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Current Recommendations For a Home File Server? 170

Posted by timothy
from the must-hold-stuff-must-dish-stuff dept.
j.sanchez1 writes "The recent coverage of Shuttle's new KPC has gotten me thinking (again) about a small, low-cost headless file server for home. In the past, I have looked at the iPaq and considered using older computers I have lying around, but for various reasons I have never jumped in to do it. Do you guys have any suggestions on what to use for a home file server (hardware and software)? The server would be feeding files to Windows PCs and connected to the network through a Linksys WRT54GL running DD-WRT firmware." There are a host of good options these days; what has the best bang for the home-user's buck?
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Current Recommendations For a Home File Server?

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  • by krog (25663) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @03:27PM (#21989522) Homepage
    did you really need to ask?
  • by ajs (35943) <ajsNO@SPAMajs.com> on Thursday January 10, 2008 @03:28PM (#21989544) Homepage Journal
    I went to newegg and just built the system from scratch. I got 5 SATAII 250GB disks (the sweet-spot at the time for price per MB) in a tower with a run-of-the-mill motherboard, CPU and RAM. I didn't go headless entirely from the gate, but once I installed Linux, I never connected the monitor again. Simple software raid is enough for my purposes, and I didn't bother mirroring the root disk (which I can always just replace and re-install).

  • deja vu (Score:5, Informative)

    by CodeMunch (95290) * on Thursday January 10, 2008 @03:28PM (#21989548) Homepage
    You could always refer to the recent Ask Slashdot [slashdot.org] on this very topic.

    The Linksys NSLU2 [linksys.com] is a little slow & not very intuitive but I just replaced my home file server (Athlong 1.4Ghz, 512MB, yaddahaddah) with one of these. There is a big fanbase for this little device and 3rd party firmware [nslu2-linux.org].

  • by XorNand (517466) * on Thursday January 10, 2008 @03:32PM (#21989598)
    Drag that old PII out of the closet and install Linux and Samba on it, maybe upgrading the HDD a bit first. I also use my primary home server a firewall, caching DNS server, transparent web proxy (Squid), voice-over-ip/ultra-advanced answering machine (Asterisk), and for experimenting with various web projects.
  • Windows Home Server (Score:3, Informative)

    by JCSoRocks (1142053) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @03:35PM (#21989676)
    Say what you like about Microsoft, but they appear to have finally made a decent product here. You can buy an OEM copy through Newegg for $169. Then slap it on any machine you like. It's got built in support for automatically backing up all of your files. If you have multiple HDD's in your server you can specify at the folder level which folders should be copied onto multiple drives (for redundancy should one of your HD's fail). It's also got nifty support for managing it from outside your home and streaming music, videos and photos to other machines inside / outside of your home. Take a look at it - http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/winfamily/windowshomeserver/default.mspx [microsoft.com]
  • by angus_rg (1063280) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @03:38PM (#21989740)
    Unless you are really hell bent on speed or aren't mirroring, avoid hardware raids. While hardware may be faster, if the raid controller blows up, you probably have to find the same one to replace it since there is no standard on how the data is written.

    If you rebuild your system, reloading the same software for the raid should be cake.
  • For software. (Score:3, Informative)

    by LWATCDR (28044) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @03:40PM (#21989782) Homepage Journal
    For super simple.
    Freenas.org offers will do the trick.
    Want to get fancy? Openfiler.com will do anything you could want.
    For hardware. Well if you have a spare case with a good power supply sitting around you could go with this. http://www.clubit.com/product_detail.cfm?itemno=A4842001 [clubit.com]
    It will be low power and is pretty cheap. Just buy some DDR-2 ram and what hard drives you want and your good to go.
    This board does have two slots free so you do have some expansion options for more drives or even a raid if you want.
    If you don't want to build a system then you could get the $199 Walmart Linux PC which uses this motherboard. If you are going to put a lot of drives on it I would still upgrade the power supply.
    You could also pick this up at geeks.com http://www.geeks.com/details.asp?invtid=TS-X2002RS [geeks.com]
    Or if you want just use what any old PC you have.

    It all depends on what you want to do. There are some nice small NAS systems that you can just plug in as well.
  • by Yosho (135835) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @03:46PM (#21989880) Homepage
    Software RAID costs cycles.

