Documentation by Dysphunkional
Why have a NAS?
Here are some reasons someone would want to have a NAS at home:
- Backups of all your PCs
- Shared storage of all your music, video, pictures, documents, etc
- Access to your files over the internet when away from home
- Having a centralized repository keeps you from having one version of a file on your desktop and a different one on your laptop and a third copy on the old computer in the basement…
- It can act as a streaming media server for all the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, iOS, Android, media streamers (WD TV, Roku, etc), and computers in your home
- Depending on the NAS you may also be able to run a web server or some other server that you may find useful
- Multiple hard drives can be configured to improve speed and/or reliability
- Can be run headless (no monitor or keyboard attached) so you can leave it running anywhere with a power outlet and a network connection
Why build your own?
- Cost: If you already have a spare computer lying around it can probably be turned into a NAS with a few if any modifications
- Performance: Most consumer NAS devices use slow ARM processors and have minimal RAM which will make doing anything other than serving files slow
- Flexibility: Most do it yourself NAS devices will be based on a full operating systme like FreeBSD or a particular distro of Linux so if something is missing you always have the option of installing it yourself.
- Knowledge: Even if you are a pro you will probably learn something doing it yourself
- Geek Cred 😉
There are a few reasons where buying a NAS appliance may be better.
- Cost: If you don’t have a spare computer already it may be cheaper to buy a NAS appliance
- Space: Commercial NAS devices are generally smaller than a DIY solution
- Power: Commercial NAS devices usually use less power than a regular computer
- Simplicity: A commericail NAS should Just Work™
- Cost part 2: If all you want is to share files and do backups you can probably be server just as well by a low end NAS like a Western Digital My Book Live that includes the drive for not much more than the price of a bare drive. I have the 3TB My Book Live and if it could do more I probably wouldn’t be writing this. (It runs Debian Linux and I did get MySQL working on it to use with XBMC. If enough people ask I’ll write up how to do that.)
- Support: If something goes wrong you can call the company that makes your NAS for help
FreeNAS is probably not the best option for everyone but here are the reasons I think it is a good choice for a home NAS.
- Its free
- Boots from a USB flash drive so you can use all your SATA ports for hard drives
- The nicest web interface of any DIY NAS software
- ZFS is one of the most fully featured file systems around
- FreeBSD is arguably the most stable base for an OS
- The plugins for FreeNAS are put in a “Jail” so they can’t do anything bad to your FreeNAS server and only have access to the areas of the filesystem you explicitly give them permission to access
- You want to learn FreeBSD
Other DIY NAS Software
If you like the idea of making your own NAS but don’t think FreeNAS is right for you there are a few other NAS software listed in this section of the FreeNAS Wikipedia entry.
Very Brief FreeNAS Development History
Sometime in 2010 FreeNAS was purcased by iX Systems. They continue with their own upgrades to FreeNAS and the original project was continued with the name NAS4Free. iX Systems also offer prebuilt FreeNAS devices with support and a few extra enterprise features on a product called TrueNAS.