Best Network storage solution?

I’d like to get some kind of network storage solution for our household (we have 5 or 6 PCs for two people and a kid).


  • RAID and backup
  • not too expensive (under $1000)
  • Works with Windows, Mac, and Linux
  • easy to administrate and keep secure
  • Ideally, can stream music.

Thoughts? The biggest things we want to backup are email and photos/movies. I’d like to put our MP3s on there as well, but backing them up isn’t as essential, since I could rip them again from the CDs. It would be nice if it could play iTunes stuff, but we can probably live without it.

Thanks in advance.

El cheapo computer running Linux. That’s what I did, at least. Get a case with a bunch of hard drive slots so you can expand your storage at will.

Ubuntu/Nubuntu + Samba/SMB + NTFS-3G should get you started.

Perhaps you could get rid of a couple PCs, or repurpose one of them, as Damien says, as a backup machine?

I could. But Linux distros require some level of system administration, patching, etc., so I’m not sure they satisfy the fourth point. (For my wife, they definitely wouldn’t.)

Edit: Also, can MacOS easily see Samba?

Yes. Extra characters.

Ubuntu is very easy to use. It uses an installer/uninstaller that grabs and installs everything from the net for you. It also has an auto-update wizard to take care of that for you.

Also, the community is fantastic and will answer most of your questions quickly. There is also a great wiki/help guide.

It’s not as easily as sharing in Windows, but it’s easy to do for a moderately skilled OS X user. Try searching for “osx,” “smb,” “samba,” and “howto.” Should be a lot of helpful links.

Personal recommendation for the Infrant ReadyNAS boxes, although they have various flavours of NAS. They only just squeeze into your price bracket, but I can heartily recommend them. I wanted something simple and easy, that didn’t require me to build another PC, and had tech support I could rely on instead of trying to troubleshoot alone. They support PC, Mac and Linux, they come pre-configured with their own RAID variation, or you can reconfigure them to Raid 0, 1 or 5. You can hot-swap disks in case of a failure, or if you wish to upgrade without transferring everything off. I personally bought the ReadyNAS + Squeezeboxes bundle for streaming music. I use mine for music and photo storage, and music streaming. You can also use them to do media streaming. I’m happy as a clam with the result. I’m also pleasantly surprised at their tech support forum, which has quick response times to every question. As you can tell, I’m a rabid fan of this box, its exactly the kind of easy to use solution I wanted.

I don’t agree, it’s just as easy or easier to use SMB shares in OSX, it just requires different clicks than in XP.

I am a complete moron when it comes to this stuff, and I still got Debian Linux running with Samba for the shares and LVM so I can easily expand the size of my shared drive as I add physical hard drives.

It takes a little reading, but it isn’t brain surgery.

If you can skip the RAID – and you can – the $100-$500 flavours of NAS will do everything you want. Linksys has one for a mere $80 or so that does everything else on your list except stream music, which it can then do if you install third-party software.

No, RAID is one of the more important aspects. My wife wants to park a bunch of stuff on it with minimal chance of loss. Streaming music we could easily live without.

But it might make sense to use separate devices for different purposes, if storage becomes tight.

Why do you need so many PCs again? What amount of data, with the exception of movies and mp3s, are you looking at? Why don’t you make the house uber-server with RAID and put everything on it?

I mean, how much time do you spend supporting the 6 computers in your house? Is that worth it?

Hmm. Need? I don’t know that we need them all.
[li]1 Gaming/development machine for me.[/li][li]1 Gaming machine for my daughter.[/li][li]1 work-related system for my wife (she works from home) – work property, so I can’t touch it much, although it uses our network.[/li][li]2 laptops that get intermittant use in locations around the house[/li][li] 1 old system used to play classic DOS games (seldom used)[/ul][/li]
How much time supporting them? Not that much. I’m not sure how many gigabytes of pictures my wife has, but I’m sure the whole thing is under 30 gb.

But the only machine really capable of becoming an “uber server” is mine, and it’s not that uber at this point. And I tend to swap out the OS with abandon, so it’s not a good candidate.

