Build Your Own NAS Server

If your data is important to you, you may have thought about the development of a network-attached storage solution. A personal NAS server will keep your data safe through redundant hard drive arrays. NAS servers are particularly useful for those who keep particularly large files on their data storage, such as cinematographers and photographers. NAS servers can also be critical for those who simply keep large volumes of media for their own use. Here are some tips on how to build your own NAS server from scratch. It’s not a particularly difficult task, but it is a little different from building other types of servers.

Why Should You Build Your Own NAS? Buying vs. Building a NAS Server

There are many ready-made NAS servers available at a fairly low cost, but much like building your own PC, there are certain benefits to building your own server rather than purchasing one:

  • A better understanding of your build. By understanding every component you’ve placed into your server, you’ll be able to quickly troubleshoot any issues that arise.
  • The ability to customize your build. In particular, you can choose to develop any type of storage array, by configuring your hard drive disks dependent on your own needs.
  • Getting a cheaper build. If done properly, building a NAS server can be far less expensive than buying one. You don’t need to pay for anything you need and you can source your components individually.

So when should you buy a NAS server rather than building one? If you’ve already built a server before or are short on time, there’s nothing wrong with buying a server that suits your needs. But building a server at least once is a great way to develop more of an understanding of how your NAS server works and how your NAS data is stored.

You may be asking yourself ‘what is the best NAS build?’. This is a complicated question, and the answer is that it depends on what you’re interested in using your server for.

Hardware: Getting Together the Right Components to Build Your Own NAS

Building a NAS server begins with assembling the correct components. Computer components change from year to year — if not month to month — which means that the specific components aren’t important. What’s most important is that they meet the minimum specifications required for your build. Here’s what you need to know about the components you’ll need to build your own NAS:

  • Motherboard. Either a Mini or Micro motherboard is generally preferred for a NAS server, which will have a smaller form factor. The motherboard should have at least 6 SATA ports, for the NAS array.
  • CPU. A NAS server does not need a powerful CPU. In fact, the reverse is true. The best CPU for NAS is a solid multi-threaded CPU that doesn’t have a substantial power draw.
  • Memory. A NAS server should have approximately 1 GB of RAM available for each 1 TB of data. For most NAS servers, this will be between 16 to 24 GB of RAM.
  • Power supply. A power supply between 300 to 400 W should be sufficient for a NAS server. If it is not, then it’s likely that the components have too substantial of a power draw and should be reconsidered.
  • Storage. For a NAS server, you’re going to need a 16 GB flash drive and hard drives for your NAS data storage. When it comes to brands and models of hard disk drives, we recommend models specifically designed for superior NAS performance, such as WD Red. How many hard drives you’ll need for NAS data storage will depend on the type of build that you’re developing. For instance, you could have 4 HDDs of 6 TB each, or you could have 6 HDDs of 4 TB each. Both of these will have the same amount of raw storage, but the amount of usable space you have will vary depending on which RAID level you use. You can also optionally install an SSD for caching.
  • Case. Any mini or micro case should be sufficient for a NAS server. If you want to save yourself some headaches, the best NAS case is probably a modular case that makes it easy to swap components–and you may want to choose the case in person rather than buying it online.
NAS recommended by Gillware

Buy Gillware’s Recommended Custom NAS Chassis

Assembling the Hardware to Build Your Own NAS

The physical assembly of a NAS server is no different from the assembly of any other computer or server system. As always, make sure that you are careful, use an anti-static strap, and do your due diligence–but there will always be a few issues that you might encounter. Here are two of the issues that you could potentially encounter:

  • Components may not fit. There’s a reason why it’s usually ideal to order components online except for the case. If you order the case online, the components may not fit together properly. Commonly, the power supply may not reach all the way to the individual components.
  • Components may not work. There are very few builds that go off without a hitch. When you’re dealing with multiple HDDs, it’s always possible one or more of them may fail. Troubleshooting equipment failure is often a matter of persistence: test each component individually until you’ve determined the cause. Memory cards are another frequent issue.

To limit frustration, you may want to have a ‘test area” in which you can test individual components rather than having to test them in the new NAS server itself. You may also want to install everything on the motherboard before installing the motherboard. Though this takes more setup time, it greatly reduces troubleshooting issues.

Once you’ve properly assembled the hardware of your NAS server, you’ll want to do some basic stress tests, memory tests, and hard drive tests. All of this will ensure that the equipment is working as it should before you begin your installation.

Setting Up the Software of Your NAS Server

Setting up a NAS server is actually very simple with the FreeNAS platform. FreeNAS is very well documented, and even has a cheeky “how not to setup your NAS” guide. First, download FreeNAS onto a 16 GB flash drive, then install it directly on the server. You now have two options:

  • Use the FreeNAS wizard. The FreeNAS setup wizard will walk you through the entire process of installation, and is usually sufficient for most applications. If you aren’t experienced in setting up a NAS server (or other servers), it’s highly advisable to use the FreeNAS wizard.
  • Manual configuration. Advisable for experts, manual configuration gives you full control over all of your NAS server’s settings. This includes host name, time zone, users, groups, and the FreeNAS volume. You’ll additionally need to configure your RAID level, which controls the redundancy of your hard-disk drives. Most consumer-grade NAS devices only allow for RAID-0, RAID-1, or RAID-10. But when you build your own NAS, you have much more freedom. We recommend RAID-6, which is tolerant of up to two hard drive failures, if possible.

Once your basic NAS server software has been setup, you may also want to install some additional software tools. This includes caching services, additional backup services, and system protection.

We here at Gillware recommend configuring a monitor with Nagios to keep track of the health of your custom NAS server. Nagios can immediately alert you in the event of hard disk failure, so you can quickly and proactively take measures to prevent yourself from needing a trip to our data recovery lab. You should also be sure to set up failure monitoring and notifications in FreeNAS itself.

Altogether, setting up the hardware and software for a NAS server is no more difficult than building any other type of computer. There’s also no one way to build your own NAS server: the above outline is for a fairly simple build, but it can be modified as you desire to suit your needs.

Naturally, it’s the data that makes a NAS server most important. Regardless of how conscientious you are regarding your data NAS server builds can still fail. When that occurs, you may need to engage in professional NAS recovery. Gillware Data Recovery offers full NAS data recovery services, with a no risk involved “no data, no charge” policy and a world class team of specialists. Contact Gillware Data today if you have data that you need to protect, recover, or restore.

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Will Ascenzo

Will is the lead blogger, copywriter, and copy editor for Gillware Data Recovery and Digital Forensics, and a staunch advocate against the abuse of innocent semicolons.

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