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Blucyrik

[Guide] Buying and building the right NAS for your needs.

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Posted · Original PosterOP

It seems like more and more people want to get their own NAS these days. I hope this guide answers a few questions you may have and help you make a decision to buy or build your own network attached storage at home, at work, or anywhere else!

 

What is a NAS anyway?

Spoiler

NAS (or Network Attached Storage) is a server or machine dedicated to holding and hosting data files such as music, movies, games, (basically anything you can think of) to a user or multiple users on a network. No NAS configuration is exactly alike, and different NAS units can have different purposes. For example, you can use it to back up important files or share the same files with multiple computers at the same time.

 

 

Do you really NEED a NAS?

Spoiler

For most people, the short answer is probably a no.

 

Why? Ask yourself this: What are you actually going to use it for? Back up your files? Render videos? Store your games because your SSD isn't large enough? Simply adding an extra hard drive to your desktop tower or buying one of those portable USB hard drives (a WD My Passport is a good example) are great substitutes.

 

However, if you want to start streaming videos over your network, store your thousands of photos from your childhood, or start hosting game servers like Minecraft (do people still do that?), then a NAS is probably for you!

 

 

What NAS unit should I build/buy?

Spoiler

This decision is really specific depending on your needs. If you need something simple and not too expensive to store your photos or back up multiple machines, most WiFi routers/modems made ~2-3 years ago have a built-in function of adding storage via USB. This is a simple solution, but is typically hard to expand upon due to the limited amount of USB ports on most routers.

 

If you want something a little bigger, then I highly recommend a WD My Cloud unit. They come in plenty of basic configurations, and are more than suitable for the average person. But do you need even more functionality? Is this not for you? Let's dig a little deeper.

 

If you want to build something like a rendering server, FreeNAS or Plex server, chances are your best and cheapest option is to build your own machine. This gives much more functionality and features compared to the simple WD My Cloud units.

 

There are so many configurations for NAS units you can build that it's probably not worth mentioning, but here are some good standards:

 

- If you're planning on a high-end 24/7 NAS for things like Video rendering or Plex media trans-coding and hosting servers, Xeon processors are recommended.

- The lower the wattage, the better... Unless of course your electricity bill isn't a concern.

- Small chassis such as ITX cases are usually preferred for home systems, since they don't take up much space and don't emit as much noise compared to something like a rackmount chassis.

 

 

What's the difference between NAS hardware and regular consumer hardware?

Spoiler

The main difference between server hardware and consumer hardware is the reliability factor of these components. Nothing says you can't use consumer-grade hardware in your NAS (I use a Z170 motherboard and Intel Core i3 processor in mine), but don't expect bleeding-edge performance over long periods of time. If you're on a low budget for your new NAS, I would still recommend consumer-grade hardware and components due the cost.

 

There are a few different technologies that have an advantage over the low-cost mainstream consumer parts, however. Technologies such as ECC Memory and multi-socket motherboards are great examples of separating the differences between consumer and server gear.

 

ECC (Error-Correcting Memory) is a technology that uses an additional chip on a RAM stick that monitors, prevents, and fixes memory bit errors. The reason you don't see this technology in your desktop or laptop at home is because of the extra cost, and it's not really needed for applications and programs the average person would use. But for mission-critical systems that NEED to be up 24/7, they can benefit from ECC by correcting information stored on the machine's memory. Should you use ECC for your NAS? Sure, I don't see a reason not to (other than the cost), but for most people it's not necessary.

 

Multi-Socket configurations (the use of two or more physical CPU chips on a single motherboard) are a very exclusive technology to server hardware. Multi-socket motherboards aren't really needed for something like a NAS (unless you REALLY need that extra processing power for something like Plex trans-coding to LOTS of users at once), but the option is there... if you have the money, of course.

 

 

How much storage should I get?

Spoiler

There's no real answer to this, since it all depends on what you want to do with your NAS.

 

I've always gone by this rule: If you need to store 1TB of files, then get 1.5TB of storage. I always add about 500GB to whatever I need to store on my NAS, but this just my preference. Remember, this is your NAS, you can do what you want with it!

 

 

Which Hard Drives / Solid State Drives should I buy?

Spoiler

SSD's aren't really recommended (yet) due to their much higher price per GB (usually 5 to 10 times more expensive than a hard drive for the same amount of storage). However, if you REALLY need that extra speed that SSD's can deliver, I would recommend Kingston KC400 SSD's (I'm pretty sure Linus uses these in his 24 SSD server!).

 

As far as hard drives go, Western Digital and Seagate have many different types of hard drives to choose from, and can be a bit overwhelming if you don't know which ones to pick.

