I’ve had a file server in my system for a long time now and I can’t imagine being without one. My original file server was working just fine when I replaced/upgraded it, I was just out of room. The old server had four 200gig hard drives in a RAID 5 array giving me ~600 gigs of storage (you lose a hard drives worth of storage to parity). When it came time to upgrade the server I was just going to continue using my old system which was utilizing a 3Ware RAID card but I ran into a problem. My 3Ware card took IDE drives and by the time I was ready to upgrade SATA had taken over. I could have found some big hard drives that used the IDE interface but it really just wasn’t worth it, the future is SATA and the future is now. This meant looking for a new solution.
I originally planned on getting myself a 3Ware SATA card, I’d been extremely happy with my 3Ware card, it had been rock solid and had given me absolutely no problems. The problem was, 3Ware SATA cards aren’t cheap and I knew I’d be spending a bunch of money on new hard drives so I started looking for a different solution. A friend of mine had built a server and he used some free software called FreeNAS. While I was researching freeNAS I came across unRAID.
I liked unRAID right away, with unRAID you can mix and match IDE and SATA drives, hard drives can be of different sizes and speeds, if a drive isn’t being used it spins down, it can rebuild any single failed drive and the biggest selling point to me was that you can add new drives at anytime to increase storage capacity on the server. Another nice feature is that in the unlikely event that you lose two hard drives at once you don’t lose the entire array, you only lose the data that is on those two drives.
Installing unRAID was very easy, it is actually just installed on a USB flash drive, I picked one up for cheap off of woot.com. Once I had the software on the flash drive I had unRAID up and running in a matter of minutes.
unRAID is very affordable too. It is free to those who only want to run three hard drives. If you want to run up to 6 hard drives (unRAID plus) it’s $69 and if you want to run up to 16 hard drives (unRAID pro) it’s $119. You are also able to upgrade if you decide to start small and work your way up. I personally am using unRAID plus.
My server has four 1TB Western Digital hard drives in it, giving me about three terabytes of storage, like any RAID you lose one hard drive to parity. Since you can mix and match hard drive sizes in unRAID it will always uses the biggest hard drive in your system as the parity drive. The guts of my server are leftovers from old computers, you don’t really need anything special for them as horse power isn’t really an issue. I am pretty sure that the motherboard and CPU are from my old HTPC as a matter of fact.
While this doesn’t really relate directly to my server or unRAID I want to talk about it anyway. When I moved into my new place it was pre-wired for internet and cable. There is a junction box in the storage area under my stairs which runs cable and internet around my loft. This worked out great for me. I was able to put the server in the little storage space under the stairs which keeps it totally out of sight and makes it so I never hear it, it also allows me to just keep the sides off the computer case aiding in cooling. Having the loft pre-wired is such a blessing, no longer do I have wires running all over the place making the place look ugly, now I can just plug stuff into the wall which goes back to my router (which is also under the stairs, as my cable modem). If you’re building a new house or doing some renovations on an old one, I highly suggest doing something similar.
If you’re looking to build a server I highly recommend looking into unRAID, it has been rock solid for me, I literally haven’t had a single problem with it since I started using it. There is also a big community of users and people have made some cool plugins/addons for it as well (I can’t really comment on those though as I am not using any).
You can find unRAID here.