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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.

Categories: Storage and Backup
  1. James Chester
    2008-10-24 at 06:40

    I was looking for almost exactly what you were. I tried and tested FreeNAS, NASLite, OpenFiler, ClarkConnect, windows XP Pro, and Windows Home Server. Of all of these, Windows Home Server (without corruption bug) worked the best. My engineering buddy suggested it to me with the statement “it just works” and he was write. Free NAS was second mainly because it supported booting it USB. All the other open source could not do it. I know I will get people posting to links with proceedures to show how to boot the USB, but I could not get those procedures to work. Anytime I have to use vi editor, that is a significant negative aspect to the software. You would think that since 4-8gig memorysticks are the norm (and have a very high MTBF) That someone in the Linux community would do the same style install as FreeNAS did with BSD Unix. FreeNAS was also the only opensource NAS that did not require you to use terminal commands. All Drive Mappings and Raiding can be done via the web interface. Some problems with FreeNAS interacting with windows via Samba was dropped connection. especially when transferring files larger than 2gig. I also broke a mirrored raid on purpose (unplugged the drive ) and tried to re-initialize it and it would not work. Also with UFS file system. Write down what variety you used (be aware there are 4. Also copying between two drives on your FreeNAS is excrutiatingly painfully SLOW. If you try to use Putty terminal and copy command ‘CP” to the directories, the files become corrupt. This is blatantly apparent when you compare the size. a 3.5 Gig mpg file is suddenly shrunk down to 1.56 Gig?? I posted the question on the FreeNAS site and no one answered. I was using all UFS formats on the drives. (No FAT or NTFS). This was one of the main reasons I went to Home Server. the other one was that I saw a 25% increase in speed vs all of the opensource solutions. The system I tested on is a Athlon 2400MP, utilizing 768 socket with (2) CPU’s running at 2Ghz each. A PCI SATA with a Promise IDE on board but not used. Home server integrated seamlessly with my xbox360 which I use as a Media center Extender. the UPnP functionality of FreeNAS was Spotty at best.

    If you are looking for a solution that “just works”, then Windows Home Server is for you.

  2. Mike
    2009-10-24 at 12:56

    Windows Home Server is sux. They create 2 partitions – for system 20GB and the rest for Data. You can not make small partition for data than disksize – 20GB. Want to split your 1500GB disk to few partitions? No way! First will be 20GB and second 1480GB and if you try to resize it – you have to reinstall WHS!!!


  3. Mia
    2011-12-20 at 20:41

    Windows Home Server is crap and for Windows thats saying a lot.Go get something that you can use Ubuntu server or FreeNAS.

  4. Jim
    2012-03-02 at 02:44

    Ever tried data recovery from ZFS?

    I get the objections to WHS – however, if any data issues arise on your disks, they are easily resolved. ZFS may be an ‘advanced’ filesystem, but its pro-level stuff to try and get data back from if it breaks.

    Yes, FREENAS is a great solution (for free), but dont assume equivalence if you need to do recovery on lost data. On that aspect, ‘Windows’ solutions win.

    Its a subtle distinction but a very important consideration if you’re not using cloud to duplicate important data.

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