For the Love of Free: NAS Edition
If you’ve read any of my blog posts, you’ll know by now that I have a small obsession with FREE. I like free. We get along really well. Sure, I understand that most of the time you are going to get what you pay for, and if you don’t pay anything, well… you can expect that it may just give you nothing. However, in the world of technology, I always tend to look for solutions that are free first to determine if it can meet my needs.
About three weeks ago, I was on to my next project. I really needed to think about my home storage and backup solution. Up to that point, I was using some D-Link DNS-321 NAS boxes hooked up to my network and they were doing fine. No issues, but my data needs were growing quickly and I had outgrown that solution. Between my music collection, video collection, charity project files, family photos and the like, I had in the upwards of about 1.6TB of data and was running out of room fast since I only had about 100GB left before I was at my capacity limit.
For those who don’t know what a NAS is or what is does, it stands for Network Attached Storage and offers a central place where you can store, access, and share files and documents on a local network, and possibly over the Internet (if so desired). NAS solutions are especially useful in multiple operating system environments, as they usually support all the sharing protocols. Since I have both Linux-based systems (Helloooooo Ubuntu) and Windows-based systems, I needed something that supported both.
I decided that I wanted to build a NAS server that was a little more robust than what I had, but not too overly technical and complex. Although I have an IT degree, work in a computer-literate company, and have colleagues that would put any geek to shame, I wanted to make sure whatever I picked wasn’t going to be too convoluted. My requirements were simple:
• Fast Data Access
• Easy to Scale and Add Capacity
• Web GUI for Easy Access
• Good Windows / Linux Integration
• Inexpensive (free)
• Decent Support from Forum, Group, Etc.
I started by asking friends what they used, then went on to ask some work colleagues, and then finished with reviews and articles online. The short list of options for what I was looking for ended up being: (1) CryptoNAS, (2) Openfiler, (3) NexentaStor Community Edition, and (4) FreeNAS.
Based on my requirements and some of the limitations that were evident in the various versions of options 1, 2, and 3 above, I ended up selecting FreeNAS. I would have probably selected NexentaStor’s Community Edition (NCE) but the 18TB limitation for the free version turned me off because I wanted to be able to scale… and knowing that at some point I would be limited because I wanted to stick with free, led me to choose FreeNAS over NCE.
I found a large majority of all of the answers I needed in setting it up and getting it going in the provided documentation, online in Google groups, or various other posts, etc. Any issue or question I had, Google had the answer. It was one of the other reasons I chose FreeNAS. Over 6 million have downloaded it, so someone has likely run into the same issues as I may have had… and fixed them.
In my next post, I’ll dive deeper and write in more detail about the machine I’m using, my overall capacity, how I set it up, and the little issues I ran into. I’ll also be updating you on how my experience has been, and even give you simple instruction on how to build your own with references to some great resources I’ve been using. I’ll be hoping to convey that with FreeNAS, you too can share your files everywhere, provide media streaming, and most importantly, be confident that your data is safe.
Let me know your thoughts and experiences below. I’m interested in learning more about your home NAS solutions and what you have found that works well.