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Torn between Windows Home Server and a NAS


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#1 Brian

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Posted 22 March 2010 - 04:01 PM

I've long been wanting to get a solution for storing images, videos and the like. After I reviewed a Lenovo WHS a few months ago I started to get the itch even worse. But now, I'm thinking that with a lot of the entry-level NAS solutions providing RAID 5 and DLNA support, I may end up going that route. For whatever reason I find myself stuck in this decision...

We're going to start testing a Synology 4-bay unit soon, I should learn pretty quickly how that works out and if it pushes me in one direction or another.

Incidentally, one thing that really bothers me is that the WHS guys make you buy a drive with the system.

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#2 Quindor

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Posted 22 March 2010 - 04:28 PM

I've long been wanting to get a solution for storing images, videos and the like. After I reviewed a Lenovo WHS a few months ago I started to get the itch even worse. But now, I'm thinking that with a lot of the entry-level NAS solutions providing RAID 5 and DLNA support, I may end up going that route. For whatever reason I find myself stuck in this decision...

We're going to start testing a Synology 4-bay unit soon, I should learn pretty quickly how that works out and if it pushes me in one direction or another.

Incidentally, one thing that really bothers me is that the WHS guys make you buy a drive with the system.

Well that's a tough one. I've heard good stories about WHS solutions, as well as the Synology stuff. Both a good in general!

I'm guessing it depends a bit on flexibility, or rather, type of flexibility.

The Windows Home Server gives you a well built pre-packed system with a full operating system, and, if wished, all those capabilities. But as you noted, also with the downfall that you need to buy a drive with it and have a hdd running with the installation on it, etc. Some will also make the point "it's still windows", but lets not go into that discussion. Also, depending on what case you get, the ability to grow is easier (past 4 disks) then with a hardware based solution.

Synology on the other hand also gives you a box, no storage comes with it so you can determine that yourself, which is a good thing I think too. Also the system comes with a lot of extras you can easily install and use with it. But that is also the downside, since they use slower processors, don't expect to much out of it. Some torrenting, FTP and dlna, and that's it, don't expect too much more. You do get a smaller form factor, better power efficiency and if nothing is going on, all the disks can actually be put to rest! All is available using a web interface and well, it's linux and not windows so often seen as more robust.

So the synology would be easier if you just wanted "out of the box, has to work now" functionality and accept the limits it might have. And the windows box might be capable of a little bit more, but with the price of complexity.

Anyone has more thoughts on the subject?
The armor is that bulky because of all the storage that is in it!

#3 Brian

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Posted 22 March 2010 - 06:50 PM

I will say, Windows Home Server is very easy to use. And it has the other pluses of backups for the connected computers and a few like HP have innovated some on the software side. HP has an iPhone App for streaming content, which I doubt I'd use, but hey, it's cool.

The limit of 4TB for WHS when using mirroring is also a minor concern. That said, I only have a few hundred gig of music and images now, but that library will only get larger as I plan on digitizing old movies and buying new ones via digital distribution (I'm one of the few who doesn't torrent movies).

It'll post back here with thoughts after seeing the Synology in action.

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#4 jraab

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Posted 22 March 2010 - 07:09 PM

Everything I hear about WHS says its super easy to use. But I think something like this really depends on what all you want to use it for. WHS will be easy, but I'd imagine it will give up flexibility. My server runs the backend of my HTPC, serves my media around my house, and for a while was also my backup to my main computers. I've since switched my backup to an offsite solution because my server is too small to hold media and my 3 other computers backup.

How much can windows home server do. How cost effective is the Synology compared to slapping together your own PC with a stack of drives and something like Freenas.

#5 Brian

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Posted 23 March 2010 - 06:56 AM

You went with a real PC, which is another option...though at the moment I'm thinking that I'll set up the storage as one unit and perhaps get a low-power slim PC for the home theater for playback. Also considering the media streaming devices too.

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#6 DreadParrot

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Posted 23 March 2010 - 03:14 PM

I recently picked up an HP MediaSmart (EX490 model). It came with a 1TB Seagate Barracude 7200.12 drive and I picked up a WD Caviar Green (WD10EARS) so that I could make the drives redundant. The primary reason for the purchase was for backup of multiple machines that I use for work.

I've been tossing around thoughts about home/media/storage server for years. I didn't really want something that was a true HTPC (sitting next to the TV), but always wanted something more multi-purpose. Yes, I could have built a machine, but with the home servers coming in the $300-$600 range, it was hard to justify the time to select components, build the machine, and configure it.

I also decided to go with the HP because of the "extras" that HP adds on - they do a little bit more work to make the machine user-friendly and knowing that my wife may end up using some features, I didn't necessarily want to play tech support any time she used it.

