TSR-The Server Room – Shownotes – Episode 13

NAS – DIY Vs Off The Shelf Solutions

What is a NAS?

Network Attached Storage

A NAS unit is a computer connected to a network that provides only file-based data storage services to other devices on the network.

Although it may technically be possible to run other software on a NAS unit, it is usually not designed to be a general-purpose server

however nowadays with apps and addons in the case of Synology and QNAP or jails as we will see in the case of Freenas it is possible to extend the services offered by the NAS

For example, NAS units usually do not have a keyboard or display, and are controlled and configured over the network, often using a browser

A full-featured operating system is not needed on a NAS device, so often a stripped-down operating system is used

For example, FreeNAS or NAS4Free, both open source NAS solutions designed for commodity PC hardware, are implemented as a stripped-down version of FreeBSD.

NAS systems contain one or more hard disk drives, often arranged into logical, redundant storage containers or RAID.

NAS uses file-based protocols such as NFS (popular on UNIX systems), SMB (Server Message Block) (used with MS Windows systems), AFP (used with Apple Macintosh computers), or NCP (used with OES and Novell NetWare). NAS units rarely limit clients to a single protocol.

Off the shelf or ready made cosumer NAS ( Synology Qnap Asustor)

I have a QNAP TS-453A NAS and a DIY Whitebox made with Xpenology for the moment and also a VM with Freenas to do some testing with ZFS and vdevs in a virtual env.

In my opinion ( not counting the price of the Harddrives as those are the same in both DIY and Off the shelf diskless configurations) I think

IMHO You can get more for Your money if You build something on Your own however You might need to give up some of the pros coming with an Off the shelf solution (brand) like Synology or Qnap:

Pros for Off the Shelf:

  • Unpack , add disks and ready to go
  • Nice mostly easy to navigate web interface to set things up and have it up and running
  • Support from Manufacturer
  • Additional Apps to extend functionality ( also apps for Your mobile phone or tablet all those Synology DS series apps or Qnap apps as well)
  • Apart from the harddrives if You purchased it in a diskless configuration one single warranty for the whole box
  • low power consumption
  • Smaller size / tighter integrated tiny boxes

Cons for Off the Shelf:

  • Restricted when it comes to what You can get( WYSIWYG)
  • Expensive compared to DIY/Whitebox solutions for the same amount of money
  • Absolutely NO or limited expandability * the ones offering additional drive bays via expansion units connected via cable cost near as much as another NAS unit or close to
  • Mostly Proprietary motherboards can not simply swap them out
  • Can’t replace or upgrade bits and pieces of the HW later * except RAM and some offers PCIe slot for expansion card or 10GBit Networking but limited in what You can do
  • You do not have total control
  • Can be complicated to recover data if Your NAS dies ( however the most used filesystems are Brtfs Ext4 and SHR Synology Hybrid Raid which is a Software Raid solution)

Pros for Whitebox / DIY

  • You have total control (HW, SW , All the components)
  • You can expand it later as You go
  • Cheaper compared to Consumer/SMB NAS solutions
  • You can tailor it to Your needs 100% no need to compromise

Cons for Whitebox / DIY

  • Need to invest time and effort in planning and sourcing the components and building one for Yourself
  • No Support except enthusiast forums or Bulletin Boards and Documentation of the SW and HW You selected
  • Normally a bit bigger and consume more power than Consumer/SMB NAS offerings but You can really get on pair with what You could have got already boxed and prepared
  • Can get more for Your money. More CPU, RAM, Harddrive bays everything.

My experience with Off the shelf NAS QNAP

I have a QNAP TS 453A with 4x 10TB Western Digital Gold Datacenter Harddrives in a Raid10 configuration ( 2x Raid1 ) giving me a total of 18Tb usable space

I never had any issue with it except 2x times it happened it did not want to boot up fully from sleep/power off state … since then I keep it on all the time and I always have backups made of the important stuff there ((( actually it is still in the works how best to do on my end… planning planning )

DIY / Whitebox builds

I have 1x 2U server from parts and bits and pieces put together which is in a testing phase since nearly 6 months now with 2x SSDs trying out Xpenology.

Xpenology might not be everyones cup of tea out there as legally it is very similar to what a Hackintosh is (( one day I make an episode on Hackintosh as well as I use one to stream and edit this podcast ))

Xpenology allows to run Synology’s DiskStation Manager software , the software which is practically runs on every Synology box of consumer grade, and let You boot and install it on ordinary hardware , whitebox/DIY You put together while maintaining all the Pros from Synology.

