Building a NAS for home use – Part 1: Introduction

Part 1: Introduction

After several weeks thinking about how to optimize my backup and storage strategy at home I decided to look for some kind of intelligent NAS solution. When thinking about my needs I was able to define a simple feature list very easily but after checking small NAS devices an their functionality or performance I was not really able to find the perfect match. To keep it short for the beginning a came to the clue that building a own NAS by choosing specific hardware components is in fact very easy and does not mean to end up with some kind of power consuming, expensive and noisy personal computer/ server with a bunch of disks in it. In case this sounds a little bit familiar to your needs than continue ready or already check out a more advance chapter of my small report of “Building as NAS for home use”.


Instead of simply writing one big blog entry I decided to split up my report into multiple parts:


My Requirements

At the beginning my requirements and needs where very basic. I was simply looking for some place where to store simple files and backups. When thinking a little bit longer about the topic backup the idea came into my mind that it would be nice if the NAS could execute by schedule or on demand rsync-Jobs and other backup jobs on its own during the night.In the best case the NAS should be provide it’s storage services by as many services and protocols as possible.
In addition to that I found it very handy if I could also store music and video files on it for streaming them on my TV, Tablet, Mobile or Audio devices.
A final nice to have for me came into my mind when thinking of virtualization and extending the current storage capacity of my workstation => iSCSI !! I definitively need a NAS which is offering iSCSI to attache the storage via Ethernet to my workstation or a VM on this device. But iSCSI does only makes sense when the NAS is able to deliver it with a specific speed/ performance.
To sum it up here is the list of features my NAS needs to have:

  1. Needs to support executing backup jobs on its own (preferred by using rsync)
  2. Offering multiple services/ protocols for accessing or using the storage: smb, ftp, sftp, iSCSI and NFS at least
  3. DLNA or similar technology for media distribution
  4. Enough performance to provide usable iSCSI volumes
  5. Low power consumption or at least an acceptable ratio between power consumption and benefits for home usage
  6. Good value!

The first contenders

When talking about contenders I will simply name some devices I was interested in and which I compared against each other. I will not go into details regarding all features, but I will give you some information why I decided not to buy one of this devices. This does not mean that this are bad devices, but for my purpose they did not fit by my personal opinion. To make it clear: I did not own any of this devices, I was just comparing information I was able to find in reviews, the vendors website or bulletin boards. In case you think a remark or conclusion I made is wrong please leave my a comment or send my a message.

IOMEGA StorCenter IX2-200

This device looked at the beginning very promising. Especially the cloud option IOMEGA offers for this device and the support of iSCSI.  As you can see I was looking at the version with two disk drives with 1TB each.

When comparing the device to the other contenders it should offer the slowest performance. Some users did report that the device is getting really hot when it is operating. I was also not able to find out if the operating system does support setting up rsync jobs (I guest that it is not possible). What is really great is the value. When I checked the device the price was around 200€ for the version with two drives and a maximum capacity of 2 TB. By the way it should be possible to exchange the pre-installed Hard Disks by IOMEGA against other disks, which is very nice in case you want to increase the disk space.

QNAP TS-219+, TS-239pro II

I checked QNAP because when looking at NAS-Charts by the performance was quite nice. Then I checked the features and prices. When comparing features against price against performance you will shortly find out that this devices can get quite expensive, even when looking at devices with two hard disks only.
What was also very interesting to see is how the performance increased when using a faster CPU or more advanced one. It is easily done to spend 400€ and more for a goods performing device with 2 TB storage based on these devices from QNAP. But only to make it clear the performance is much higher than the one from the IOMEGA device.
What I was also here not really sure is how much I could customize the operating system from QNAP to fit to my requirement regarding backup and rsync.

Synology DS209+, DS211+

I think it is more faire to compare Synology only with QNAP. The NAS devices of both manufacturers shall be superb and both vendors are placing there devices in the same price ranges. Maybe someone will scream now, but I do think regarding features, performance and basic functions there is no big difference between the devices from QNAP and Synology I named here.
As for QNAP I found that a Synology device could be to expensive and unflexible for me.


Going for speed

When comparing NAS by QNAP and Synology I check also different devices by one of these vendors. In most cases the performance gain of more expensive devices was retrieved by using faster processors. In the inexpensive NAS you will always find processors based on the ARM architecture with different core speed etc. At a special price range the vendors are switching on x86 processors, especially on Intel Atom 1,6 to 1,8 single as well as dual core.

My conclusion was that in case I want more speed regarding iSCSI etc. I would need a box with a x86 CPU and to stay power efficient an Atom like CPU.
At the beginning I thought I found the devices I was looking for in the HP DataValut X312 which is using a dual core Intel Atom at 1,6 GHz. But the solution has a simple and annoying vendor lock-in which shall force the user to stay with Windows Home Server 2011 (WHS2011). This was in my case not really acceptable because I need some features available under a kind of Linux, Unix or BSD only.
Only to share a good link (sorry German only) about the X312/X310 Data Vault: The owner of this site managed to find a work around to boot the data vault with Debian etc. (and he is also using the HP ProLiant MicroServer).

Hewlett-Packard ProLiant MicroServer N36L

That was the device I was looking for. This small server is equipped with a dual core AMD Neo II 1,3 GHz, which shall have a equal on some cases better performance than the Intel Atom D525 and also consumes only 15W TDP which means it does not require a fan!

The ProLiant MicroServers comes in a pretty small tower which has a goods build quality. It offers four slots for 3 1/2 SATA hard disks, one 5 1/4 Slot for a DVD-/ Bluray drive, streamer or even a fifth hard disk. The whole servers does only use one big fan, straight at the end of the hard disk slots, which is in my opinion silent. In addition it offers one GBit-Ethernet port, 7 USB 2.0 (4 front, 2 rear, 1 internal), one eSATA port, one VGA port and two slots for low profile PCI cards.

And now to the specials:

  • First: The internal USB port is really useful in case you want to run a NAS you can install the operating system on a usb stick and boot it from there!
  • Second: The second PCI slot can be equipped with an integrated Lights-Out Card (iLO) which is a remote management card. That is very useful in case you want to reinstall your NAS from remote or only want to power it on/ off from remote
  • Third: The price! In Germany you can get it for around 200€ including 1 GB RAM (one dimm!) and a 250 GB hard disk.

Based on this device and the official support for Redhat Enterprise Linux this box sound incredible promising to setup a very nice NAS. Or what do you think?

In case you are interested you can continue to read about what I purchased to build up my NAS: Part 2 – Components

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