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Im looking to set up a simple fileserver:

  • 5 - 7 clients - Mixed Windows, Linux, Mac OSX - connecting over wireless and wired
  • Serving ~200GB content - Photos, MP3's, ISO's etc

What OS would you recommend for this fileserver? I understand XP limits the number of when connecting to different shares so this probably isnt the best choice.

Any recommendations are appreciated.

Thank you,

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closed as not constructive by Zypher Jan 20 '12 at 17:55

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Should probably be on superuser I think. – Kyle Brandt Aug 24 '09 at 13:45
Is this not a system administration issue/discussion? – barfoon Aug 24 '09 at 13:49
Depends on whether "at home" = system administration – Kevin Kuphal Aug 24 '09 at 13:49
The XP limit is 10 so it's well capable of meeting your requirement, btw. – Le Comte du Merde-fou Aug 24 '09 at 13:54
Server's a server, I would today often overlap definitions. He wants to set up a home file server. Still takes some sysadmin-centric duties to do it properly :-) – Bart Silverstrim Aug 24 '09 at 14:00

13 Answers 13

up vote 27 down vote accepted

Whichever OS you can support the best - seriously, for relatively basic stuff as you've described they can all do a good enough job so it comes down to how quickly you can set it up, how often it stays up and running and how quickly you can fix it when it breaks - so in my mind the best is the one that you yourself can deal with best in these situations.

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+1; all too often this (utterly crucial) point is missed. – Le Comte du Merde-fou Aug 24 '09 at 13:54
I agree. If you know Linux or BSD use one of those. If you don't then you might want Windows Home Server, which you can get OEM for about $95. Since some of your clients will be Linux it sounds like you, or whoever owns a Linux client, has experience with it. – Bratch Aug 24 '09 at 14:04
It's something like asking "Should I buy a standard or automatic transmission car if all I know how to drive is an automatic and I just want to drive?" Your first consideration, IMO, should be "What solution can I derive value from immediately?" There may be good reasons to go with another solution, but if you can't derive value from it immediately (i.e. using a *nix OS for something when all you know about is Windows) then you need to weigh the "cost" associated with your unfamiliarity appropriately. (Obviously, this logic changes as the acquisition cost of a given solution goes up.) – Evan Anderson Aug 24 '09 at 14:15
Or with something like FreeNAS, which I believe is FreeBSD based, it doesn't matter because it's a turnkey appliance. Install, configure, get a bowl of ice cream. If you want to administrate a system, then go with the OS you're comfortable with. Turnkey solutions like OpenFiler/FreeNAS make this point kind of moot, no? – Bart Silverstrim Aug 25 '09 at 1:39
@Bart: These "turnkeys" of which you speak-- they're bug free-- right? I mean, they never break and you never need to know anything about the underlying OS? I plan for software / hardware misbehaving. An axiom of mine has always been "know as much as you can about a system so that you can fix it when it breaks". – Evan Anderson Aug 25 '09 at 9:11

Do you have a spare system? If so, openfiler or FreeNAS have good reputations for being made specifically for this task.

Easy to maintain, it's made to be used as a network storage device, has features available like software RAID and the ability to maintain it from a web interface, and you can expand storage relatively easily.

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+1 for OpenFiler. Easy to set up and maintain. I'd use it over a generic Linux distribution because it makes configuring various RAID storage brain-dead easy – Kevin Kuphal Aug 24 '09 at 13:49

I would recommend you Microsoft Windows Home Server.

First it will do what you are looking for: a network storage. but with a duplication system to avoid losing data.

It will also provide you a really powerful backup system for all your Windows computers.

And more: Remote access to your files, music, photos, many add-ins...

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FreeNAS is super, super simple and fast. You can be set up and serving in ten minutes. DO NOT PAY for that abomination that MS is trying sell as the "Home Server". FreeNAS is BSD derived, but you'll basically never see that it's BSD once you remove the keyboard and monitor.

