NAS: Roll your own or turnkey?

Periodically we have different "special" projects come up where additional storage would be handy to have. Somethimes we are doing mass upgrades of workstations as new ones arrive. Other times we are doing data recovery from a suspect hard drive that may be failing. Although we can use some storage space on one of the servers but we would prefer to keep the traffic local to us and off of the network. We have thought about buying a NAS box but in the middle of a budget year, if we can use parts we may already may have on hand. Which is the best way to proceed? Via the Internet

Periodically we have different "special" projects come up where additional storage would be handy to have. Somethimes we are doing mass upgrades of workstations as new ones arrive. Other times we are doing data recovery from a suspect hard drive that may be failing. Although we can use some storage space on one of the servers but we would prefer to keep the traffic local to us and off of the network. We have thought about buying a NAS box but in the middle of a budget year, if we can use parts we may already may have on hand. Which is the best way to proceed?

-- Via the Internet

You need to determine your willingness to build your own system, how much money you have and whether you think you'll be using the NAS system on a more permament basis in the future.

If you don't mind doing the work on your own, and if you expect your storage needs to continue to be a sort of temporarry thing, building a NAS box on the fly could be both a money saver and an interesting experience to go through. There are several ways to proceed. With the right motherboard, you can connect several hard drives to put together sufficient storage for your needs. If you can spend a little bit of money, you can purchase a hardware-based RAID controller that uses either IDE or SATA hard drives. Take a look at LSI and its MegaRAID controllers. If you will be using IDE drives for your NAS box, you may need to look on eBay for an older version of the controller that will work with these drives.

Unless you need high performance for some reason, you can use RAID 5 to put together a large enough storage pool to do just about anything you would like. You can also use the onboard hard drive controller to do software RAID but depending on your experience level with the OS you are working with, working with software based RAID may be more of a headache that you want to work with.

The next choice to make is what operating system to use. There are several Linux distros that should fit the bill. There are other choices as well. One to look at it is Server Elements. This vendor offers you the choice of booting from a CD-ROM or a flash drive to bring up a NAS box. Depending on the cabinet you use, being able to boot from a flash drive can let you use a bay for a hard drive instead of having to sacrifice it to a CD/DVD drive to run the OS from. For those who prefer to use open source when possible, you can look at Free NAS. Other possible uses are Ubuntu and ClarkConnect as possible candidates. The only thing here that may be a limit will be the drive controller you are using and will it be supported in the OS that you want to use.

Of course, you may not want to build your own NAS system. Also, if you expect to get a lot of use out of the system in the future, a turnkey system from either a dedicated storage vendor such as Buffalo Technologies or a more general vendor such as Dell might be a better option - you might wind up with fewer hardware troubleshooting problems, for example.

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