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I'm planning on building a file server for my home network, and I want to know what I should look out for in building the machine. I was thinking of just building a crappy linux box with a slew of terrabyte hard drives and setting up a samba share. This is a naive setup, but is there more I could do with the machine?

What sort of drives should I purchase? Are fast drives (15+k rpm) worth the cost, over more, slower drives? What kind of case should I look for to optimize air flow and hold the most drive bays? I know I need a server case, but is there something else to look for? Do any server cases come with the easy-slide-in mounts that dell provides? I love those mounts, and with many drives, they could be crucial.

Also, would it be worth upgrading to a 1Gb router to facilitate file transfer? The standard file size for transfer will be anywhere from 700MB-4GB.

With such a big machine (lots of HDs), how do I keep the server relatively quiet? Solid state drives seem cost prohibitive for the space I desire, so what should I do?

Is ext4 the way to go?

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11 Answers 11

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For home? I'd do the following:

  • Don't worry much about drive speeds. Anything you get will be fast enough for home use
  • Get a gigabit NIC and gigabit switch. You will notice this speed increase and it is rather inexpensive to add
  • Use openfiler for your OS. You'll enjoy having the flexibility to do RAID, iSCSI, in addition to standard CIFS sharing to Windows.
  • I prefer Seagate drives. They are generally quiet. The drives are going to be noisy no matter which way you cut it once you start to put a few of them in the system. I used a mid to full sized tower case with a couple big fans that were also very quiet. There's noise, but cooling isn't much of an issue, even with 5 or 6 drives inside. Just put it in a closet or basement or somewhere you're not going to be bothered by it.
  • Consider using a motherboard based on the Atom processor if you're concerned about noise and using a hardware RAID card. The 220 can run with just a heatsink and will be dead quiet. Otherwise, go with something more powerful and sofware RAID.
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I would recommend against using an Atom chip. Get something with enough power to do software RAID 5 or RAID 1 and do it. Also a bit of an anecdote, I've had terrible experiences with Seagate over the past couple of years noise/drive MTBF-wise with their consumer SATA drives and have had spectacular results from Samsung drives. –  moshen Jul 22 '09 at 15:46
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@moshen - I agree with you and the Atom chip. While it's affordable and extremely low power consumption, using it for a NAS is a bit compromising. Granted, we don't know how this NAS will be used, but I'd rather use hardware RAID over software RAID. If he were to use software RAID, you're right. An Atom CPU would be a poor choice. As for the Seagate drives, I can't speak to the noise and MTBF but I have been using the Seagate NS series for my NAS and my Citrix XenServer and have had no issues whatsoever for over a year. –  osij2is Jul 22 '09 at 16:21
    
Very valid points. I updated my answer to include the information about software vs. hardware RAID and it's effect on CPU usage –  Kevin Kuphal Jul 22 '09 at 16:38
    
I agree with all of that plus its better (cheaper) to go with raid10 than choosing faster drives if you're just using it for file transfers –  Jure1873 Jul 22 '09 at 21:52
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One side note to offer...have you looked at the FreeNAS project? It was made for projects just like the one you're suggesting (instead of OpenFiler). Take a look at both and see what you think.

I agree with Kevin's other suggestions though. I wouldn't worry about the RAID hardware (swap trays) unless you're really needing those features for some reason; for a home server, you shouldn't be worried about losing money or productivity due to downtime.

You might want to invest in some external drive(s) to use as a backup scheme, though. RAID is not a backup...

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I'd say for home use...

  • Storage capacity will probably mean more to you then true "speed". These days, SATA 7200rpm drives do fairly well in performance. Getting SSD, SCSI, SAS would be overkill and over budget (easily).

  • A gigabit switch and gigabit cards with jumbo frames will help out noticeably. There are varying levels of network switches from a variety of vendors so do a little homework on this. I've used Netgear and haven't had a problem with their products. Linksys might be another vendor to investigate.

  • For easy-slide in HDD mounts, there are server level cases, but they're often VERY expensive. I'd look into the Supermicro CSE-M35T-1B SATA enclosure. It holds 5 disks in x3 5.25" external bays. Check it out at Newegg. If you plan to really grow your storage in one case, you may have to look towards extended ATX (eATX) sized cases. They're typically more costly then ATX, but again, if you want to add more drives later, keep the case size in mind.

  • I also agree with Kevin Kupal; Seagate drives are pretty damn good. I haven't had a problem with them, but I use their enterprise-ish series (NS) drives. I'm starting to use the WD EADS Green Caviar (low power) series of drives. So far, no problems, great storage capacity and very affordable. 1TB for less than $80 these days is impressive.

  • For a quiet experience, using a low-power CPU like Atom would help in the noise and power consumption angles. Now, depending on how you use/abuse your NAS, CPU power may or may not become a factor. There are case fans that specialize in moving a lot of air while staying fairly quiet. There are noise dampening materials you can buy for cases, but these is for the extreme hobbyist and I'm not quite sure how far you're willing to make your machine as quiet as possible.

