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What is the Ideal Low-end NAS Solution?

Cliff posted more than 9 years ago | from the what's-on-YOUR-network dept.

Data Storage 45

Mark asks: "As demand for storage continues to grow and prices continue to drop, network attached storage (NAS) devices are popping up everywhere...from large enterprises to restaurants to small offices and homes. Several vendors are now offering low-end NAS solutions targeted at SOHO users, with varying results. Most of them are just standard PC components and standard IDE hard drives running Linux, but the price tag on these often far oustrips what one would expect to pay for the parts. Hence, people all over the world (myself included) are building their own NAS machines at home at a fraction of the cost. Beyond support for RAID, CIFS, NFS, HTTP, and FTP, what would the ideal home NAS operating system include? And more importantly, what should it leave out to avoid conflicts, security vulnerabilities, and instability? Are there any Linux/*BSD/other distributions out there optimized specifically for NAS applications? What does the ideal NAS distribution look like to you?"

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45 comments

Why complicate matters? (4, Informative)

ElForesto (763160) | more than 9 years ago | (#9951761)

A NAS is little more than a box of hard drives with a NIC attached. They get a nifty web-based interface or somesuch to make it real simple to setup and they often come in small packages, but is that worth the premium? You could buy a small-ish desktop/tower case and probably build your own very cheaply. Setting up Samba on Linux with simple "everyone can write" access is braindead simple.

Do you need a web-based interface? Do you need hot-swappable drives with auto-rebuild? Do you need a 2U rackmount or other small-ish case? (Remember, need is a very strong word.) If you can't answer yes then save yourself a few grand and do it yourself.

On the flip side, if you DO need that stuff, I've been very pleased with Fastora [fastora.com]. Good interface, easy setup and lots of options. We got a 1.337TB unit (8x250GB hard drives in RAID5, one drive as a hot spare) with 2x100Mb NIC and 1x1Gb NIC for around $7,000.

I've spent 3 years making NAS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9958520)

If you want to "throw some parts together" and put your company's data on it, go ahead. But I have spent 3 years working on NAS devices, and I can say that a lot needs to be taken into account.

When your raid goes down some day, that is the time to press a button which brings it all back to life in 30 seconds, no matter who is working at the time.

If you are a one-man shop, fine do it yourself, but if you work in a larger department, custom solutions are high maintenance and will cost you more in the long run.

Re:I've spent 3 years making NAS (1)

ElForesto (763160) | more than 9 years ago | (#9960591)

From the context of the question, I believe he may have wanted something to use at home. The use wasn't specified, however. I wouldn't use a DIY for corporate data if I was paid, but for home use or a REALLY small business, DIY is much more affordable.

Re:Why complicate matters? (1)

afidel (530433) | more than 9 years ago | (#9965100)

Probably the ideal for a cheap home NAS is a small PC with 4 SATA channels and a 2x5.25" to 3x3.5" SATA enclosure. Run software RAID5 over the drives since even Gb ethernet is going to limit performance more than the CPU. Total cost is about $1,200 for a half TB capacity, 512MB ram and an Athlon 2100+.

include support for WebDAV (2, Insightful)

stonebeat.org (562495) | more than 9 years ago | (#9951792)

I don't know of any any distro optimized for creating a NAS. But I have used RedHat successfully to create a NAS.

On my NAS, I have also included support for WebDAV [xml-dev.com] protocol. It comes in handy when your users are publishing Web Content.

Re:include support for WebDAV (1)

Stevyn (691306) | more than 9 years ago | (#9972385)

Not to do another endless gentoo plug, but it will give you a system with almost no software installed. One could simply install samba and use ssh to run the show. If you're uncomfortable about gentoo's reputation, check into a stage 3 install. All you really have to do is configure the kernel and that isn't much work. I've set up a computer running gentoo for this application and it wasn't difficult and I don't believe any other distro (AFAIK) would have alowed you the freedom.

