Home NAS – network attached storage

Since we have two computers at home and because I’m a bit of a computer geek (or glutton for punishment), I’ve started looking into NAS’s. NAS = network attached storage. The basic idea is that you have a black box with all of your data in it. Every computer in your network sees the NAS as a drive or folder, and therefore each computer can access all of the same files. It’s a great way to share pictures, videos, documents, databases, etc. A person can buy one of these black boxes off the shelf. One of the best ones I could find are the Netgear Readynas products. They are a great all-in-one solution, but prices run from $500 to $1000. Then a friend told me about Windows Home Server. WHS is sort of like a stripped down media center version of Windows Server 2003. It’s primary function is to share and backup files. The software, if you can get it, is $165. Supposedly the OS can only be sold with a computer system but maybe a person can get it by itself. I ordered a 120 day trial for WHS and it’s taking forever to receive it. In the meantime I downloaded FreeNAS. FreeNAS is an open source OS based on FreeBSD. The OS is streamlined to operate as a NAS. Afterall, a NAS is just a small computer that is sharing files from its harddrives. I’m running it off a live CD and a config file is stored on a usb stick. No hard drive required. The computer is an old P4 that I scavenged, but it meets the basic requirements: gigabit LAN and RAID. Within about 2 minutes of starting FreeNAS I was accessing it via a web gui on my desktop pc, it was pretty slick. I haven’t done anything with it yet though, I’m not sure if it’s worth the trouble. I can just imagine how user friendly the backup solution is – set up a cron job with rsync. In some ways WHS and FreeNAS are the same, but I would imagine that ultimately WHS is a lot more useful. For example, WHS has some type of built in feature for sharing/streaming iTunes.

Anyways, I’m liking what I read about WHS but wish the damn disks would get here. WHS has a plugin called Drive Extender and it sort of replaces RAID 1. You can duplicate your shared folders on different drives. The nice thing about this is that you don’t need to add exact duplicate drives. With RAID 1 you get redundancy by having two drives of the same size mirroring each other. From what I can gather about Disk Extender, you can put duplicate shared folders on a separate drive, and the drive can be any size. This is nice because I could incorporate older drives that I have kicking around the house.

From what I can tell so far, FreeNAS is a great way to handle small home office/business file sharing and storage, whereas WHS is better geared towards the home/media user.

It would be great to hear from people that have used either of these products.