Initial setup was easy. I have the HP (along with my desktop computer) on a wired network connected to a Linksys router configured as a wired to wireless bridge. The other two computers (laptops) are connecting wirelessly to the HP. The initial backups of the wireless laptops took a long time, but subsequent incremental backups were quick.

So far, all I've done is get my machines backing up to the home server and copied my music over to the shared folders on the server. I can now see the HP server in both Windows Media Player and iTunes as a shared library. Eventually, I will probably get a media streaming device to put next to the TV to pull media from the machine, but I'm not there yet.

#7 Brian

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Posted 23 March 2010 - 03:29 PM

That's about the same pace I'm going - though you've actually made a decision!

The media streamer at the TV is easy, the new Asus gen2 is probably the way I'd go, or perhaps the Boxee unit, that looks pretty compelling. I already have a Roku though, Wii, BD player...getting tired of boxes and plugs at the TV!

Have you configured the iPhone App yet or do you have a device that supports it? I wonder how well you could stream music from the server to a touch with external speakers.

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#8 DreadParrot

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Posted 23 March 2010 - 08:28 PM

It is setup as an "iTunes Server", so I've been able to access the shared library via iTunes on my computer.

There is the iPhone/iPod MediaSmart app and I did just manage to get that working by using a local IP address. I haven't been able to get it to work using a domain name that I have set up for the server, even though Remote Access is enabled. They've done a nice job of recreating an interface that works just like the native iPod music player, but there is some lag time as each track buffers over the network.

#9 Brian

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Posted 24 March 2010 - 07:36 PM

I started working with the Synology today, getting it all set up. Getting started had a few hiccups, but I'm good now. The interface is very well done, it all makes sense and there are more features with the 410j that I imagined actually. Did you know it can host a website? Not that I want to, but still. I also like that it supports true RAID.

I'm working it over now and will post the review soon, but just a heads up that I'm pretty impressed.

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#10 ccoager

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Posted 30 March 2010 - 10:36 PM

Go with choice C, Linux server.

#11 Brian

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Posted 31 March 2010 - 06:31 AM

Hah - I'm lost when it comes to Linux and configuring it, etc. How about you start a new thread with thoughts on Linux in the home server environment?

I do have to say though, this little Synology unit is fantastic, great firmware that's more flexible than I imagined.

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#12 Atamido

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Posted 06 April 2010 - 02:28 PM

So the synology would be easier if you just wanted "out of the box, has to work now" functionality and accept the limits it might have. And the windows box might be capable of a little bit more, but with the price of complexity.

Honestly, Windows Home Server pretty much just works out of the box. It really is that simple.

I went with WHS for two reasons:

  • Recovery. The duplication system for files is so simple that I can have 6 out of 7 drives die, and still take that last one, connect it to any PC, and copy whatever available files off of it. With a NAS using whatever type of RAID, you'd be lucky to recover anything in the event of a multi-drive failure.
  • Flexibility. I can have my WHS downloading Linux ISOs over Bittorrent, or whatever other download methods, without worrying about my client PC. With a low power CPU/motherboard in the server, this can be quite a bit of a power savings. I can also run all sorts of other applications and such on there without bogging down my main system.

#13 jraab

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Posted 06 April 2010 - 11:35 PM

In your first example are you using all 7 drives to duplicate the same data. Otherwise I'm confused how that would work. In a RAID5 you can lose one drive, and still maintain all the data, but lose two and you lose all (if I understand this correctly). I haven't played with WHS at all, so I may just be confused. I was under the impression that WHS was set up as just a bunch of drives with the storage pooled, and data duplicated to other drives if wanted. Similar to how LVM is set up on a linux box.

#14 mefla

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Posted 10 April 2010 - 04:58 PM

Brian, your indecision shows you understand the challenge of a home NAS and the problem of getting power, flexibility and super-low noise and energy.

I'm dissatisfied with everything I've ever done and I'm dissatisfied with everything I'm doing now. But irreplaceable family photos and video, scanned documents, blueprints, legal documents, receipts, emails, software downloads and even .iso files just keep piling up. Ask anyone who's found and digitized an old home movie that has someone in the movie who has since passed on - you can't measure the value of such a thing against all the NAS hardware in the world.

We are not dissatisfied because we are ill-informed. We are dissatisfied in what's possible with current hardware. I don't need blathering about WHS-this or Linux-that. I need informed and detailed reviews. Comparisons against a wide range of products. Ranking of home NAS products against each other. And yes, articles and reviews of home NAS products built from generically-available PC hardware.

Home NAS products are becoming more powerful, but we want to run virtual machines. We want a PCI slot or two for things like TV tuner cards. We want built-in video capability to get a nice CLI or GUI out-of-band console. And we want real-time metrics, both on the NAS itself and on various parameters around the house. And we don't want to throw that box away in three, five, seven or even ten years of use!

