A few months back I was looking into how to solve my home data storage issue (huge photo collection, huge iTunes library, increasing use of digital file storage, big disaster waiting to happen) and I thought about buying a Drobo. At least, I did until my friend Garry Martin said something to the effect of “that looks expensive for what it is… what about a Windows Home Server?”
Although I was initially a fan of WHS, meeting some of the guys who produce it last November left me with more uncertainty than confidence – and what confidence remained was shattered when I realised that they had managed to take a perfectly stable Windows Server with NTFS and produce a data corruption issue when accessing files directly across the network (the issue may be obscure – and it’s been patched now – but the fact that it was produced by messing around with an otherwise stable file system to allow it to do things that it shouldn’t be able to makes it no less alarming).
Whilst the Drobo is undoubtedly a really neat solution, it’s also more than I need and my real requirements are: RAID; at a low price point; preferably with a decent (Gigabit Ethernet) network connection (the Drobo is just storage – for network attachment an additional DroboShare device is required); running independently of my server (i.e. an appliance); solidly built; looks good on the desk. What I found at BroadbandBuyer.co.uk was a Netgear ReadyNAS Duo – basically a 2-disk RAID 1, or RAID-X NAS box (Netgear bought Infrant Technologies last year and it’s actually their technology, rebadged as a Netgear device). Whilst the RND2150 I bought had just a single 500GB (Seagate Barracuda) disk, it was less expensive for me to reallocate that disk elsewhere and to buy two more 1TB Barracuda 7200.11 disks (ST31000340AS) than to buy a larger ReadyNAS (go figure), but the ReadyNAS was about Â£230 (with a mail-in offer for an iPod Shuffle – received just a few days later), the disks were about Â£90 each (or they were last week – now they’re down to Â£78 as larger disks start to come on stream), and the 500GB will match the others in my server if I want to add some internal RAID there sometime. At just under Â£400 all-in it wasn’t cheap but the TrustedReviews and Practically Networked writeups were positive and I decided to go for it (there’s also a “definitive guide” to the ReadyNAS Duo on the ReadyNAS community site, which is great for a rundown of the features but is probably not a particularly objective review).
Once I got the ReadyNAS home, I realised how solidly built it is, and how much value it includes. In addition to all the usual file protocols (CIFS, NFS, AFP, FTP, HTTP(S) and rsync), the ReadyNAS has a variety of additional server functionality (streaming media and discovery services, BitTorrent client, photo-sharing, etc. – which can be extended by accessing it directly as a Linux box), a thriving community and excellent Mac support (even providing a Widget for MacOS X to monitor the box). In fact, the only downside I’ve found so far is the lack of Active Directory support in the low-end ReadyNAS Duo (higher-specification devices can join a domain and one version of firmware I had on my RND2150 let me do so, but promptly left the web management interface inaccessible, resulting in the need for me to back up the data, perform a factory reset, and then copy the data back on again).
For small and medium businesses, there are higher-end ReadyNAS devices with more drive space and additional functionality but the ReadyNAS Duo is the one with the low price point.
Having expanded my ReadyNAS to 2x1TB disks (I was initially sceptical of the expansion process but, having done it, now I’m pretty impressed and will write a separate post on the subject), my new storage regime will use the ReadyNAS for all onsite storage, periodically backed up to separate USB disk for offsite storage. In addition, I’ll continue to back up my entire MacBook hard disk to a Western Digital Passport drive (which I can use to boot the system
if when the primary disk goes belly-up), with an additional copy of the iTunes Library and photos on the ReadyNAS and Mozy to provide backup in the cloud for work in progress (at least until Live Mesh has a Mac client and increased storage capabilities). In the meantime, my server will continue to primarily be used for virtual machines and any essential data from the VMs will be copied to the ReadyNAS.
For many people, a single disk backup (e.g. USB hard disk) may suffice (even if it does represent a risk in terms of disaster recovery) and I’ll admit that this solution is not for everyone – but, for anyone with a lot of data hanging around at home and who doesn’t want the hassle of maintaining a full Windows or Linux server, the ReadyNAS appliance is worth considering, with expandable RAID providing expansion capabilities as well as peace of mind.