I recently put together some spare hardware to build a home storage server. When you think about all the things you have on your computer(s) these days–pictures, music, movies–you have to think about having a way to back it all up. You can use online backup services, or if you have a bit of time and the hardware to do it, build a home storage server.
I scrounged up some hardware that I had lying around, and got a pair of 1 TB hard drives. With the price on hard drives so low, it only makes sense to give yourself plenty of space. Then the big question was software. FreeNAS is an open-source project based on FreeBSD with a ton of great features. Also, as a member of the Microsoft Partner Program, I had access to the newest version of Windows Home Server. The biggest advantage of WHS is the integration of Windows clients and automated services.
First, while it wasn’t a factor with my setup, check your hardware requirements. WHS recommends a 2GHz CPU, 1 GB of RAM, and hardware must have Windows Server 2003 driver support. FreeNAS will run on just about anything you can find that still runs. It may not handle all of the features, but it will work.
I loaded up WHS first and tried it out. It is pretty easy to set up and configure. The best feature, in my opinion, is if you need to add more storage, you add a new drive and add it to the storage pool. It doesn’t matter what kind of drive, IDE, SATA, USB, FW, anything. No worries about partitions, drive management, etc. Just tell WHS that it can be used for the storage pool and it is ready for action.
WHS also has some nice features as a media server, but obviously only works well with Windows clients. In a mixed environment, that doesn’t work as well. There are third-party plug-ins to help out with that, but for out of the box functionality or easy setup, you won’t find those options.
My next step was to try FreeNAS. FreeNAS can be run from a Live CD or installed to a flash drive or CF card or anything else your machine can boot from. As far as the installation, quick, easy, no worries. There is a bit of confusion with setting up drives that are available as the storage share and permissions. FreeNAS, as with most open source projects, has poor documentation, and this may make some tasks more difficult for the less technically inclined.
To make my installation more difficult, I opted to go for ZFS with my storage drives. ZFS is a new file system developed by Sun that adds a lot of improvements to partitions, storage and more. As with WHS, it allows you to add a new drive and attach it to an existing drive pool. It is just a more involved process in FreeNAS, but well worth it.
FreeNAS also comes with the ability to turn on several sharing services including AFP for Mac clients, uPNP for media sharing to a number of devices including the Xbox, or iTunes media sharing. I copied a large section of my media library to the share and enable iTunes sharing. After a short time for the database to build, the server showed up in iTunes as a shared library and playback worked great. That makes it a huge plus for having a single media library for the home.
Both products are good and well worth using, but for me, FreeNAS was the choice with running a mixed Mac/Windows household. If you are setting one up for yourself, and you are tech savvy, go for FreeNAS. If you want something that is a little more plug-and-play, and you don’t need the cross-platform compatibility, Windows Home Server is a good choice too.