What I think it should have (2, Insightful)

Student_Tech (66719) | more than 9 years ago | (#9951801)

If it is just for NAS work, then only have the servers necessary to share the files, and perhaps a SSH server to modify configurations. Leave everything else out, the less stuff running on it, the less stuff to have to keep patched up for security reasons.

To me the ideal disto would probably fit in under 100 MB, just need the servers, network support files, and a way to get in and edit files. If the machine has a monitor that can be used, perhaps you don't need SSH or any other remote method of getting into the machine.
And the smaller the distro installed on it, the more space on the hard drives for the files. Perhaps the distro could be set to run off of CD, with only the config files on the hard drive.

Network limitations (2, Interesting)

sirangusthefuzz (756239) | more than 9 years ago | (#9951891)

It is much easier to create a NAS that far outperforms your needs. For example, how many users do you have accessing the hard drives at once? If your answer is less than 10, you probably will be able to get along fine with 7200 rpm drives. Also, if you are just setting this up attached to your home network, RAID is not necessary because the network can most likely only transfer data at 10/100 speeds. Right now, my NAS is a Slackware linux box with a 166 mhz pentium running four 200GB IDE drives. I get around 5 mb/s per user. The major factor seems to be the amount of ram in the NAS. I just upgraded to 1 GB because it is so cheap for PC 100 ram. Overall, make sure you know what is important and dont overspend for features you cant use.

Re:Network limitations (2, Informative)

I_Love_Pocky! (751171) | more than 9 years ago | (#9951958)

RAID isn't just for speed (infact I wouldn't think that would even be considered its primary purpose).

Re:Network limitations (2, Interesting)

Hatta (162192) | more than 9 years ago | (#9953173)

RAID is not necessary because the network can most likely only transfer data at 10/100 speeds. Right now, my NAS is a Slackware linux box with a 166 mhz pentium running four 200GB IDE drives.

When one of those 200GB drives dies, you might think a little differently.

Distributions... (3, Informative)

facelessnumber (613859) | more than 9 years ago | (#9951920)

Might have a look at Mitel (formerly e-smith) SME Server [e-smith.org]. I've been using it for my file server at home, email, and to host a few domains for a couple of years now. Good stuff, pretty secure, can also be your router/gateway. One ther I haven't looked at, but I intend to check out soon, is BlueQuartz. [bluequartz.org] Not really a distro, but the results of Sun open-sourcing the Sobalt RaQ550 network appliance. There's a binary install kit for a basic Redhat/Fedora setup, source, and many howto's out there...

Re:Distributions... (1)

illtud (115152) | more than 9 years ago | (#9958092)

Might have a look at Mitel (formerly e-smith) SME Server. I've been using it for my file server at home, email, and to host a few domains for a couple of years now. Good stuff, pretty secure, can also be your router/gateway.

Here's another vote for Mitel SME Server. Download an iso from here [e-smith.org] and off you go. *Really* simple web interface, DHCP, NAT gateway, Email server, DNS, print server, samba server, web server, appletalk server, VPN server... etc all ready to go. Easy backups, easy administration. I'd recommend it for any SOHO all-in-one server job for non-experts. I have no connection with e-smith (or Mitel) other than having fortuitously picked it for an office I didn't want to have to spend time administrating. They can do it all themselves and they've never had a moment's problem with it.

Two ideas (3, Insightful)

dasunt (249686) | more than 9 years ago | (#9951977)

I would consider two OS's for a low-end home NAS.

First OS:

Debian GNU/Linux

Why? 1) Easy to update. 2) Wide selection of packages. 3) Possible to do a minimal install and have a pretty bare-bones OS.

Second OS:

OpenBSD

Why? 1) Security. 2) Security. 3) Security.

Re:Two ideas (1)

lacerus (253333) | more than 9 years ago | (#9956374)

I run my NAS/Backup server on Fedora because of its nice and easy Software RAID installation interface that lets you mount / on a RAID device from the first boot(I hear this is really a pain on Debian).

For anybody reading this and wanting to use his custom NAS for backup: you want http://rsnapshot.org/ [rsnapshot.org]. Period.

