Home NAS Software
I’ve got a little home network like all geeks, and it contains three computers plus various networking devices, like a router/firewall and a switch and wireless access point. The computers are two windows machines for Jenn and the kids, and one FreeBSD box, which is both my workstation and the network storage server and domain controller for the windows machines. This situation is not ideal for a couple of reasons. First, my machine always has to be on in order for the other machines to login, and second, I can’t freely tinker with my machine for fear of breaking the carefully constructed SAMBA configuration that allows my machine to be the domain controller.
I’d like to be able to format my machine and install a different operating system on it whenever I want, without breaking the network for Jenn and the kids. To that end, I want to move the network storage and hopefully the authentication off to a different machine, that is easy to build, configure, back up and admin. Since I have no budget, and because I want some flexibility in what the server machine does, I haven’t been looking at network attached storage devices from storage vendors, even though there are several of those on the market that target home users. Instead, I’ve been looking at free and preferably open source NAS software.
I basically need shared storage, some way of sharing USB printers, and some kind of backup mechanism. I also want a DHCP server, but my firewall/router does that for me. As I see it, there are really three choices for what I want to do. First, I could take an old PC and build a full-bore server, running FreeBSD or some other network-server type OS, configure SAMBA and NFS, and CUPS, and some backup software, and manage that thing. Second, I could buy pre-made devices that do network printer sharing and file serving. Third, I could take an old PC and install a NAS appliance software package on it.
The full server thing has its appeal, except that it is complex to build and manage and I don’t have a lot of time for that. The pre-made devices are too much money. I’ll be happy if I can scrape enough dough together to buy some hard drives. That leaves a NAS software appliance, of which there are a few to choose from, but none of them that I have found do printer sharing.
I looked at what’s out there and had initially decided to try FreeNAS, because it requires very little resources, and it is based on FreeBSD, and I have a disk full of data on my existing FreeBSD system that I could just plug into the FreeNAS server and share out. Unfortunately, FreeNAS has a big drawback that makes it unusable for me: You can’t apply different access rights to the same shared filesystem for different users or groups, at least via the web interface. I have shared filesysetms that are read-only accessible to the kids but read-write accessible for me and Jenn, and I’d like to keep that capability.
Now I’m looking at OpenFiler, another open source NAS based on Linux. It has much more capable access controls, and supports software RAID with storage pools, allowing disks to be added and capacity of existing volumes to be grown o the fly. It doesn’t act as a SAMBA domain controller, but I’m thinking we can live without that. It also doesn’t have USB printer sharing, but I might be able to find a cheap hardware widget that does that instead. I just have to find an older PC to run it on.