I want to build some really reliable storage for my data, and it seems that ZFS is the only filesystem at the moment that does live checksumming. That rules out DroboPro, so I'm looking to building a quiet ZFS NAS that would start with 4 2TB or larger hard drives. I'd like this system to be very reliable and relatively future-proof for 2-3 years, so I'm willing to invest some $$$ and buy higher end components. I did see questions here and on other forums about low-cost servers, but I'm not looking for those. I'd be super happy to go for an off-the-shelf solution, but I haven't found one that's quiet.

I started doing the research (summarized on my wiki), but I realized that it just gets too complicated for what I know as a software dude, and I'm entering the analysis paralysis area. At this point, I'm basically looking for a parts list for a configuration that will work (and is modern), and I know there are folks around here who are way more competent than me. I've built computers and am comfortable assembling one and messing with *nix; I can follow guides; I just want to end the decision process for the hardware and software configuration.

What I've researched so far (not that these are very modern components):

  • Case: I think I've settled on the Antec Twelve Hundred case because it cools well, is quiet, and simply has 12 bays that allow elastic mounting. The SilverStone Raven is its counter-candidate, but I find its construction quite odd.

  • For the PSU, I'm torn between Antec CP-850 and Nexus RX-8500, but I did this research more than a year ago. The Nexus has a very uniform power profile, and I'd rather not have the Antec spin up and down based on load. On the other hand, I'm not sure how often my file server will draw more than 400W under use.

  • For the hard drives, I've read that WD Black drives are actually WD RE3 with a software setting changed. I'd also like to buy different drive types, not just 4 WDs. Recommendations? Right now I have a 2TB Hitachi Deskstar 7K300.

  • For the motherboard, CPU and RAM I have no idea, other than the RAM must be ECC. I already asked a question here about ECC RAM, but I was misguided and was looking for a motherboard that would support USB 3.0 as well. I've learned to go with eSATA, or worry about USB later.

  • Then there's the (liquid) cooling, Wi-Fi card, and FreeBSD vs. OpenSolaris Express.

  • Lastly, I'm wondering if I can make this PC into a media server by adding a Blu-ray drive and a good sound card. But support for Blu-Ray is spotty on Linux, and I don't know if Windows 7 on VirtualBox would get sufficient hardware access to output HDMI or SPDIFF signals. (Running OpenSolaris virtualized is not an option because of the reliability risk.) Then there are HDCP concerns. Suggestions on that would be appreciated as well, but I don't want us to get sidetracked.

A specific shopping list on the core components would be great, so I can start ordering, and in the meantime educate myself with regards to the other issues.

Finally, I think this could become a great FAQ for those technically inclined to build their own ZFS server, but confused by the dizzying array of options out there, and I promise to compile the results and share my experience building and benchmarking the server.

  • We generally don't do shopping questions here. Please see the Blog Article for more information.
    – Chris S
    Feb 25 '11 at 15:15
  • Welcome to 2011, where "future proof" means "might last 2-3 years". The technological singularity must be approaching :-)
    – Wim Coenen
    Feb 25 '11 at 15:46
  • @ChrisS, Iain and Chopper3: this question earned the Popular question badge in the meantime. Perhaps your vision should be a little more future-proof. Feb 25 '13 at 2:56
  • @DanDascalescu Unfortunately we just enforce the rules, we don't make them. We've discussed allowing questions like this a number of times. The problem is that everyone's got an opinion and without factual basis there can't be a "right" answer. If we allow opinions like that then we're no different from any forum or the cesspool of Yahoo Answers. In exchange, we loose out on all the potential of a well discussed question like this one could be. Sorry.
    – Chris S
    Feb 25 '13 at 4:07
  • I support supporting claims with evidence. If I add to my question "please support any opinion with factual references", will that make it eligible for reopening? Feb 25 '13 at 4:13

You'll need to decide on an Operating System... currently Linux only supports ZFS via FUSE, which must come with performance hits - http://zfs-fuse.net/

You'll basically be choosing between FreeBSD and Solaris... FreeNAS has excellent ZFS support, http://zfsguru.com/ is another project started fairly recently. I use a stripped down version of Solaris called Eon, but I'm probably transitioning to something else soon.

If you're buying SATA drives, you'll need some combination of a motherboard with lots of SATA and a SATA (or SAS) expander card.

http://www.supermicro.com/products/accessories/addon/AOC-USAS2-L8i.cfm?TYP=I I use that one from Supermicro. It has some nice features - 6gb/s, etc. There has been a lack of driver support until recently except for Solaris. It uses the mpt_sas driver which is not in FreeBSD 7.x, but is supposedly in HEAD release currently.

Is there a reason you wanted multiple brands of hard drive? I'd just make sure I had good warranty support, and not worry too much about it. I use Seagates mostly, but I think there are a few Hitachis in there too. (I have two RAIDZ1 Arrays with 5 drives each, 16TB total)

I honestly don't think it matters too much what h/w combo you end up with... I use an i3 with 4GB, it's not ECC either, but you can't go wrong with 'server quality' hardware. As far as liquid cooling, it's really up to you. It's not something I'd worry too much about. If you're putting an i5/i7 in there, I'd think about encrypting the whole array too.

What were your plans with the Wifi? In my experience I feel like you'll want to do the majority of your access via ethernet - my read/write speeds exceed 100MB/s, so I'd max out any wifi connection...

I'd let your NAS be a NAS and your media players be media players. You don't need extra variability when it comes to something that you want PROTECTING data.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.