Build your own (2, Insightful)

Vlad_Drak (20809) | more than 9 years ago | (#9951978)

You might have answered your own question.. most of the products out there do use some form of Linux, and rarely do these vendors offer anything of value beyond a unified web based interface. You'll invest more time in the front end, but you'll gain much more in having the ability to upgade, use the machine for other tasks, etc. You'll get more for your money if you have even basic linux skills though.

There are plenty of recipies out there utilizing LVM, MD, Samba, NFS, etc. You could make a MythTV server too, you get the idea.

You can use smartmontools or most of the popular RAID controllers out there have linux configration apps and monitoring tools. Use 3ware if you have the cash, Promise can work depending on who you ask, Adaptec has some cards, others may have more to add here.

You could even just get a board that has lots of ports, and do Software RAID, although adding a drive to an array is experimental at this point, which scares me at least.

Samba 3 will fully integrate in AD if you have that need. Winbind has come a long way, you can even login to the linux box with your AD credentials if you were so inclined (now this might be flamebait fodder).

Anyways, with drive prices falling so rapidly, it would be a shame to spend $$ on a box that could be doubled in capacity 9 months down the road. So be very careful.

-Vlad

Re:Build your own (2, Insightful)

Vlad_Drak (20809) | more than 9 years ago | (#9952085)

As far as distributions go, its really a matter of opinion mostly, but I use debian/sarge; dpkg/apt makes updating very easy. Don't know of any file server centric distributions out there, which ultimates testifies to the relative ease one can set things up from any distro.

If you're using the unit for home, it can make sense to also use the box for your internal audio/video streaming, home directories, web, and mail, and backup for other workstations. This is what's going on over here.

-Vlad

Most work (2, Informative)

DrunkBastard (652218) | more than 9 years ago | (#9952079)

Most distributions would work, I'd suggest grabbing something with your prefered journaling filesystem support. Some OS's don't support XFS natively, some don't support JFS, some don't do ReiserFS....so, whatever you feel comfortable using, make sure your distro does it. Other than that, I'm a fan of LVM, so perhaps a look at distros that support that as well.

NAS boxes are pretty cheap and easy to build these days, just make sure if you're going to do RAID that you buy a REAL raid controller, with hardware raid support, not that crap that relys on software drivers for raid support. 3ware is wonderful solution as it's been included in the linux kernel for many, many moons.

Re:Most work (3, Informative)

dtfinch (661405) | more than 9 years ago | (#9955462)

I had always used reiserfs for everything, but having been recently asked to set up a small bunch of inexpensive file servers, I took the time to research which filesystem is best able to survive a crash or power outage. The few recent tests I've found suggest that of XFS, JFS, reiserfs, and ext3 (ordered), ext3 had the by far best recovery rate, and reiserfs had the worst among the journaled filesystems tested. In one, where a disk intensive app was run and the system was reset several several seconds later, ext3 survived over 300 power cycles with minimal damage, while reiserfs became unbootable after 10 cycles, and the rest did better but came nowhere near ext3.

After a few days of disbelief and frantic googling, I decided to make the switch to ext3. Now if I can only get approval to purchase UPS's for the servers.

As for which distribution to use, we tested Slackware 10, Fedora Core 2, and finally chose CentOS.

My dream! (2, Funny)

LincolnQ (648660) | more than 9 years ago | (#9952201)

Make it wireless, 40GB, the size of an ipod, with a good battery. Allow me to plug it into external power too (AC 110/solar panel/turbine/car battery/etc). Always encrypt files when storing and transferring. Also add some facility to signal the device to turn off its wireless signal quickly so that it cannot be found using signal-locating devices.

The last element of security is a thermite detonator with a separate trigger circuit and antenna frequency. Ship the product with a 'kill button' that transmits the detonator signal when you activate it.

When you build it, I will come! I plan to bury one in my backyard and make the most secure file server evar. The USA PATRIOTS will never read my data!

