All Your Files Are Belong to Me! – HAL9000

From my Facebook page comes this comment from Gary Mark about our new NAS.

Okay, so why do you need this Mike? Can’t you RAID a couple big disks into your desktop and run it like a server? You’d save another 500 bucks doing this.

In fact for the past couple of years I’ve had a mini-tower PC living in a closet acting as a file server. It wasn’t really a server as it was a pretty limited little box. It had an AMD 1800+ CPU, 512 MB memory and four 300 GB IDE drives on a Promise RAID controller. In RAID 5 it gave me around 860 GB of storage. It actually started out with four 120 GB drives long ago and had been upgraded once already.

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Oh, yeah. It ran Windows XP. There’s an issue with using XP on a file server. It only support a limited number of connections. Beyond 5 you’re supposed to use the Windows Server OS and pay for connect licenses. Well, that seemed wholly inappropriate for our little home & office. Between work and home uses we have more than a few PC around here so 5 connections was not going to cut it forever.

When Hurricane Ike hit Houston we lost power for ten days. That caused me to reconsider some of our IT issues. I decided to examine our needs vs things like power consumption, heat output and ambient noise. That’s when I decided that a NAS makes more sense than a PC posing as a NAS.

Elsewhere around the place I’ve used FreeNAS. FreeNAS is based on BSD and there are no licensing issues or connection limits. However, being based on BSD I could not find driver support for the RAID controllers that I have on hand. Further, buying another set of new, bigger drives (4 x 75o GB) and a new RAID controller was going to cost a significant portion of the cost of a commercial NAS.

Also, any PC, whatever the configuration or OS was going to draw 200+ watts and create a corresponding amount of heat and noise. I like a quiet office and as a Canadian living in Texas I like it cooler than most. No a dedicated NAS is better because it draws only 43 watts, little enough that I could add it to my UPS without significantly impacting the run-time during a power outage.

Finally, I travel a lot. Much of what resides on the NAS are files that my wife wants to access regardless of my location. In the past the file serving PC would reboot on the monthly Microsoft Tuesday update or after a power outage, and she’d not have access to her stuff until I reset something. That the NAS boots to a genuinely useful state on power-up.

Finally, I did look around for opinions. Small Net Builder is a good resource for this sort of review. I looked over their NAS charts about a month ago. Unfortunately the big LaCie NAS was new enough that they hadn’t reviewed it yet. They did more recently and according to Tim Higgins, Managing Editor at Small Net Builder:

The LaCie 5big Network isn’t the fastest five-bay RAID 5 / 6 / 10 NAS around. But it leads the pack in value.

So while I spent a little money, I guess I did ok. It’s proving to be a good solution.