, though hot-swappability would certainly be a plus. –  Darkwoof Oct 15 '09 at 11:02

4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Microsoft has a paper on WHS and Drive Extender. Regarding recovery:

If the home server fails completely, all the surviving drives can be attached to a computer that is not even running Windows Home Server Drive Extender, and you can copy the files from the drives to that computer. Because the files retain their original names and paths (under the \DE directory), the files can be used with no specific recovery steps.

Apparently Drive Extender is flexible as it supports external (USB/Firewire) hard drives as well. You first have to notify it that you will be removing a drive and it will begin copying off any files that are not duplicated onto the remaining drives.

Another advantage is that it supports RDC so you can manage it from any computer as if you were sitting at the console, and RDC really is fast enough to make you believe your monitor is connected to the machine.

If you have your own hardware, WHS is about USD 92 @ newegg. Otherwise you can buy appliance-type machines with it pre-installed.

More here:


I'm a little puzzled at your multi-drive req. Why not have a Shared Folder for each person instead of a separate drive? They can map that folder as a drive on their own computers, and data in a Shared Folder is automatically duplicated onto another physical hard drive (if one is available).

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I've done some reading up of my own on WHS, and it is beginning to look interesting. I've also read articles comparing WHS and software RAIDs like FreeNAS. The argument against software RAIDs was that it is awfully slow. Yet I've also read user stories that WHS can get quite bogged down itself when it has to deal with very large or very large volumes of files. Do you have any real-life experience if there is any truth to this? –  Darkwoof Oct 16 '09 at 1:51
    
I would having the choice of having multiple drives so that I can choose what to go into which disk; I also tend to have a much higher disk read/write activity than the rest of my family, so I'd expect that the disk I utilise would probably have a higher chance of failure. If I share a disk with others, it'll probably increase the risk of failure on their end too. –  Darkwoof Oct 16 '09 at 1:53
    
I've only used WHS with a single drive, so I haven't had any trouble with slow downs. Though it seems like there should be a correlation between high usage and drive life, I haven't either experienced that or seen data on it. From what I've read at Serverfault, most of the datacenter guys see failures at motor start/stop than anything else. Also, I think WHS doesn't really let you pick your drive, you just tell it what Shared Folder to duplicate and it will. If you do want to pick drives, you might have to do this all manually, without DE. –  hyperslug Oct 16 '09 at 16:19

I would highly recommend you take a look at Freenas, I have been using it for around 6 months and love it.

It runs on pretty much any machine, and whilst I use it for RAID on four hard drives, you can set it up however you want.

It supports MANY different connection systems - CIFS/Samba, NFS, AFS, FTP for starters!

I would recommend messing around with it in a virtual environment first so you can add multiple disks and test that it does what you want. But I love this software and would highly recommend it!

Another solution for NAS software is Openfiler, many people like it however again, after testing both, I settled with Freenas!

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Thanks for the suggestion though I'm actually looking more for a dedicated hardware network-enabled device as there are trade-offs like physical size, heat generation and power consumption issues (amongst other considerations) if I were to build my own NAS. –  Darkwoof Oct 15 '09 at 10:46
    
I will give you physical size (however you can buy small enclosures and fanless boards) however, power and heat are not an issue. I went for 2x 2 drive bays and I was shocked that they used more power than a small Celeron system, and heat up pretty much the same - that is when I switched to Freenas, and from the features - I have never gone back. –  William Hilsum Oct 15 '09 at 13:28
    
Hmm.. That's interesting. I always thought that hardware NAS uses more power-efficient components that also generates less heat. Might be worth considering... I'll need to do some reading up I guess. –  Darkwoof Oct 16 '09 at 1:44

JBOD is exactly what you are looking for. It stands for "Just a Bunch Of Disks", as in the opposite of RAID, it just appears to the OS as a bunch of disks.

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I've looked at some popular off-the-shelf NAS products in the market and they seem to implement JBOD by turning the multiple physical disks into one logical drive. That would limit my ability to "add and remove drives at will" wouldn't it? If you know of a product that implements JBOD by listing the separate physical disks as separate logical drives, could you tell me which it is? –  Darkwoof Oct 15 '09 at 10:40
    
Ok, I've always heard JBOD to refer to independant disks, but apparently you're right, sometimes people mean JBOD to be multiple disks concatenated (with no raid parity or anything). The former is what you want, but the latter is not. So for each NAS you look at, JBOD is still what you want, you just need to make sure it's the "right kind" I guess –  davr Oct 15 '09 at 21:56
    
Thanks, davr. That's what happened to me too, I first read about JBOD referring to separate drive, hence the name, but after reading through the specs and manuals of some popular products in the market as well as user forums, it became apparent that not everyone interpret the term the same way. Do you have any suggestions of actual products that does JBOD the first way? –  Darkwoof Oct 16 '09 at 1:55

Try setting up a VM, running something like FreeNAS, and then adding dynamic virtual hard drives to it, but storing them on external hdd's attached to the host.... This should be quite flexible..?

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