Re:My dream! (1)

ThetaPi (720252) | more than 9 years ago | (#9966143)

Yes, the most secure file server ever... until those ingenious Russians to hack your thermite detonator and hold your data hostage. They could give someone a pretty hot-foot that way!

Not wireless (1)

way2trivial (601132) | more than 9 years ago | (#9967971)

Powerline.. and on the same branch circuit as your powerline router..
seriously, what FBI agent on premises is going to know that siemens 5424 router is pulling in stuff from your back yard, in the DIRT? when it's not using radio waves..

+ you get a good 14mb connection, as opposed to the 1-5.5 with 802.11b..

I have a powerline setup to transmit all over my house.. Love the speed, love the fact that it doesn't give my neighbor wifi...

Who needs a real home NAS? (1)

DocSnyder (10755) | more than 9 years ago | (#9952506)

Get a normal 3.5" or 2.5" IDE disk, put it into an external case (20 - 60 bucks) and connect it via USB 2.0 or IEEE 1394 (Firewire) with your computer. Most home users can't deal with IP networking anyway, but they can plug in an external drive. And if they really need to share the data, they still can turn an old PC into a file server or simply open a NFS or SMB share.

Somebody needs to think smaller (1)

llefler (184847) | more than 9 years ago | (#9952829)

I'd like to see pluggable devices about the size of a USB enclosure. Single drive, single 1G NIC, plug it in and tell it how to authenticate.

For my small business customers, a slightly larger box that can hold multiple drives. Dual 1G NICs, one for the users and 1 VLANed to other NAS and backup devices. Build boxes that support 2 and 4 drives in pullout chassis. I'm not overly concerned about RAID, but RAID 0 could be useful at times. IDE is OK, speed isn't a huge factor because we're going to be bottlenecked at the LAN anyway.

Most important, make them easy to install, administer and under $1000 per terrabyte.

Then all I need is a reasonably price tape unit. Oh well, we can always dream.

Re:Somebody needs to think smaller (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9954425)

I'd like to see pluggable devices about the size of a USB enclosure. Single drive, single 1G NIC, plug it in and tell it how to authenticate.

Not exactly what you have in mind, but it's [ximeta.com] the only USB/Ethernet combo hard drive I've seen (yet).

You can even buy it at your local BestBuy [bestbuy.com] (assuming they haven't pissed you off too much recently).

Why not build our own? (2, Informative)

Yeechang Lee (3429) | more than 9 years ago | (#9952925)

I recently began a Usenet thread [google.com] on this very topic. I've copied the original post below:


Subject: I want to build a 1.5TB storage array for MythTV

Recently ran into the account of a guy who built his own 1.2TB RAID50-based storage array for $1600 [finnie.org]. I really like the idea and have been thinking about following suit.

Like Finnie, I want to be able to store huge amounts of DivX/Xvid files online. In addition to the storage array, I also plan to build a separate MythTV [mythtv.org] box, which among other things will let me play them at will. My 200GB Series 1 TiVo's been serving me well for more than four years, but I really like the idea of being able to seamlessly integrate my AVI collection with TV recordings, and from what I gather MythTV has finally matured enough to be a realistic TiVo alternative.

I have been 100% Linux at home for almost a decade and am quite comfortable with most of the technical aspects of the project.

I'm planning on making the following changes to Finnie's build configuration:
  • Instead of 200GB ATA, use 250GB SATA drives for a total of 1.5TB. Outpost.com offers a Western Digital 250GB SATA drive for $170 [outpost.com]. I just missed the chance to get a $30 rebate off each drive, but I'm sure Fatwallet will alert me to a similar opportunity sooner or later.
  • Accordingly, get a HighPoint SATA RAID card instead of the specified RocketRAID 454 ATA RAID card. I think the RocketRAID 1640 [newegg.com] is the way to go.
  • Instead of ext3, use XFS as the file system.