 

In short, "WD RED" hard drives and Seagate "NAS HDD" drives and are optimized for NAS units, meaning they are rated for much more read speeds than your standard hard drive (Seagate Barracuda or WD BLUE drives are good examples of "standard use" hard drives). You can find more information on these hard drives here:

 

http://www.seagate.com/internal-hard-drives/nas-drives/nas-hdd/

http://www.wdc.com/en/products/products.aspx?id=810

 

 

What is RAID? Should I use it?

Spoiler

RAID (or Redundant Array of Inexpensive/Independent Disks) is a method of storing data over multiple disks to add redundancy to your files. There are lots of different RAID methods you could choose from, but the most common types of RAID in a NAS are RAID 1, RAID 5, and RAID 6. The obvious downside to RAID is the cost.

 

- RAID 1 is where at least two or more drives directly mirror each other. In other words, the data stored on one drive is duplicated to the other drive(s). If one drive fails, all of your data is still on the other functioning drive. RAID 1 is safe as far as hard drive failures go, but is very inefficient when it comes down to the amount of space you're able to use. For every gigabyte you want available to you, you need two gigabytes of total drive capacity.

 

- RAID 5 is where data blocks are striped across all of the drives in the array and utilizes an extra drive to write a parity of all the block data. The parity data is not written to a single drive, as they are spread across all of the drives in the array. Because of this, RAID 5 gives redundancy of one drive failure. A large advantage to RAID 5 over RAID 1 is the efficiency of the amount of storage you have access to. RAID 5 requires at least 3 drives. In a 3-drive RAID 5 configuration, for every two gigabytes you want available to you, you need three gigabytes of total drive capacity.

 

- RAID 6 is somewhat similar to RAID 5. The only difference is it uses one extra parity block than RAID 5. Because of this, RAID 6 provides more redundancy, providing two drive failures before any data is lost. Because it's more redundant than RAID 5, RAID 6 requires at least 4 drives to function, resulting in higher cost and less available storage. In a 4-drive RAID 6 configuration, for every two gigabytes you want available to you, you need 4 gigabytes of total drive capacity.

 

Despite the extra price you pay for RAID, I still recommend using RAID as it can improve read and write speeds (mostly read speeds) significantly, along with redundancy (if a drive fails you don't lose any of your data).

 

To calculate how much storage will be available to you depending which RAID configuration you choose, check out this RAID Calculator.

 

 

How can I set up RAID? Do I need extra hardware to use it?

Spoiler

Most motherboards (Consumer and Enterprise of all types) already have built-in RAID controllers. A simple hardware RAID can be set up easily in the BIOS. Most manufacturers have a short guide or more information how to set up a RAID on the motherboards they manufacture. I can't list all of the different kinds of guides from various manufactures (because there's probably hundreds of them), but here is an example from Gigabyte:

https://www.manualowl.com/m/Gigabyte/GA-9ITDW/Manual/244476

 

If you're planning on using lots of drives (more drives than your motherboard has available SATA ports), I recommend buying a PCIe SATA controller card. These use the PCIe lanes on your motherboard to connect more drives to your system. They're fairly inexpensive and come in different variations regarding the amounts of extra SATA ports.

 

If your motherboard doesn't have RAID built in or you don't want to use the RAID controller on your motherboard, you can always buy a RAID card. A dedicated RAID card will be faster as it has its own memory and processor, but the costs can be very expensive, which is why I can't really recommend them to someone building a NAS for their family or themselves at home (especially if their motherboard already has a built-in RAID controller).

 

 

Should I rely on a RAID method to keep all of my files protected due to redundancy?

Spoiler

NO. RAID IS NOT A BACKUP SOLUTION.

 

RAID can always fail, and in some cases leave you with NONE of your files. LinusTechTips experienced this back in late 2015 when their 24 SSD RAID "failed spectacularly". They managed to get all of their files back, but you might not be so lucky.

 

I personally use two sets of RAID 1 in my NAS, but I have an extra drive to backup EVERYTHING on ALL of the drives about once a month.

 

 

What Operating System should I use with my NAS?

Spoiler

There's tons of different options out there. Some are completely free, some are quite expensive (looking at you Windows Server... lol).

 

My opinion? I would go with the most familiar operating system you know. It just makes things simple and easy. The tricky part is configuring and maintaining your choice of OS to your needs.

 

Some of the most popular NAS Operating Systems are FreeNAS, Windows Server 2012 R2, Amahi, and Ubuntu Server.

 

 

Conclusion/Changelog

Spoiler

NAS units definitely have it's ups and downs! Some are cheap solutions, some are very expensive. I hope this guide answers some questions some people have about getting their own NAS in their ecosystem. NAS units are very useful for handling large amounts of data and files. Let me know if you want to see any extra info on this guide. Thanks for reading!

 

Changelog:

 

Update 1 - Listed more info on type of storage, server equipment, and fixed RAID descriptions.

 

Update 2 - Improved description and understanding of RAID 5 and 6. Also went into more detail about different RAID hardware.

 

Update 3 - Added a section regarding Operating Systems for your NAS.

