Home NAS & Server (1): Need vs. Want

This is Part 1 of a series of blog posts on building a Home NAS & Server using Linux. For the full index and other details, please see the Index

As may be apparent from the index, one key feature of this new build is that it needs to be a bit of a Swiss Army Knife. Whilst I’m well aware I could quite easily build a lower power, (probably) cheaper and quieter machine that would fulfil the primary requirement of providing more storage space, it wouldn’t be as capable of some of the other tasks I’d ultimately like this unit to do. For what it’s worth, if it was just about storage, I’d probably seriously consider another QNAP if I was going to go for a pre-bought option, I really have liked my TS-219P

Let’s start by covering what I currently use the QNAP for and what benefits it provides, so the bare minimum that this new build has to offer:

  1. Video storage – My own DVD rips and the like, centrally stored for access by XBMC installs
  2. Photo storage – Finally, I shifted them off my aging USB hard drive. Hopefully, the number will begin to increase again before too long
  3. Music storage – Accessed by various means, including a Subsonic server
  4. Miscellaneous files – a pretty lax (if I’m honest) and ad hoc approach towards backing up what I consider to be my “important” stuff
  5. Interoperability with *nix and Windows clients (feasibly this should stretch to Mac, although I have no immediate need for that. Pedants, hush)
  6. Decent (local) backup and resilience – alright, it’s just mirrored disks in a little box, but it’s been sufficient so far
  7. A stable platform – It’s been up almost a full year now and shows no sign of causing any stability issues. It gives me my files when I want them, and writes what I want to write when I want to write it (until recently, see “space consumption”)
So I have the minimal expectations. As you can see from the list there, the only thing I actually need to address the shortcomings of my current solution is more storage space, which I could easily do with either a larger (4-disk) QNAP device, or a mini- / micro-ATX board, 1U housing and a few disks slapped into a software array with mdadm.
But… as I’ve hinted at plenty of times already, I’m looking to kill multiple birds with one stone. I’ve already accepted that this is going to mean the system won’t be quite as lean on power consumption as I might have hoped for, but with the various advances in “green” solutions in more recent components I’m fairly confident this can be somewhat mitigated against. Worst-comes-to-worst, a lot of what I want the system to do doesn’t require it to be powered on all the time, so making allowances for that is an option.

But enough of that, what do I want this build to do and what do I need it to do?

Need Want
  • Fault-tolerant storage
  • Multiprotocol (Windows, Linux, Mac) file sharing
  • Usable capacity of 3TB or more (minimum 50% increase on current capacity)
  • Command-line access
  • UPS integration
  • Power-saving features (schedules, WOL)
  • Able to perform as a central backup platform for other systems
  • Stability
  • Rackmountable (max 3U, max depth 22″)
  • (relatively) Quiet
  • Expandable
  • Configurable with (moderate) ease
  • Hot-Swap data disks
  • Capable of acting as an iscsi target
  • Network Interface bonding
  • PVR / DVR backend
  • Able to host a few virtual machines simultaneously
  • Easy remote (off-site) backup options – ideally incremental

And that is just about that.

Linux-Based Home NAS & Server

Shamelessly inspired by this brilliant series of blog posts – http://breden.org.uk/2008/03/02/a-home-fileserver-using-zfs/ and http://pthree.org/2012/04/17/install-zfs-on-debian-gnulinux/ – both of which contain a great many more details than I will likely cover.

Before moving up to Newcastle, I picked myself up a QNAP TS-219P with a couple of 2TB drives mirrored. At the time, I ummed and ahhed about paying a bit more for a four disk version from an expansion perspective, but couldn’t justify it for a few reasons:

  • Extra cost – I didn’t have any present *need* for the extra capacity, and there was a reasonable step-up in price for a single-function box I didn’t need the full capabilities of.
  • Format – I knew if I was going to get a 4-disk-or-bigger version I would – longer term – want something rack-mountable, but at the time I had no rack to put it in. Without that, a rack-mountable NAS would just be silly.

Now, two years on, a few things have happened. Firstly, I’ve moved into my own place, complete with Cat6 wiring to as many places as I felt it practical and a rack to boot. Secondly – and perhaps more importantly in the context of these posts – I’ve reached the limits of my QNAP 2-disk solution. With an increasing multimedia collection, a refuelled desire to start taking more pictures again, and additional space for making a concerted effort to centralize my other data, more space is going to be needed.

However, as the next few posts should reflect, there’s a few other things I want the system to do, so the considerations (and cost) expand a bit beyond the remit of “NAS”.