My questions:
  • If I connect the storage array to my Linksys WRT54G router, will 100Mbps Ethernet be fast enough to pump the AVI files to the MythTV box without dropping frames?
  • Conversely, will 100Mbps Ethernet be sufficient to let me use the storage array as the primary storage medium for MythTV's recordings? What about HDTV encodings (using the pcHDTV Linux-only card)? Or do I have to upgrade to a Gigabit Ethernet router? Or would the encoder card and MythTV software have to run on the storage array itself in order to achieve acceptable performance? (Actually, I'm not opposed to doing so, if one box can simultaneously handle both storage and MythTV tasks.)
  • Anything else that I'm missing or should keep in mind?

Re:Why not build our own? (2, Informative)

vlm (69642) | more than 9 years ago | (#9953461)

Well lets think about this here.

Most of my "TV episode" DiVX collection is in the general area of about 350 megabytes for a 45 minute show. Now about a minute with Octave will show that 350 / (45*60) * 8 is about a megabit per second.

That sounds reasonable considering the bandwidth of real digital TV mpeg streams.

So we will assume you need about a megabit a second.

I guess that would rule out ArcNET or a 9600 baud SLIP but everything newer than say, 10 meg HDX thinnet, will work. You're asking if a net tech a hundred times faster than necessary will work or should you go for one a thousand times faster than necessary.

You need to optimize something else... heat production, or latency, or pretty much everything else before you concern yourself with those questions.

Re:Why not build our own? (3, Informative)

drsmithy (35869) | more than 9 years ago | (#9955091)

Recently ran into the account of a guy who built his own 1.2TB RAID50-based storage array for $1600. I really like the idea and have been thinking about following suit.

Just for anyone else reading who gets similar ideas, he's got some big errors.

It looked like a normal 4-port ATA RAID controller, but with one difference: it boasted the fact that you could do RAID across 2 devices per channel. Normally this would be a stupid feature. Under normal circumstances, NEVER connect 2 drives to one channel if you intend to do RAID. Why? There is just as good of a chance that the channel itself dies than a single drive failing.

This is incorrect. The reason you only put 1 device per channel is because with IDE, only one device on a channel can be active at once. It has nothing to do with the likelihood of failure. Even if that weren't true, his assumption is silly - a single drive is much more likely to break than a single channel on a controller.

This erroneous assumption carries through his entire implementation and has crippled it's performance (as seen in the benchmarks - 36MB/s ? That's pathetic for an 6 disk RAID0 array - effectively what is is for disk reads). Using the "hardware" RAID on the card is another mistake, tying the array forever to that particular brand and model of disk controller.

Folks, if you're setting up honkin' great big RAID arrays at home and don't want to pay for decent RAID controllers like 3wares, *use software RAID*. The CPU overhead is insignificant and the bonus of being able to move the array between arbitrary machines and not having to worry about a disk controller failure permanently making your data inaccessible is more than worth it.

Re:Why not build our own? (1)

Yeechang Lee (3429) | more than 9 years ago | (#9958238)

Folks, if you're setting up honkin' great big RAID arrays at home and don't want to pay for decent RAID controllers like 3wares, *use software RAID*.


I'd love to, but the guy whose Web page I first cited said a purely software RAID-based didn't work for him for an array his size. Ideas on what happpened?

Re:Why not build our own? (1)

drsmithy (35869) | more than 9 years ago | (#9965717)

I'd love to, but the guy whose Web page I first cited said a purely software RAID-based didn't work for him for an array his size. Ideas on what happpened?

Hard to say without more details, but I'd guess either the motherboard (VIA chipset = buggy & unreliable), cheap & shitty/buggy IDE controllers (he doesn't say what he tried the first time) or buggy drivers (in descending order of likelihood). Amazingly, he actually goes on to recommend an even cheaper, dodger, almost certainly buggier motherboard.

It's certainly got nothing to do with "the PCI bus cannot handle the amount of traffic that software RAID5 was using when doing initial reconstruction". But it might have something to do with a crappy *motherboard* not being able to handle lots of PCI traffic (I have such a board here - it can't even take two additional PCI IDE cards without falling over in a heap).