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I run a fileserver using OpenSolaris and ZFS as a filesystem. The fileserver capabilities are well documented and ZFS allows easy sharing of filesystems. My buddy Simon has a detailed howto to build a home-made fileserver including his hardware choice and the advantages of ZFS.

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Linux and Samba. Works with all client operating systems without paying Microsoft anything!

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I agree, Linux (samba) is mostly easier to maintain (no reinstalls needed for those difficult to solve problems), can run forever without ever getting slow or needing to be rebooted. Takes less system resources, is most of the time quicker unless you can't get the right drivers for your hardware.

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Linux is probably better here, but I disagree on each of your points. A modern Windows (2003 or greater with all service packs) will do as well and likely better than linux on each of those counts. – Joel Coel Aug 24 '09 at 13:54
@Joel, not on the "without needing to be rebooted" count. In my experience W2K3 needs a reboot every patch Tuesday, without fail (assuming one is keeping up with security fixes). – Ben Dunlap Nov 10 '09 at 5:47
The windows rebooting criticism held water a decade ago but it doesn't today. If you're patching, you often need to reboot. But it's not critical to immediately apply all patches on an isolated file server in a home network. Every couple of months is reasonable. Patch Linux on a similar time frame and you'll also be required to restart services and occasionally the whole OS. tl;dr both OSes can be left untouched for years without requiring a reboot. – Chris Thorpe Dec 1 '09 at 1:15

Instead of a Linux, I'd use a FreeBSD. Once correctly configured and set up, you can just forget about it and concentrate on other tasks. Were it not for the hardware, I'd doubt a problem would ever arise.

If you decide to go for a linux distribution, I'd go for Debian or Gentoo, without anything fancy of course.

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"Once correctly configured and set up" -- there's the rub. I haven't kept up with FreeBSD since early 6.x but back then it was a bear to install (and I spent a year hacking its kernel). – Ben Dunlap Nov 10 '09 at 5:49

Synology is selling great appliances. They are easy to manage and handle a lot of protocol (SMB, AFP, FTP, etc).

It is perfect for a home system or a small company.

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I would recommend Solaris with RAIDZ or RAIDZ2. I've used this successfully to share files using AFP, NFS, and CIFS. RAIDZ will not only provide the benefits of RAID5 as far as being able to lose a disk, it also can detect and repair corrupt files. I've also found that Solaris behaves better under heavy load than Linux does.

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This answer seems unsuitable given the OPs low requirements of 200Gb and under 10 users. – Chris Thorpe Dec 1 '09 at 1:11
RAIDZ(2) is IMHO an acceptable suggestion. Using RAIDZ or not has no direct relationship with the number of users or the size of the filesystem(s) to share. – jlliagre Dec 1 '09 at 2:24
@Chris Thorpe: Why is RAIDZ not suitable for 200Gb of data? He could use three 160Gb drives in RAIDZ to provide 320Gb of storage with some protection against disk failures. – Amok Dec 2 '09 at 0:01

If you know BSD or Linux go ahead with one of those. If you don't and haven't heard yet, you can get Microsoft Windows Home Server 32 bit SP1 (NewEgg) for $95. You didn't specify that the OS should be free, so this could be a choice. If you don't want to pay anything and have a bit of time or know-how, then I'd try setting up a FreeBSD box.

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That most important thing is knowledge of the system. My own expertise and experience stems from the Windows field, and hence if something goes wrong in Windows-based system with disks formatted in NTFS, I'm confident that I can address the issue.

My Linux knowledge is somewhat intermediate at best, and as offerings from OEM vendors such a Synology, I've very little control over what goes under the hood. can't say I can fix either of them if errors happen.

Go with what you're most comfortable with. When it comes to storing large amounts of file, recovery of data in the event of system failure must be something you are prepared to handle.

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I would use Windows with HFS.exe file server or FHFS . The reasoning is because it is pre-configured with user account functionality, uploads, permissions, session monitoring, etc. All the things a file server needs.

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