And I'll let you in on a little secret. Even people employed in the storage field struggle to build a quiet, efficient, versatile, easy-to-use yet powerful solution for home use. We try everything: WHS, Linux, FreeNAS or OpenFiler. One guy I know used FreeNAS on a laptop with an attached USB drive, which might be the best way yet to approach the capabilities of a Synology product using very low power.

I even need things that haven't been invented yet, like a miniITX motherboard with built-in mirrored, replaceable SSD to contain and run whatever O/S I'd like to boot from, or a fanless multi-core 3Ghz 64 bit CPU with hardware virtualization that runs on 2 watts in a motherboard that consumes 10-20 watts, or multi-terabyte 2.5" 6GB SATA 10,000 RPM drives for $69 each that consume a couple watts per drive.

I can only get that with PC hardware. So I press on.

Laptops might be the better way to go for this. Imagine a laptop with dual or quad SATA drive bays and built-in RAID. Or maybe an SSD-based netbook with an accessory SATA drive bay or an eSATA port for interface to an external dual or quad drive enclosure. I use "laptop" as an example here, because the built-in battery would give you power outage protection and continued access to the NAS through the outage. Of course you could get close to that by adding a UPS to a Synology NAS.

Please - post an exhaustive review of the Synology 410j. It's an amazing and very capable system. Many of us have already found this to be true and are happy that we have purchased a Synology product. (I have no connection to Synology, I'm not even a customer. I mention them only because I'm familiar with their products.)

Thank you for your indecision. Please, give us a detailed review of the Synology 410j based on your own experience, we look forward to it.

Edited by mefla, 10 April 2010 - 06:06 PM.

#15 Brian

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Posted 11 April 2010 - 07:59 AM

Thanks for the post and welcome to the forums. I've been working with the Synology for a while now and am very impressed all the way around. I do want to get it in use a little more in the home theater environment, so far I've been testing mostly for small office use and file storage. I do have to day though, their firmware is very robust and while there's certainly something it can't do, I haven't found out what that is yet.

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#16 Atamido

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Posted 16 April 2010 - 01:50 PM

In your first example are you using all 7 drives to duplicate the same data. Otherwise I'm confused how that would work. In a RAID5 you can lose one drive, and still maintain all the data, but lose two and you lose all (if I understand this correctly). I haven't played with WHS at all, so I may just be confused. I was under the impression that WHS was set up as just a bunch of drives with the storage pooled, and data duplicated to other drives if wanted. Similar to how LVM is set up on a linux box.

The same data isn't available on all 7 drives, the 7 drives are in a storage pool where files exist on at least two of the drives. I can take a single drive and copy off whatever files are available on that single drive, but not any files that weren't on that drive. The key here is that any file on the drive will be complete.

That big difference between WHS Drive Extender and basically everything else is that everything else performs duplication and/or parity on a Block level, whereas Drive Extender performs duplication on a file level. This means that, for typical redundancy approaches, a file will have its data spread out several drives. If you grab a single drive like this, you will only have pieces of thousands of files instead of any whole files.

The two advantages for most typical storage methods are:
1. Speed (writing 100MB to 10 drives simultaneously is much faster than writing 1GB to 1 drive)
2. Space efficiency (RAID5 parity for 10 drives makes an 11 drive array. Mirroring 10 drives makes a 20 drive array.)

The advantage to WHS Drive Extender is simplicity, especially with regards to recovery. Because the data isn't striped, a file on a drive is always whole. And because the drive is formatted NTFS, any computer out there can read it. And because the files are named the same and stored in the same directory structure as your shares, it's easy to find the files.


For *nix users, someone made a version of Drive Extender that they've named Greyhole. It uses Samba and allows you to add drives formatted as whatever. It even allows you to add drives on remote systems.

Edited by Atamido, 16 April 2010 - 01:53 PM.

#17 Lamb0

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Posted 18 April 2010 - 04:25 PM

For *nix users, someone made a version of Drive Extender that they've named Greyhole. It uses Samba and allows you to add drives formatted as whatever. It even allows you to add drives on remote systems.


Thanks for the tip. With Greyhole there may be interesting drive possibilities in my future next year. B)

#18 pico1180

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Posted 19 April 2010 - 04:47 AM

i went with a dedicated stand-a-lone computer running vista. i will transition to WHS once i figure it out.

but thats because it was what fit my needs. ftp, torrents, print server, media streaming, and 5 bay raid 5. it HAD to be 5 bay. that alone narrowed my options considerable. for whatever reason, going from 4 bay to 5 bay solutions nearly double build cost.

but anyways. for me it was just breaking it down, step by step, what i needed. i didnt consider products, just needs and wants. once i got that figured out, the rest fell right into place.

i went with the dedicated home server because i felt that was the best way to fill my needs.



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