If loss is your concern, RAID’s utility is even more limited. It’s good for when a drive dies of old age or malfunction, but it’s uselsss against fire or surge or flood, which will likely kill the whole array. And problems caused by human error, which is most problems, can be made worse if RAID is your front-line backup system

I guess it depends how you’re using it, but for the consumer on a home network, doing normal backups anyway (to USB HD or DVD or tape or whatever) RAID is effectively nothing more than a continuity of service system that might save you half a day’s files once every four years, but will make your system more complicated to set up every time you have to do it. It is worth it, really?

I say this as someone who did all the RAID stuff, thinking it the de rigeur data safety system, and ultimately realizing what a ludicrous waste of time it was for almost all practical purposes. Beware the geek bling.

What Rob said, and for good measure get a tape drive with enough heads to do a full backup with no tape changes. Schedule it to run once a week, swapping out tapes from week-to-week if need be,

Tape drives, are great backup tools, but hugely expensive. Under 1 grand might eke out a 36GB Native/72GB Compressed drive.

Nothing wrong with RAID. A simple RAID 1 mirror ought to do you quite well, and unlike for example, a RAID 5 array, you can usually grab either drive and slap it in another machine for easy access to data. How you use that mirror can make all the difference. If you set it up as a server drive, have the PC’s store data there directly, and then a user inadvertantly deletes something, it’s gone on both drives. If you save to your PC’s local disks, and set up a nightly incremental backup to the mirrored NAS (or linux box), then you can retrieve user files off the mirror when they hose their local copy.

I say get a cheap NAS or setup a simple linux SMB share with mirrored drives. Then use a sync/backup app (Microsoft has a free utility called Sync Toy, or a good commercial app is HandyBackup) to automate your PC’s to do incremental backups to the server drive on a regular basis.

Make sure this is actually the case. Some RAID controllers use proprietary data formats even for RAID 1. Call the pre-sales team and ask.

I realize the tape drive is going to blow the budget, but if he’s worried about data loss, good backups are the only true solution.

The answer, unfortunately, is that there is no good answer.

I use old PCs as storage servers. The flexibility is nice, but they use a lot of power and output a lot of heat. Also, when you stick a PC in a closet and forget about it, you’re not going to notice when the CPU fan siezes (and eventually it will sieze). Your first inkling that something is wrong is going to be when the CPU has overheated, killed itself, and welded itself into the CPU socket. It’s possible to go with a fanless setup, but then you’re likely talking about something purpose-built, and not something you just have lying around.

Stuff like this seems neat at first, and certainly addresses power and heat concerns, but has other problems. First, firmware quality varies greatly, even among different generations of a device with the same model number. It’s easy to get stuck with something that needs power cycling every few days to clear up firmware crashes. Second, almost all of the low end devices use USB 2.0 as the interface to the hard drive. If you have a switched, Gigabit Ethernet network and even a couple of heavy users, USB 2.0 quickly becomes a performance bottleneck. Finally, most of these devices force you to use FAT32 as the filesystem on the attached drive. FAT32 limits maximum file size to 2GB, limits maximum volume size to 1TB, and is a recipe for data loss in the event of a power outage.

I don’t have a lot of experience with higher end devices because I’m poor and they are well outside my price range. They tend to use proprietary filesystems that eliminate the drawbacks FAT32 gives you, but prevent reading your disks in any other device should your device die. As others have said, RAID is really more of an uptime solution than a data security solution. The other thing to keep in mind is that if the probability of failure with a single drive is x, then the probability of failure with three or five drives is 3x or 5x. Sure, RAID will keep your data intact, but you’ve still got the administrative hassle of ordering a replacement drive, installing it, and running a rebuild.

My solution to date has been an old PC doing NAS duty, and a bunch of USB drive enclosures. I put identical drives in the PC and all of the drive enclosures, and run a full backup from the PC to one of the USB drives every few days. Failure of one drive isn’t a huge deal and I can take my time ordering and setting up a new one. It is far from perfect. There’s a lot more administrative hassle than I’d like, and as electrical rates continue to rise the cost of keeping the PC running is becoming more noticable.

I’ve often thought of starting a business that does nothing more than install, monitor, maintain, and back up home servers and gateways. I bet there are a lot of people out there that would pay $20 or $30 a month not to have to think about this crap.