A few weeks I decided to do some research into what it would take to build a NAS unit that would act as a storage server for all of my digital assets (audio, video, images, etc). I had purchased a 500GB external HD from Bestbuy about a year ago, however recently I was having problem reading the drive from my Linux laptop (since then I have not had any problems reading that same drive from my new MacBook Pro).
That was enough to scare me into investing a little bit more time and money into something that provided a higher level of Â fault tolerance, Â and might also lead to some more restful nights as well.
My initial requirements were not super hefty, I knew I wanted the following:
1)relatively small form factor case
2)a unit that consumed relativity little power
3)would allow scaling up to at least 4 drives
4)a 64 bit CPU and a motherboard that would handle at least 4GB of RAM
5)a setup that would allow me to use ZFS as the backend filesystem
After doing some initial research, I came across the case that I thought would be perfect for this build, the Chenbro ES34169. This case fit several of the requirements, it was small, I could use a mini-itx motherboard andÂ it provided a backplane for at least four hot swappableÂ 3.5 inch hard drives.
After finding a case that I was fairly sure I was going to use, I set out to find a motherboard that would allow for at least 4 SATA devices and work well with with OpenSolaris, EON, Nexenta or FreeNAS.
Initially I really liked theÂ GA-D525TUD from GIGABYTE. Â It Â has 4 SATA ports, can handle up to 4 GB of RAM, has a built in Intel Atom D525, and was priced very reasonably priced at right about $100. Â The one huge downside of this motherboard was the onboard Realtek NIC. Â I came across several posts (here and here for example) that indicated that reliabilityÂ ï»¿ï»¿ï»¿issues existed with these types of NIC’s, and that I was better of using an Intel chipset instead. Â Since this server was mainly going to be used as a file server, network performance and ï»¿Â reliabilityÂ were imperative, so I was going to try and avoid a motherboard with a Realtek NIC if possible.
I also found the JNC98-525E-LF from JetWay, this motherboard had a lot of the same appeal of the GIGABYTE motherboard, however it also had an HDMI port, a DVI port and analog audio outputs as well. Â I think this motherboard would be a good pick if I was building a media server instead of strictly a storage server . This motherboard also used the Realtek chipset for networking as well, so I decided to continue my search.
When everything was all said and done, I went with the MBD-X7SPA-H-O from Supermicro. Â This board has 6 SATA ports, allowed 4GB of RAM, came with a 64-bit processor, an on board USB port (which would allow me to hide my boot device inside the case itself) and most importantly had two Intel based network cards. Â This motherboard was a bit pricey at right around $200, however I guess you are paying extra for the extra SATA ports and the extra NIC.
I found 4 GB of cheapÂ Kingston RAM, so the only thing left hardware wise was to decide what type of hard drives I would purchase and how many. Â I decided that I would use two ï»¿WD20EADS 2TB hard drives from Western Digital.
The only real issue that I ran into with this setup was the fact that there are very few mini-itx motherboards that support ECC RAM, which is a must have for enterprise level storage setups, however I was not willing to spend the extra money for an enterprise level mini-itx board which sells for about $1000. Â My other option was to scrap my plans for a really small form factor mini-itx based setup and go withÂ something bigger like an micro-atx or regular atx motherboard, where I am sure I would have an easier time finding ECC support.
I decided that I would give up the ECC RAM option in order to gain the benefits that come with a much smaller machine.
I went back and fourth between using EON, OpenSolaris and FreeNAS. Â I liked EON because it has a very small footprint, it could be installed on a USB flash drive, it was based on OpenSolaris and had a stable ZFS implementation. Â The downside of using EON for this project is that it would require a bit more expertise to configure and administer.
I have a good amount of OpenSolaris experience, and they have obviously the most stable ZFS implementationÂ that exists, but it think that it is overkill for this machine, and I am also not a big fan of what Oracle is doing right now in terms of the open source community, so I decided to look a little closer at what FreeNAS had to offer.
FreeNAS is a FreeBSD based NAS distro, that has a very nice web interface that allows you to configure almost all aspects of the server from any web browser. Â Research indicated that they had a stable and reliable ZFS port in place, I would be able to install and boot the OS on my usb flash drive, and if I got hit by a bus, one of my family members would have a better chance of being able to figure out how toÂ retrieve the data…so FreeNAS it was.
In Part 2 of my post I plan to provide some more details about overall power use and network performance.