    Only a very small amount -- if you're using this computer simply for file storage, especially with 100 Mbit ethernet as your primary means of connection, you will never even notice the tiny slowdown caused by software RAID. An old Athlon XP with 256 MB of RAM are just fine, although if you want to do something like turn that file server into a web & e-mail server, you might want to bump it up to 512 MB. None of those things are computationally intensive at all, unless your server gets a ton of traffic; even then, you'll probably be limited more by your I/O speed than your CPU. A 64-bit processor won't help you at all if you're not doing any sort of scientific computing and you don't need to use more than 4 GB of RAM.

    Heck, for years I ran a personal server on an old 450 MHz K6-III with 512 MB of RAM and three hard drives in a RAID 5. The only time I noticed any lag at all was when doing SSL negotation or when it was running a certain PHP-based webmail program on it. I upgraded it just this last year to an Athlon XP 2200+ with 1 GB of RAM, and I never even come close to making the CPU max out, and I'm also running a VPN server and spam filter on it.
  • Windows Home Server (Score:2, Informative)

    by willith (218835) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @03:50PM (#21989956) Homepage
    I've had fantastic luck with Windows Home Server [wikipedia.org] since about October of last year. I've got 1.5TB in it (three 500GB Western Digital HDDs) and it serves files via CIFS/SMB over gigabit ethernet. My three Windows PCs, my Leopard iMac, and my Xbox360 can all watch movies, play music, and look at pictures hosted on the server (and access non-multimedia files as well, of course). Further, the client backup/restore offered by WHS is awesome (though Windows-only). Nightly backups of my three PCs, with data de-duplication, and it keeps a few months' worth of data. Backups can be accessed from any client through Windows Explorer or through the WHS console.

    The crown jewel, though, is full PC restores. I swapped the hard drive out on one of my PCs for a bigger one, and instead of re-installing Windows onto the new drive and then laboriously copying my user files back, I just restored its image from WHS onto the new hard drive. The fact that the new drive was a different size didn't affect the restore at all--I popped in the restore CD, hit the "GO" button, and about an hour later my PC was exactly as it was before, but with a bigger hard drive.

    I have no complaints about WHS. It handles as much hard drive space as you can throw on it, it will automatically duplicate shared data to multiple physical drives to mitigate the loss caused by drive failure, it functions as a web-facing RDC gateway for your clients if you'd like, and you can access your shares from the Internet if you'd like. It's great.
  • Low Power (Score:4, Informative)

    by SlashdotOgre (739181) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @03:51PM (#21989962) Journal
    I leave my "file server" always on at home, so I wanted to pick up something with low power. I went with the VIA CPU/Mobo/VGA combo from newegg for about $60 a couple years ago. The Via 2000+ C3 is basically like a P3 800MHz, but it's power consumption is ultra low (we're talking half the wattage of its celeron equivalent). I picked up a small form factor shuttle like case from Fry's with a built in PSU (200W I believe), 512MB of PC2100, and have two 250GB HDD's in there. The system is now running Fedora Core 7 (would have preferred Gentoo, but it's kinda pointless to use the binary version of that in my opinion).

    While it's fairly weak compared to modern systems, it has more then enough power for serving files, so I have it set up as my web & email server as well. I also have a UPnP server running to share music/video's to my Xbox 360 & SlimServer for listening to my music collection remotely.

    For a while I ran MythTV on it with a Hauppage 150 card, and it ran fine (could even transcode on the fly to watch live TV in horrible quality on my Motorola Q). I also picked up a battery backup from APC which I configured with nut for when we have rolling blackouts.

    One thing I'd recommend doing is sticking with NFS for file sharing if you have a choice. All major platforms now support it (well I can't speak for Vista, but XP works so I presume it would as well). If you need to share to Windows XP, you need to download the (now free) Services for Unix 3.5 from MS to get their NFS client. I'm not a Mac person, but I know you can mount NFS on those out of the box (at least from the CLI). I use amd (Auto Mount Daemon) for my other Linux systems to auto mount. The performance of NFS blows Samba out of the water, I can stream Xvid on 802.11B with NFS with virtually no issues (can't do that with Samba).

