I am preparing a home NAS with an old Athlon 64 X2 3800+, 4 GB ECC RAM, Asus M2V MX motherboard, and a single 3 TB WDC Green (another one as mirror may be installed in the future). It's the cheapest solution I found that includes ECC memory and the higher energy consumption is offset by the lower (zero) cost of acquisition.

The system will be used for:

  • music storage and stream to other desktop computers;
  • storage of the scanned dia slides (3-4k slides, 180 MB TIFF each one plus reduced quality JPEG version);
  • stream of these photos to a local iPad 2 (maybe Plex App? not yet sure);
  • (one additional) remote backup via rsync/ssh or ZFS send/receive.

It will be controlled via remote ssh, maybe VNC, no monitor attached. Absolute requirement is a reliable ZFS solution, plus the ability to easily install packets/software/virtual machines and to update remotely (I will be the admin and I don't live near the NAS).

I have mainly three options:

  • NAS4free/FreeNAS
  • OpenIndiana
  • Solaris Express 11 (yeah yeah I know the license requirements, I will write a perl script on it to count it as development machine).

Problems: NAS4free/FreeNAS (I tested only NAS4free) required embedded installation for remote upgrading, but full install for easy addition of software packets. Since I need at least AirVideo Server (linux/win) and Plex App (win/linux) to stream the photos and some videos to iPad (they both require virtualbox), but I cannot be there to install updates, NAS4free/FreeNAS are excluded. http://www.nas4free.org/general_information.html explains the issue: embedded can be remotely updated, full cannot. Solaris has also another advantage: Crashplan client supports Solaris and I'm already using it for other backups. I would like to leave the option open, even if I will be doing backups probably through zfs send/receive. NexentaStor was left out because zfs send/receive are not included in the free version.

The question is now Solaris 11 Express over OpenIndiana. To ease the management, I will be using http://www.napp-it.org

Which one would you suggest and why? I found lots of informations and it's difficult for me to decide. I think (from the napp-it manual) that Solaris has some additional options for SMB shares, but are they really needed at home? I think I won't even use ACLs, since normal unix-style permissions are enough. OpenIndiana has maybe more frequent updates (Solaris offers only security updates between releases), but again, do I need them? I don't think so. Moreover, this is a NAS that has to work and nothing else, I cannot risk having problems that require me to access the server. Isn't OpenIndiana a bit more... cutting edge (in the Solaris world)? I'm just asking, no need to focus on this for the answer :-)

I would limit myself to these two options (SE11.1/OI) also because I will be making a NAS for me in the future (where high performances with Mac shares are also required) and Solaris has kernel support for AFP. I will use this server to gather experience as well.

After this long question, thanks in advance! If you need additional info, let me know and I will update this post.

UPDATES Given the first answers, I will strongly suggest the person paying the hardware to insert a second HD. Better 2x2TB than 1x3TB (3 TB is oversized anyway). I was trying to keep the initial costs down to spread them over a longer period, but better having something good from the beginning.


I highly recommend going for FreeNAS, for its ease of installation, configuration and maintenance, coupled with completeness of features. Recent versions have finally deployed support for external plugins so we'll see even more add-ons in the future.

Do a traditional, full install of the latest stable release, and schedule on-site updates when you happen to be near the system. You shouldn't be relying on any form of remotely updating a NAS system anyway.

Please do note that the system you are describing will be useful for one single task only: putting your data in it then seeing the data vanish at a disk failure. Do add redundancy or have your backup ready.

  • I checked online for a FreeNAS plugin to have Virtualbox and I could't find anything, only a discussion not very promising ( forums.freenas.org/showthread.php?434-Virtulal-box-on-Freenas ) so I will check again NAS4free, in case it is easier. If too difficult, Nexentastor or Napp-it on one of the other OS (Solaris and VBox go along pretty well).
    – FarO
    Nov 27 '12 at 22:57
  • I don't understand "FreeNAS", "plugin" and "Virtualbox" in the same sentence, sorry. FreeNAS installs just fine under VirtualBox, but I think you already know that, but you shouldn't install a NAS inside a virtualized system unless you have plenty of hardware resources (hint: you don't). You shouldn't be installing VMs inside a FreeNAS (or any other NAS) system. You also shouldn't be using Virtualbox on any server-style or otherwise non-desktop system. Last but not least, you shouldn't be using those 2GB of ram for anything other than the NAS... and forget serious ZFS with only 2GBs.
    – Luke404
    Nov 28 '12 at 6:58
  • Thanks for the additional useful infos, I'm not an expert on the topic of VMs outside desktops. A note however: I'm not talking about a large company, I have a family as users, performances (you mentioned ZFS is slow with on 2 GB) are good enough and not a big issue. I am learning now about virtualization on servers and it seems it's totally different. I could simply split the machine into 1 GB linux (enough for PlexApp) and the remaining for a ZFS NAS. However, how would the linux VM access the data inside the other VM? I have to find out. Do you have tips?
    – FarO
    Nov 28 '12 at 11:40
  • 1
    It will be slow but acceptable for some use cases, and some features will not be available at all (eg. forget ZFS deduplication with less than 4GB of ram only for ZFS on a 64bit system). Comments on SU are not for follow-up questions so I suggest that you go and RTFM some of the things you're talking about before using them.
    – Luke404
    Nov 28 '12 at 14:25
  • +1 based on reading Building a NAS Server « Super User Blog (2011-09-14) Jan 7 '13 at 14:01

Since you want to be able to remotely upgrade you may consider running your ZFS server under VMWare ESXi.

I've run a Napp-It All In One setup on fairly similar hardware (HP Microserver N40L). I've found the performance difference between ESXi and bare metal negligible (gigabit is usually the limit, or in your case, probably the one hard drive). Basically you install The VMWare ESXi Hypervisor (you can install it to a USB thumb drive). Once you have OpenIndiana (or NAS4Free) up you share your ZFS volume back to VMWare using NFS so all your guests can take advantage of being on ZFS storage. You really need 8GB or more for a ZFS NAS with 3TB... but to hobble along on 4GB I would dedicate at least 2GB (preferably 3GB) to OpenIndiana so you would still have some left for VMs. CrashPlan runs on OI just fine so you'll easily be able to backup your ZFS host and all the guests.

For around $200 you could grab get a Motherboard with remote IPMI 2.0 / KVM over IP capability. Most have the ability to boot remotely using an iso file via the KVM client. As long as you have access to the network there's not really anything you can't do remotely.

  • I tried napp-it and, even if functional, it's not as polished as NAS4free, but the computer will be (even if very rarely) touched by people not expert on the matter, therefore I prefer this time to follow the easy route. As someone else also wrote, upgrading remotely is not a good idea, so I will avoid it and I can choose freely NAS4free.
    – FarO
    Dec 17 '12 at 22:00

At the scale you're describing, I don't think it really matters what you use. All are fine options if they support the hardware you're installing on. I wouldn't have discounted Nexenta, especially since it's more polished than the others. But at the same time, your home arrangement is not their target market.

Work on getting a mirrored disk first, though. It doesn't make sense to start without it.

  • Well, a mirror is not a backup and the data stored are already backed up somewhere else, that is why I'm thinking about it, but not immediately. But you are right, since I don't have access to the server very often. On the other hand, a new HD should not fail before several months... ("SHOULD").
    – OlafM
    Nov 27 '12 at 11:22
  • Should is the key word there. I've always found they die the most in the first 3 months and at 3+ years old.
    – Justin
    Nov 27 '12 at 12:10
  • Ok, I discussed it and the choice will be 2x2TB instead of 1x3TB.
    – FarO
    Nov 27 '12 at 23:04

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