Building a Do-It-Yourself NAS Server Revisited

or "How to Store a Terabyte of Stuff for Peanuts"

Back in June of 2006 I reprinted an article about building a NAS server at home. I built one of these units for each of our shops, and they both work just great, no issues at all.

Lately I’ve been planning on adding even more storage to our Network Area Storage server in Zionsville. To accommodate this plan I bought a couple of Seagate 500GB drives and they have been sitting waiting patiently for me to get around to installing them. In the meantime I got an email from ServerElements offering me a “Rediscover NASLite” discount, 50% off the already stupid low price of $29.95.

Now I’m not one to pass up a deal so I snapped up the latest version of NASLite “NASLite 2 USB” for $14.98. NASLite 2 USB adds several new features that are just terrific. For one thing it will boot from a USB flash drive, and store its configuration file to the same drive. Any compact flash card or thumb drive will work, and all the utilities you need to set the drive up are included. This version adds a ton of features, like support for RSYNC, hardware RAID, Gigabit networking, and HTTP web based server reports.

NASLite 2 USB also expanded the types of drives it can use for storage, including standard PATA (IDE) and SATA internal drives, as well as USB or Firewire attached external drives. The software is delivered by download in the form of an ISO image that you burn to CD. The burned CD will autorun on a Windows computer and provide you with instructions on how to proceed.

The RSYNC feature is interesting because it can be used to back up your client machines to the NAS server automatically. Eden Greyfaulk has posted a ton of information, tips and utilities including instructions and links to DeltaCopy software to make the process simple and automatic.

It just so happened I was tearing down an old machine for recycling when I got the offer from ServerElements. The machine was an old clone with a Gigabyte GA7VM400RZ motherboard, and a Duron 1600 CPU. The machine had been stripped of all of its working drives except the floppy, and it had no RAM. The VM400 (as we called it) used a VIA chipset with onboard video, sound and a VIA VT6103 based onboard LAN. This thing would be perfect for a high powered NAS server!

First I removed the floppy drive, and installed the 2 - 500GB Seagate PATA hard drives, and I plugged in a 128MB stick of used PC2100 DDR RAM. I temporarily hooked up a CD-ROM and plugged a 64M USB thumb drive in the front USB port. I booted to the CD-ROM, and it immediately recognized my thumb drive and went into a configuration wizard to set up the thumb drive. Following the simple instructions I setup the thumb drive with a bootable partition and set the BIOS to boot to USB floppy (or USB HDD as the case applies). I installed an Intel Gigabit network card according to the compatibility list that I found on the CD because I want to move a lot of data and I want to do it very quickly.

When the system rebooted I formatted both drives using the NAS Server software running from the USB drive. I set up the network card with an IP address and inserted the key code that came with the software. On this version I had to go back to the ServerElements web site to get an Unlock Key, which was excruciatingly simple. Then another reboot and the server was up and running.

Now I’m assuming that if you are reading this far into this piece that you are a Geek of some sort, and you probably have a machine lying around that is capable of booting to USB, like the old VM400 I used. So with the used box taken into account, my total cost so far is 2 - 500GB hard drives, and the $14.98 I paid for the software. I picked up the 64MB thumb drive and the 128M DDR 2100 out of some dead stock in the back room. So even if you were slack enough to buy those drives at full retail and if you paid the regular $29.95 for the NASLite 2 USB software, you would still only have $350.00 in a 1 TB NAS server. Compare that to buying one from Dell, or this Netgear unit.

Folks, just in case you missed it, I'm talking about a terabyte of data here. What's more, the system could accept 2 more drives without any modification. If you bought 750GB drives, you could hit 3 TB for less then $500.

But wait, there’s more! Let’s say you are one of the cheap b******* of the world and there is no way you would spend all that scratch for storage. Fair enough, go to Eden Greyfaulk’s website and download Naslite v1 for free. It does not boot to USB, so you’ll have to keep the CD-ROM and floppy drives, it won’t see SATA drives or external drives, but it will see PATA drives and it will install just as easily and it will give you a NAS server for peanuts. Just take those old 6GB Quantum Bigfoot hard drives out of your Grandma's old Compaq, and you are off and running.

Oh one last thing. Remember that these units have no security provisions, so if you want to protect your data the NASLite server will have to be behind some serious firewall protection.

In any case keep your eye on ServerElements. If they continue to improve the product line, they may do some astonishing things in the future. Uh, correction, MORE astonishing things....

-Steve