    I should probably note I'm a Unix sys admin at work, so I'm fairly competent in Linux, but with that said I think even a novice could set this all up (exceptions being the email server and MythTV) without too many headaches. I let yum take care of all my system updates and am quite happy with my investment in this system (under $350 total).
  • by Otter Escaping North (945051) <otter@escaping@north.gmail@com> on Thursday January 10, 2008 @03:55PM (#21990044) Journal

    In the past, I have looked at the iPaq and considered using older computers I have lying around, but for various reasons I have never jumped in to do it. Do you guys have any suggestions on what to use for a home file server (hardware and software)? The server would be feeding files to Windows PCs and connected to the network through a Linksys WRT54GL running DD-WRT firmware."

    It's hard to supply advice without knowing what your requirements are and what the "various reasons" were that prevented you from employing the old PCs you mention. However...

    In my basement, I have an Athlon 800 MHz, with 256 MB of RAM that houses a DVD drive, plus 3 IDE hard drives. A 15GB for the OS and such, and a 500GB and 200GB that are made available on my home network via NFS and Samba. The 200 gig is a "public" drive for people in the house to use. The 500 gig was a media drive until I built a myth box over Christmas, now it's a backup drive. I'm not doing RAID or anything. The machine runs Slackware 11, and is connected to the network on a 100 Mbit LAN.

    Performance is fine. The most taxing I got was when I played my ripped movies from the file server in the basement to my Mac up in the family room. No stuttering or any other issues unless I saturated the link (ie. it couldn't serve two movies at once).

    If you've got old PCs around - I see no reason not to use them. Otherwise, I'd probably just use an inexpensive NAS unless you want more out of the machine. I got Grandpa Otter a NAS for Christmas as he wanted centralized file storage on his LAN, but is not a hobbyist, and didn't want to muck with PC innards.

    Knowing your requirements would produce better suggestions for hardware and software...but for file serving a home LAN - I'm thinking old hardware and any Linux distro will be most economical and get the job done.

  • by pogopogo (464296) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @03:57PM (#21990086)
    It's perfect if you don't mind a little data corruption [informationweek.com] in your backups.
  • by LMacG (118321) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @03:59PM (#21990110) Journal
    That would be the Windows Home Server that corrupts files [slashdot.org]?
  • Synology (Score:2, Informative)

    by Spalti (210617) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @04:03PM (#21990182) Homepage
    Well, from my own experience, I would recommend one of the Synology [synology.com] NAS systems. I'm using a DS207+ [synology.com] myself, and while it's probably not the cheapest option, the device is well build, running linux, there is a ssh package available from the manufacturer and it comes with preinstalled mysql+php support. It also supports smb+afp, iTunes Sharing and offers a bunch of other services...
    The only downside at the moment is that the UDMA service is not compatible with my PS3, so no direct streaming right now.
  • Infrant ReadyNAS NV (Score:3, Informative)

    by iiii (541004) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @04:10PM (#21990290) Homepage

    I got an Infrant ReadyNAS NV [infrant.com], before the company was bought up by NetGear. It's pretty awesome, though not perfect. Real hot-swappable RAID, dynamic reconfiguration, and lots of other good management tools. Looks pretty sweet, fairly quiet. Using it as a print server has always been problematic, tho.

    Also, they seem to have gone up in price [buynetgear.com] *quite* a bit. This site says the no-disk one is $1049. I think mine was around $600. I got one with no disks, and found a good deal on two 500GB disks (which were on their approved h/w list) and still ended up under $1200, and that was two or three years ago. But mine didn't have gigabit ethernet. I guess that explains some of the cost increase.

    I set mine up with 500GB of storage, mirrored, and two open bays. I started offloading pix and video and backing up everything else, and a couple years later have not yet had to fill the other bays. But I like knowing I can expand to 1.5TB in RAID5 when I need the space.

  • Sweet Setup (Score:3, Informative)

    by mathimus1863 (1120437) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @05:18PM (#21991526)
    I've been doing this for quite a while. Put Ubuntu 6.06 and a 300GB HDD into a PII, 400 MHz desktop that's about 8 years old. It works beautifully!

    I use sshfs to mount the server's harddrives on my local computer with full access to samba directories. Then I configured samba to provide a "publicShare" directory, readable and writeable by any computer. Another directory called "fileServe" which is read-only from any computer. I even set up apache on a separate folder and port-forwarding so it doubles as webserver as well.