 

Update 4 - Corrected and explained how RAID 5/6 work in more detail.

 

 


Want to build yourself a NAS? Check here!

 

 

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most routers have a usb connector so i just get a green drive and a usb to sata connector and plug that into my router for a cheapo network storage solution lol

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Posted · Original PosterOP
Just now, spartaman64 said:

most routers have a usb connector so i just get a green drive and a usb to sata connector and plug that into my router for a cheapo network storage solution lol

Wow. I can't believe I forgot about that. I'll definitely update that to the guide! Thanks for the feedback!


Want to build yourself a NAS? Check here!

 

 

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Maybe include an overview of the available software and their features. Both dedicated software like FreeNAS and sharing features within other OSs like Windows. 

Cover things to do with what drives to choose. Picking normal desktop drives for a NAS can lead to unsatisfactory performance and the quick death of some drives due to the conditions that NAS drives are often put in. 

Also, maybe mention more on other hardware aspects, such as the benefits of ECC RAM (as well as covering what CPU and board is required for ECC) for a NAS solution. Different things to consider with connecting the NAS to your network and such. 

Some of your explanation of RAID is incorrect. RAID 1 is not limited to two drives, for example. And the explanation for RAID 5/6 is essentially RAID 0 (striping data across drives) as you didn't mention the parity sections, or how the total capacity works for RAID 5/6. 

If I'm honest, this doesn't really answer many questions. Maybe a little about what a NAS is, but as for the specifics and helping choose hardware, it doesn't do much. 

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Posted · Original PosterOP
1 minute ago, Oshino Shinobu said:

Maybe include an overview of the available software and their features. Both dedicated software like FreeNAS and sharing features within other OSs like Windows. 

Cover things to do with what drives to choose. Picking normal desktop drives for a NAS can lead to unsatisfactory performance and the quick death of some drives due to the conditions that NAS drives are often put in. 

Also, maybe mention more on other hardware aspects, such as the benefits of ECC RAM (as well as covering what CPU and board is required for ECC) for a NAS solution. Different things to consider with connecting the NAS to your network and such. 

Some of your explanation of RAID is incorrect. RAID 1 is not limited to two drives, for example. And the explanation for RAID 5/6 is essentially RAID 0 (striping data across drives) as you didn't mention the parity sections, or how the total capacity works for RAID 5/6. 

If I'm honest, this doesn't really answer many questions. Maybe a little about what a NAS is, but as for the specifics and helping choose hardware, it doesn't do much. 

Thank you for your constructive feedback, I'll work on improving this.


Want to build yourself a NAS? Check here!

 

 

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Posted · Original PosterOP

Did some more research based on feedback and fixed/updated the guide with more information. Let me know if I should touch on anything else!


Want to build yourself a NAS? Check here!

 

 

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Your RAID explanations are still wrong.

 

RAID5 and RAID6 calculate parity blocks with the parity block stored on one drive (or 2 in the case of RAID6) with the data block striped across the remaining drives. The drive that the parity block is stored on gets changed for each block of data. The phrase "striping in parities" is just flat out wrong and doesn't even make sense.

 

Also, "RAID array" is redundant. It's either a RAID or an array. 

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Posted · Original PosterOP
2 hours ago, beavo451 said:

Your RAID explanations are still wrong.

 

RAID5 and RAID6 calculate parity blocks with the parity block stored on one drive (or 2 in the case of RAID6) with the data block striped across the remaining drives. The drive that the parity block is stored on gets changed for each block of data. The phrase "striping in parities" is just flat out wrong and doesn't even make sense.

 

Also, "RAID array" is redundant. It's either a RAID or an array. 

Thank you for clarifying this. Don't know what I was thinking.

 

Looks like this guide isn't going as well as I thought it would... I made this in the first place to help users start up their own NAS since I always see threads on the forum asking about where to start. Looks like I have a bit of learning to do myself :P


Want to build yourself a NAS? Check here!

 

 

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I just wanted to thank you Blucyrik for such an easy read and great information. B|

I have searched for the last couple of days for such information and gone through 20-30 guides, but this was the easiest to read and went through all of the little details that one may ask.

 

If there only was a second part - setting up the software and security for all of this as well. :P

I am sure, I can find more guides on the actual software side.

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On 3/22/2016 at 1:18 PM, Blucyrik said:

Looks like this guide isn't going as well as I thought it would...

They never do, that's why the edit button is so handy :). I wouldn't worry about having things wrong or incomplete information because that can be updated, won't take long before everything required in an initial guide is covered well enough, you won't be able to cover everything.

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Don't forget about Synology's Disk Station operating system (also available as the unofficial Xpenology for other hardware). Their base level NAS boxes (the j series) can do more than myclouds, but are still a lot less expensive than a DIY solution. They can do VPN, download server, media server (no transcoding 1080p or more), iTunes server, mail host, NFS/SMB/AFP file sharing etc.


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