You can install the same apps and use all the features as it was a proper Synology box.
Normally a few versions or updates behind (which does not bother me the least) i never had any issue with it.

I started to use it as I was interested in Synology’s NAS offerings just to see how it differs from QNAP

Actually I plan to either use it as is and expand the harddrive configuration to 4x Harddrives using either a SATA Card or HBA Card which Synology Diskstation Manager would accept (( i did some digging and i think i had found one which would work in this case as the motherboard i used had only 3x sata slots on it i could use… 🙁 )) or just transfer it to a proper FreeNAS Box and continue like that.

FreeNAS i have tinkled with in Virtual Machine playing around with it setting it up and checking its settings but have not run so far on real dedicated hardware ( one day i will)

Component selection for DIY Whitebox

Most of the time You have to do this a bit backwards meaning many times You need to decide on the SW bit You are going to use and after looking out for recommendations or build guides regarding that SW.

Some like FreeNAS has great documentation and Forums where You can find more information You will ever need

For some other You have to go through third party forums and places like Reddit to put together bits and pieces to see what will be the best fit for Your SW.

Whenever I can I like to stick to server or workstation grade components, Xeon CPUs, Intel CPUs for power consumption and compatibility, ECC RAM , good quality power supplies.

I also prefer 19 inch rackmount sizes preferably 2U with good airflow ( 1U tend to be way more loud) and just because I can rack them nice in my server rack otherwise I d go for something small and more restrictive

Hard drives and Storage Technology

Do not cheap out on the Hard drives. Building the nicest NAS with awesome SW and HW and then putting shitty Hard drives inside is like putting the cheapest wheels on the best car or motorcycle out there

When it comes to storage technology I like both Raid and ZFS

What is RAID?

is a data storage virtualization technology that combines multiple physical disk drive components into one or more logical units for the purposes of data redundancy, performance improvement, or both

Data is distributed across the drives in one of several ways, referred to as RAID levels, depending on the required level of redundancy and performance. The different schemes, or data distribution layouts, are named by the word “RAID” followed by a number, for example RAID 0 or RAID 1. Each scheme, or RAID level, provides a different balance among the key goals: reliabilityavailabilityperformance, and capacity. RAID levels greater than RAID 0 provide protection against unrecoverable sector read errors, as well as against failures of whole physical drives.

What is ZFS?

is a combined file system and logical volume manager designed by Sun Microsystems. ZFS is scalable, and includes extensive protection against data corruption, support for high storage capacities, efficient data compression, integration of the concepts of filesystem and volume managementsnapshots and copy-on-write clones, continuous integrity checking and automatic repair, RAID-Z, native NFSv4 ACLs, and can be very precisely configured. The two main implementations, by Oracle and by the OpenZFS project, are extremely similar, making ZFS widely available within Unix-like systems.

FreeNAS uses ZFS that is one of the things I like in it just a sidenote..

The ZFS name stands for nothing Originally, ZFS was proprietary, closed-source software developed internally by Sun as part of Solaris, with a team led by the CTO of Sun’s storage business unit and Sun Fellow Jeff Bonwick. In 2005, the bulk of Solaris, including ZFS, was licensed as open-source software under the Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL), as the OpenSolaris project. ZFS became a standard feature of Solaris 10 in June 2006.

In 2010, Sun Microsystems was acquired by Oracle and ZFS became a registered trademark belonging to Oracle. Oracle stopped releasing updated source code for new OpenSolaris and ZFS development, effectively reverting Oracle’s ZFS to closed source. In response, the illumos project was founded, to maintain and enhance the existing open source Solaris, and in 2013 OpenZFS was founded to coordinate the development of open source ZFS. OpenZFS maintains and manages the core ZFS code, while organizations using ZFS maintain the specific code and validation processes required for ZFS to integrate within their systems. OpenZFS is widely used in Unix-like systems. In 2017, one analyst described OpenZFS as “the only proven Open Source data-validating enterprise file system”

As of 2019, OpenZFS (on some platforms such as FreeBSD) is gradually being pivoted to be based upon ZFS on Linux, which has developed faster than other variants of OpenZFS and contains new features not yet ported to those other versions.

Software options for DIY/Whitebox

  • FreeNAS (iXSystems its HW Brand if You want a box made to run FreeNAS and Supported at Ent Levels as well)
  • Xpenology (Synology on Non Synology Hardware)
  • Unraid (not free)
  • NAS4Free (XigmaNAS now)




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Author: viktormadarasz

IT OnSite Analyst for a big multinational company