These sort of setups really hammer the motherboard and will quickly show up any bugs in it. The motherboard is _not_ the place to skimp if you're setting one of these up. Buy the best board you can - preferably a good brand with an intel chipset - and the best IDE controllers you can (preferably ones that have been battle-tested by other people) and skimp everywhere else. I'd recommend cruising through ebay looking for older - but known to be excellent - motherboards. For example, just about anything with an Intel BX chipset will be rock solid.

Re:Why not build our own? (1)

arete (170676) | more than 9 years ago | (#9963823)

I don't know the answer to your 100Mbps vs 1Gbps question. I'm going to operate on the assumption that you use "enough" and it's either switched or a crossover cable, so you don't suffer when your network does other stuff.

However: Having MythTV on the same box is, in the general case, SLOWER than having it on a NAS with at all similar hardware. Moving data over ethernet _may_ be more latent than moving it to your HDD controller, but you're going to blow throught the 32 or so MB of HDD cache fairly quickly. You won't blow through 1GB of RAM cache on the NAS. So using a different box is actually faster assuming that

1) it has RAM signficantly in excess of HDcache + OSnecessary RAM

2) it has a similar quality MB and controller and enough CPU that that isn't the bog. These days this is pretty easy.

Another question... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9953848)

For a homebuilt file server with infrequent access, how do you minimize power draw and disk accesses (when files aren't actively being served)?

Re:Another question... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9954077)

I would suggest having swap and so forth on a seperate data drive from the rest of the array, and using a utility such as hdparm to set the array drive(s) to sleep after some value of no disk activity.

Of course when you access the drive again you might be waiting a while for it to spin up, but if it is a long time between accesses it might not be too bad.

Re:Another question... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9954088)

For a homebuilt file server with infrequent access, how do you minimize power draw and disk accesses (when files aren't actively being served)?
Clarification:
I'm not asking about a Terrabyte array.
I'm asking w.r.t. a RAID 1 server with 2 250GB drives.

Linksys NSLU2 (1)

versus (59674) | more than 9 years ago | (#9955576)

What does the ideal NAS distribution look like to you?

Like this Linksys box [linksys.com]. It is silent and cheap and has Linux inside [batbox.org].

WOW. (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 9 years ago | (#9960177)

At under $80 according to one vendor on the web, this is potentially very useful for low-performance, high-storage data storage, such as you see in many corporate environments. It's a bit pricy for SOHO use, but if it were half that price, I'd buy it today for my home office. As is, I just carry my USB drives from PC to PC, or plug them into 1 PC and serve it up from there. Oooh, and open-source too!

Re:Linksys NSLU2 (1)

eric76 (679787) | more than 8 years ago | (#9982310)

Does it handle NFS, AppleTalk, and NetBIOS?

I'm looking at the data sheet and don't see any mention of it anywhere. But maybe I'm just skimming over it too fast.

Openfiler? (1)

Stillman (185591) | more than 9 years ago | (#9964309)

Openfiler [openfiler.org] is very friendly, and getting more polished every day. I'm not keen on building an "enterprise service" on FC2, but I'm sure it can be implemented on other distros.

Netgear model 624 AP/router (1)

slaker (53818) | more than 8 years ago | (#9981396)

If I just wanted to pop a drive on a network for SIMPLE attached storage, I'd look at Netgear's model 624 "media router". The router runs about $100, supports 802.11g speeds and has a USB port that accepts either a USB flash device or a USB hard disk.

I set one up for a customer. With a 160GB USB 2.0 hard disk, it's just spiffy for everything he needed that volume of storage for.

Bottlenecks (1)

DGAF (806052) | more than 9 years ago | (#9988654)

I am working on building a custom NAS box for a small buisness. I have done a lot of research, and from what I have seen a gigabit network connection is just not enough. Is there any way to truncate two gigabit network connections, when using a cisco switch to truncate the ports on the network end? if not, why do they give cisco switches the ability to truncate the ports?
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