As I already wrote, when the OS HDD on my desktop died, I realized how often I need to access our external drives which store all of our data. That is when I decided to research some NAS solutions. My requirements were fairly simple:
– GBe NIC
– software RAID
– low power consuption
– hold at least 4 drives (I had 4x1TB drives already)
– support CIFS or DLNA so that I can watch movies without having to keep my desktop on.

Quick check on newegg showed that I’ll have to spend at least $350 to get a decent NAS solution. I also looked at the development of ZFS – Sun’s latest and greatest filesystem. It turned out that ZFS is very nice for home NAS solutions that give you features of commercial products like NetApp.

Second check on newegg for cheap Atom PCs showed that I can put together a PC for less than $350, which would work for ZFS.

Before I got the hardware, however, I decided to do some more reading on the forums of who’s buying what, what works and what doesn’t and in general to educate myself a bit more on the ZFS NAS topic. HardForum was very useful place for that. As I was reading, I realized that an Atom computer might be a bit underpowered for a ZFS NAS box, but because I wanted low power solutions, I didn’t have too much choices.

Fortunately for me, only few months ago, Intel had released their SandyBridge cpus and specifically the low power i3 model with 35W TDP, which for a powerful CPU is pretty good. From there I settled on a system based on the i3-2100T CPU and started looking for motherboard. Initially I was considering an Asus one, but the folks at HardForum convinced me that for the same price I could do a proper server setup so I ended up with a SuperMicro X9SCA-F MB which supports ECC memory, IPMI, KVM over IP, has a video card and two excellent GBE Intel NICs. I added 8GB of ECC memory, a good PSU (Antec Neo Eco) and one IBM ServeRAID-BR10i SAS/SATA controller for extra 8 SATA ports and I was all set to support up to 14 hard drives :). All this I stuffed in a Norco RPC-250 2U rack chassis. Only downside is that it holds only 9 drives, but that’s more than I’d need in near future (I think) :).

So after the server was all set, it was time to select a the hard drives. I ended up getting 6 Hitachi 5k3000 2TB drives and to my benefit, newegg kept offering them with rebates and instant discounts, I I got some nice deals on them.

The drives are configured in raidz2 (RAID-6 equivalent with ZFS) to give me a little over 7TB useable space.

For OS I picked OpenIndiana (OpenSolaris fork after Oracle bought Sun and ditched it). In a few words I’m very happy with it and very pleasantly surprised of the ZFS features and tricks you can do. So impressed, in fact, that I’m wondering how come it has not become the standard filesystem of choice for every hacker or technical user and OS like Linux.

As far as speed goes, I get about 90MB/s over the GBe, which is faster than my previous USB2 drives. Local speeds are 371.69 MB/s Write and 474.07 MB/s Read average of a 20GB file with dd. From power usage stand point, the system uses 65W with all 7 drives spinning (compared to 280W for my desktop) when idle and about 85-90 under load.

Soon, I’ll write about setting up the DLNA and NFS servers, as well as the napp-it web interface.