    Anytime I find anything interesting at all--videos, documents, images, software--I post them to my fileServe directory for everyone else to use. And they typically backup all their stuff and share things with each other on the publicShare since it's publicly-writable.

    I've been running this setup flawlessly for 1.5 years. It's a lot better than paying $15-$30 to have the hardware recycled.
  • Shuttle SD11G5 (Score:3, Informative)

    by Misch (158807) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @05:22PM (#21991592) Homepage
    I know it's a little limiting because it only has 2 internal 3.5" drive bays, but I think the Shuttle SD11G5 could be a good choice. It is a mostly-quiet Intel Pentium-M driven solution with on-board graphics and an external power supply (sort of how a laptop operates.) Power supply is rated at 220 watts, but running pretty barebones, the draw is far less than that.

    I run one with Mandriva on it and do some file sharing on my home network and use it as a print server.
  • by zmollusc (763634) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @05:32PM (#21991736)
    .. or 'miser' as other people put it, I hate to throw away working computers. Instead, I use them as file servers in the cellar (where i can't hear the fans whirring).
    Even the humble PII has better performance and more simultaneous connections than a NAS enclosure ( or at least the cheap NAS enclosures I have bought ) and lasts a lot longer too.

    My formula for home fileserving : cram an old PC with whatever IDE drives you have to hand and run FreeNAS on it, it will be plenty fast enough for 100megabit lan (which is fast enough for me). Whenever a drive fails, throw it away and put in whatever other (usually much bigger) hard drive is kicking around. When the motherboard fails, rescue the disks and build them into another fileserver.

    RAID? why bother? Build another fileserver and keep your copies on that.

    But what about the noise? Mine are in the cellar, only the spiders and woodworm can hear them.

    Ah, but what about the power consumption? Pah! The heat slightly warms the house, reducing the energy used by the (admittedly more efficient) heating system, and is utterly dwarfed by the power consumption of other crap in the house. Also, a headless PII box uses much less power than you might think. Measure it.

    Anyhoo, _my_ fileservers cost nothing but electicity, hold over a Terabyte and have uptimes of several months, so there :P
  • by kevinroyalty (756450) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @05:48PM (#21991964) Homepage
    I have to agree - Windows Home Server rocks, even with the known (rare) corruption issue out there that is fully documented in the KB someone already mentioned. With the new Power Pack 1 and several new free add-ins, its becoming a really great product, for very little money. Oh, and there is NO DRM :)

    A great site to check out (non MS) is http://www.wegotserved.co.uk/ [wegotserved.co.uk]

    Kevin
  • mini-itx and openbsd (Score:3, Informative)

    by capsteve (4595) * on Thursday January 10, 2008 @06:48PM (#21992784) Homepage Journal
    IMHO the most important aspects of a file server is uptime and network connectivity. my most recent home server has ftp, nfs, http, ssh, rsync, smb and afp running... on top of openbsd.

    i chose the mini-itx because of the small form factor and low power usage, on-board network/video/sound, without totally sacrificing cpu power. since i use it purely for file storage and retrieval, nothing else, so an 800mhz cpu is fast enough.

    YMMV, but i've run a home fileserver in one form or another for the last 10 years, and i've had better reliability and uptime in the last 6 years with openbsd than any distro of linux(or qnx, solaris, or mac os). i attribute the stability mainly to the source code audits that are performed to discover security bugs. in the course of eliminating security bugs, the secondary effect is more stable builds.
  • by Linux_Bastard (220710) * <linux.bastard.slashdot.org@gmail . c om> on Thursday January 10, 2008 @08:10PM (#21993724)
    An old PC full of hard drives looks cheap, but it will cost you in watts. An old PC server can easily pull 250-400 watts continuously. And don't forget this summer, when you will have to pay twice for the waste heat.

    A better solution is a VIA PC1 board, plus a couple of new drives.

    The "$60 PC 1" [clubit.com] will only pull 20 watts at max. Combine this with 2 "$250 terabyte drives" [newegg.com] mirrored, and a small low wattage "$35 case" [mwave.com] and the "(Free) Linux" [distrowatch.com] of your choice,

    You will have a reliable Terabyte server for less than $700, that only pulls as much power as a small appliance bulb.

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