About a year ago, I started wishing that I had some sort of reliable and redundant backup for the computers in the house. So much so, that I spent almost all of my 2012 computer budget on completing the project. Instead of replacing one of our aging computers, I went ahead and built a NAS. I wrote a series of articles documenting much of my process. Because the amount of time this project has been in flight a summary was in order. For those of you interested in the nitty-gritty details here's a detailing of each of the articles in this series:
- Building a NAS: Choosing Hardware
- Building a NAS: Assembly & Configuration
- Backing up Windows Machines to FreeNAS: Part One
- Backing up Windows Machines to FreeNAS: Part Two
- Backing up Windows Machines to FreeNAS: Part Three
Originally, I had started out by being very interested in the fantastic products that Drobo has been selling. Over the years I have been following what they have brought to market and have always had an eye on their products. Unfortunately for me, I felt that they were a little on the expensive side and outside of what I could justify spending.
Fortunately for me, open source alternatives exist. A friend of mine wound up introducing me to FreeNAS, which offered me many of the features that Drobo offered and a number more. I wound up building a machine using a dual core 1.66GHz mini-ITX motherboard, 8 gigabytes of RAM, four different 2.0 TB drives for storage, a flash drive to house FreeNAS and tucked all of that into a nice little case from Lian-Li .
The Great Hard Drive Shortage of 2011
One of the things that really set me back in this build was that I wound up paying a premium for the hard drives. This is due to the hard drive shortage of 2011. I had bought a 2 TB drive almost a year prior for cheaper than I wound up getting any of the drives for my FreeNAS box. In total, hard drives wound up accounting for 61% of the total hardware cost.
Typically, I would expect most FreeNAS users to be building their NAS boxes out of recycled hardware and spare parts. Because I've been on a laptop-buying spree the past few years, I did not have the cache of spare parts I would have needed to build the NAS. Because I had to buy new parts, I tried to pick a low-power motherboard and power supply. I did this primarily for one reason: to save electricity. Ideally, the power I save would eventually pay for my hardware. A friend of mine owns a Kill-a-Watt and he recently built a fascinating arcade cabinet out of recycled computer parts which he also uses as a NAS.
We hooked both his NAS and my FreeNAS machine up to the Kill-A-Watt ran some file read/write operations to each NAS and tried to make sure that all four drives were active. Over a two or three hour time span, my friend's NAS was using around 99.2 watts and my FreeNAS was using around 41.2 watts. Based on my latest electrical bill that works out to a savings of nearly $75.00 a year by going with the low power motherboard. In comparison with the Drobo S the FreeNAS box uses 27% less power (41.2 watts vs 56 watts) with all four drives in action.
Ultimately, I wound up obtaining two different types of software for this project. Firstly, the software which managed the NAS, FreeNAS and secondly Genie Timeline Pro for backing up the machines in my house. Of the two, Genie Timeline Pro was the easiest to set up and use, but I would hope and expect that to be the case. FreeNAS was more difficult to configure and get set up, but none of the difficulties I had were related to the product itself; my obstacles were a result of my general unfamiliarity with the Linux universe. I have not had to touch the FreeNAS configuration since I finished it back in the spring.
I have been running Genie Timeline Professional on my primary desktop since the beginning of March and this weekend,I went through and installed the software on my laptop and on my wife's desktop. In addition to that, I created a "home" folder on the FreeNAS box for each user to store files on. Right now, there's a little over three terabytes of free space still available. I have been both lucky and smart and have not had to recover anything from my backup. But now that I have made that claim I am pretty certain that a data disaster is in my immediate future.
I wound up splurging on an expensive case, and the shortage caused my four hard drives' price to be inflated. In the end, I wound up spending just under $1000 total. This includes all of the hardware, which included nearly five hundred dollars worth of hard drives, three licenses of Genie Timeline Pro, and then three upgrade licenses to Genie Timeline Pro 2012 which came out recently.
In comparison, the comparable Drobo devices range between $400 and $850 dollars, which is between $100 and $550 dollars more than I spent on the hardware that is running my NAS. On top of that, my machine has gigabit Ethernet and room for at least two more hard drives, you have to move all the way up into Drobo's enterprise product offerings to find one with a gigabit option with as many drives. If you bought the least expensive Drobo device available, spent the same amount on hard drives and the Genie Timeline Pro licenses you would wind up with a fancy 4 drive redundant mass storage USB device that would have cost around $100 more than I wound up spending and that device would not have any room for additional drives down the road. Plus that Drobo device would wind up costing around 35% more in electricity costs.
Because of FreeNAS being Open Source I was able to save a ton of money in this build. This savings enabled me to build a storage device that beats the pants off the devices I compared it to. If you are interested in building a device out of spare parts, I suggest strongly that you take power consumption into consideration and try to include that into your pricing calculations. Now that an entire year has passed, hopefully low-power parts have decreased in price and incorporated additional capacity. I would encourage everyone to consider FreeNAS for their own attached storage needs.