  • I should note that if you could edit your post to include what you want to do with your NAS might help a little more. Most people are fairly biased when it comes to filesystems and in all honesty, they all have their pluses and minuses given the circumstances at play. Ext3 should be just fine for all your generic needs but if you want to eventually grow your NAS to an extremely large storage size, I'd bet most people would say use ZFS. Nothing against Ext4. I haven't even used it but I doubt any problems would arise. Again, you know what you'll use your NAS for so elaborate if you can.

  • Do you plan on using RAID? If so, buy a controller. LSI/3Ware/Adaptec/HighPoint (maybe), etc. etc. Money upfront now will (in all likelihood) save you from headaches later.

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  • Definitely use a gigabit switch, for copying lots of files a gigabit switch will certainly make a difference. You don't need a expensive switch, find a cheap 5-port unmanaged switch, I paid £35 for mine.
  • ZFS is a far superior file system to ext4. ZFS offers:
    • Built in compression
    • Snapshots (allows you to "snapshot" a version of a folder, so that you can revert any changes you have made).
    • Ability to grow a file system, if you have another drive you could add it to your ZFS raid and grow the file system to another drive.
    • There is so many other reasons to use ZFS, just have a search about about ZFS. There are some really good articles and videos.
  • A good guide to using ZFS on a home fileserver: http://breden.org.uk/2008/03/02/a-home-fileserver-using-zfs/
  • I have 4 drives in my server, 3 x 1TB Western Digital drives and a 80GB drive for my operating system. I am using a fast 120mm fan, something like the "Xilence Red Wing XPF120R". This is pulling air from outside my case over the hard drives and then the 80mm fan at the back pulls the air through.
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  • Definitely go with the gigabit switch and make sure you have gigabit NICs in all the machines you'll be talking to the server with.
  • Your drive speeds won't matter as much at home with a limited number of users accessing it (unless you're serving up a web site from your basement...?)
  • With a larger number of drives make sure you have a good way to keep the machine cool
  • Looks like you're maybe doing some video with those file sizes? If so, are you editing on local drives or editing on the file shares? Edit on the local drive as much as possible.
  • I'll second Kevin on the OpenFiler bit.
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A case with good cooling and an adequate power supply for starters. To keep it cool and quiet, look for a case with 120mm fans, which can move the same amount of air as a smaller fan, but at a much lower RPM. It doesn't necessarily need be a "server" case as a "full tower" should be able to do the trick.

If you like the "hot swap" hard drive mounts, there are products on the market that will slide in to a few (3 or 4) 5.25in. drive bays which give you 4 or 5 SATA hot swap drive bays. Search newegg.com for "hot swap" and you'll see them.

15k RPM drives and SSDs are not worth the extra scratch for a home file server if all it's doing is serving files to PCs in your house.

Gigabit networking is worth it, however, for a home file server. Get a gigabit switch if you don't already have one.

If you're worried about high availability, consider looking into a RAID setup. It's been discussed here a lot, so i'm sure a search would turn up a lot.

You'll also need to figure out backups, as RAID is not backup!

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Filesystem-wise, I'd suggest XFS if you're managing the drive array at that low a level (Openfiler may handle this for you).

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It really depends what you want to do with your home server. If all you need it for is file storage, what your doing sounds great. However I use my home server for study and devopment, it has VMWare ESX installed and performs a variety of functions, from a file server, mail server, windows home server, to providing VM's for testing new stuff or studying and learning new skills, so I chose to throw a reasonable amount of hardware and money at it so that it could to all this.

So I would suggest thinking about what you hope to gain from your server and what you might want to do in the near future and spec accordingly.

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You might also consider getting a RAID appliance like drobo (http://drobo.com) direct attached to an atom-based server. That should be pretty quiet with a small footprint.

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I would definitely recommend some form of a RAID setup, whether in software or hardware depends on the tech available to you. As soon as you start adding multiple disks you're increasing the possibility of one failure causing wipeout to your data.

These days the kind of storage you're talking about is so cheap that there's really no reason to use anything other than RAID 10, if available. 4 x 1 TB in a RAID 10 array will give you 2 TB usable with high performance and good redundancy.

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I'd suggest going with some basics:

  • You don't need very fast drives if you are only planning to use it for home use. Streaming a few movies do not consume much bandwidth. You would benefit more from low-power and silence.
  • Western Digital sells some nice Caviar Green drives that are pretty power efficient. They run without cooling in my server.
  • Use a pre-built file-server OS like OpenFiler or FreeNAS (I chose FreeNAS because it is extremely small and can fit in a small flash drive that I had lying around).
  • Configure some sort of software RAID setup. There are many advantages to it and you can look those up. One advantage is speed another is reliability.
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