In Search of a Network Attached Storage (NAS) Nirvana

RS812When I first purchased my eight-core Mac Pro, I envisioned a beast of a development workstation with multiple virtual operating systems running simultaneously.  I wanted one computer that I could use to develop software in any language, for any operating system or embedded device.  I paid a small fortune for the best workstation I could get my hands on at the time.

For the most part, it worked fantastically well.  It allowed me to get rid of several PCs, and the detritus that accumulates when you continuously build and upgrade computer systems on a regular basis.  I no longer regularly trip over salvaged PC chassis and no longer have a stack of cables and drives on my bookshelf.

Better yet, I don’t have to save disk drives with boot images on it, or agonize about reformatting and blowing away an operating system that I previously installed (or fiddle with grub for multi-boot).  If I need to install a new Red Hat, Ubuntu, Gentoo, CentOS, or Windows box, I just provision a new virtual server in minutes and I’m done.  When I no longer need it, I can delete the virtual image.

However, there have been some problems with this setup. While the Mac Pro has been a workhorse, it hasn’t been totally pain free.  In the last five years I’ve had crashes, memory DIMM parity errors, freezes, a blown out ATI video card and lately, the desktop would hang.

For I while, I’ve planned on purchasing the next generation Mac Pro, which hasn’t been released yet.  I haven’t made any computer upgrades or purchases for well over a year waiting for the next Mac Pro, which may never come to pass.  My plan was simple, purchase the new Mac Pro and re-provision the existing Mac Pro as a file server, build server, code repository and more.

I’ve decided not to wait any longer and get a dedicated server appliance.


Rack mount.  I’ve run out of office space and have decided to pay a premium for rack mount hardware.  I have a 12 U Middle Atlantic wood laminate rack with some 2U shelves for most of my networking equipment.  In the future I planning on a full scale rack after we move to a new house.

Host source code repositories.  Most of my old source code projects have been mostly converted to git repositories.  I have both git and subversion repositories on my Mac Pro.  I want to move them to another server which is backed up frequently, which scripts to push up my git repositories which are hosted at GitHub.

Automated backup of Linux, Mac, and Windows machines. For our Mac machines, this means Time Machine support and AFP; for Linux rsync+ssh.  For windows, it means Samba support.

RAID support with the ability to expand.  Although I’m not 100% sold on the benefits of RAID for small businesses or home use, especially with desktop drives, I want RAID.

Power efficient.  I want the entire server to draw less than 60 watts.

Whisper quiet.  My rack is a laminate box with rack rails sitting two feet away.  I cannot tolerate a jet engine screaming server.

NAS Appliance Versus Server (Build Versus Buy)

The first decision was whether I wanted to setup a full blown server with a chassis that could accommodate a bunch of drives, or simply purchase a commercial NAS appliance.

In the past, I would have automatically opted for the more fun route – search the darkest corners of the internet for parts, assemble them and spend days fidgeting with a Dremel, installing Gentoo, cross compilers, and ultimately beaming with pride, after a healthy dose of profanity and self-inflicted pain.

After searching for passively cooled main boards and quiet rack mount chassis, I figured out pretty quickly that it would cost more and take more time for me to do it myself.

If power and noise wasn’t an issue, I would have a lot more options.

Decision: Off the shelf NAS appliance.

Which NAS?

Next, I got down and started researching NAS appliances, both rack mount and desktop.

Over the years, I’ve looked at NAS appliances and haven’t been keen to what I have seen.  Most were horrifically slow and overpriced.  However, in the last several years the performance and features have gone up and prices have gotten down to a level where I’m almost comfortable in slamming my money down on the table.

Drobo was plagued with problems with a large number of bad reviews floating around.  Some are happy, but others have suffered greatly at the hands of the proprietary BeyondRAID. I’m willing to bet that most of the problems probably have to do with users using desktop drives that don’t support TLER.  Worse yet, the performance reviews show the Drobo, like many NAS appliances, is pitifully slow.  Finally, the Drobo 5N is listed at $568.99 on, without drives.  The 8-baby version is a whopping $1,599.99 on Amazon.  And the tray to rack mount the device is another $200.  Too expensive.

Next, I narrowed the field down to QNAP and Synology.  It would appear as these are the two most revered NAS appliance companies, judging by the recommendations and reviews.

After exhaustive searches and weeks of analytical paralysis, I finally ordered  a Synology Rackstation 4-Bay 1U NAS, for $617.98.

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