Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Decided not to build a NAS... well sort of

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Image courtesy Buffalotech

Does it mean that I am going to buy an off-the-shelf NAS unit?
No. It just does not work for me.

Does it mean that I have given up on a NAS?
Not that either.

Then what?

To be honest, after checking the prices of the components that would go into a custom NAS build, I almost gave up the idea of setting up a NAS: building or buying. A decent NAS that would satisfy all of my requirements would cost about $550-600. And that too, is with the lowest prices I could find.

At one time, I even thought of getting a bigger case like the Fractal Design Core 500 (19.5 litres) or Define Nano S (26.8 litres!) or the Phanteks Enthoo Evolv Mini (34 litres!!). But I still cannot keep the main PC running 24/7 as it would eat up a lot of electricity with the overclocked Core i7 4790K CPU and the GTX 970. I have heard that the electricity bills are pretty crazy in Australia.

If you want me to remind you why am not a fan of off-the-shelf NAS units, that is because I do not like their use of proprietary file systems. This means two things. One, I would not be able to access my data if something happens to the NAS. Two, I would not be able to use my existing drives as is which means that I would have to format them to use them. I can format one drive first, transfer the data on the other drive using the HDD enclosure plugged into the laptop, then format the other drive, copy back the data. But that means, even for a few hours (I don't think it will really be few. It will take a whole weekend at least), I will not be having a backup of my data. Things will go wrong when you least expect that to happen (Murphy’s law anyone?), and this moment is the ideal time for mother nature to show her wrath. I do not want to take that risk. My data is so precious.

So as we stand, off-the-shelf NAS units are no go. Building a NAS is also a no go. Buying a case to house at least two 3.5" drives and an SSD seems to be the only option.

Or, is it?

What if I can buy a cheap compact server box that can run Windows on it? Are there such servers around?

Lo and behold the MicroServers from HP, the most current version being the MicroServer Gen 8. It is fairly compact and it supports four 3.5" hard drives. There is support for a slim optical drive and most people use an SSD in its place. It does not have Wi-Fi support but I can easily add an add-in card or a USB dongle to get the same functionality. It has only one expansion slot though, but it has a separate processor for remote management tasks which also happen to provide a virtual KVM which permits controlling the server over the network from another PC with a lot of control. The best news is that it can be had for $289 in Australia. So I decided for go with it. (It is less than half the price of what I would have had to pay if I wanted to build one myself.)

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However, there are a few additional costs associated with it. I knew about them before I bought the server so they did not come as surprises.

  1. I would need an SSD for the OS and tools, Cheapest 120GB SSD should do. I could find a SanDisk drive for $57 on the same store. I should have kept my old SSDs! You never know when one would become handy.
  2. I need to buy the Advanced iLO4 License to harness the full potential of that dedicated processor and KVM, which can be expensive if you go through the regular routes, but it is possible to buy a license on eBay for $26. (link)
  3. I have to buy a FDD male to SATA power converter because the power plug provided for the slim optical drive has a FDD connector. These are very hard to find. You can find few on eBay but with shipping, even the cheapest one would cost list $20! But luckily, I found one for $3 on aliexpress with free shipping. (link)

So the grand total is $375. By going this route, I managed to save more than $200.

The above additions will get you started, but there is one big problem, which will come up at some point. The server comes with only 2GB RAM. And it needs Unbuffered ECC DDR3 RAM. So upgrading the RAM would be expensive. I can buy a Kingston 8GB stick (model number KVR16E11/8I) for $89 on sale (usual price $149), which is still a huge fraction of the overall cost of the server. So I will try to live with the 2GB for the time being and keep a keen eye out for deals on RAM on ozbargain.com.au.

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