Set Up Your Own File Server

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One of the products we find sees a lot of traffic is small NAS (Network Attached Storage) setups. Admittedly, they’re a very specific way to get a relatively general piece of work done, but the fact is that buying an independent piece of NAS hardware is, for most people, one of the more expensive ways of getting a healthy block of storage onto a network. It’s significantly cheaper to just rebuild an old machine, throw in a few extra hard drives and set it up as a file server.

Not all file servers look like this... household ones are a lot less monstrous

Not all file servers look like this... household ones are a lot less monstrous

Some NAS devices do offer pretty attractive extra features, like this AC Ryan PlayOn, which boasts both 1TB of internal storage and the ability to play media directly from the box to an attached display (in HDMI) without needing the intervention of a TV. The fact is that some of our more capable readers would be far better served by simply opting to recommission an older desktop to act as a file server, and it’s a lot easier than you might think.

The only problem is, as with any regime change, you will need to get your hands a bit dirty, but don’t worry, we can help you through the awkward heart-in-mouth bits. Your first step, obviously enough, will be adding as much storage space as possible to the box itself. The second will be installing FreeNAS. Don’t worry, as the name implies, it’s nice and free. It was recently nominated for an award simply titled, “Most Likely To Change The Way You Do Everything” which kind of sums up the thrust of why we think it’s worth checking out.

You can grab FreeNAS here.

Installing FreeNAS:

FreeNAS is basically the operating system that’s going to let the whole network side of things work. It’s tight and elegant and not nearly as fancy looking as it might otherwise have been, but it does have a plethora of features that’ll keep serving you in the manner to which you will (no doubt) become accustomed.

Picture 1

It’s worth noting that FreeNAS also only takes up about 32MB of space, so you don’t need to worry about your OS eating up your capacity, though given that we live in an age where a 1TB HDD will set you back to the tune of €69 it’s not inordinately expensive to throw in a few terabytes of storage and make sure you needn’t think about adding capacity to your network for a year or two.

Admittedly, the install isn't pretty... not at all.

Admittedly, the install isn't pretty... not at all.

Once you’ve grabbed FreeNAS, it’s a simple matter of burning it to a disc and running through the install, which is relatively well signposted so you shouldn’t end up getting too lost. Moreover, just in case you do encounter anything unexpected, there’s an excellent step-by-step guide to the installation of FreeNAS, including all the tiny details you might encounter, here. We had intended to write up a “How to” section for installing FreeNAS, but if we had it’d have been less useful than the linked one, which is really excellent.

From there you’ll be able to login from your browser, simply by dropping the server’s IP address into the address bar as you would if you were looking to change router settings. If you followed the linked step-by-step with fastidious care then your server’s IP address will be 192.168.1.100, otherwise it’ll be whatever you’ve assigned it. The default username and password are “admin” and “freenas” respectively.

It's actually pretty easy to work with FreeNAS once it's set up.

It's actually pretty easy to work with FreeNAS once it's set up.

The rest of that walkthrough will ensure you know how to mount disks and access them from across the network as well as help you use FreeNAS to set up a RAID array across multiple disks, if you’d like to keep yourself safe from failures. That leads us relatively neatly into our next category… just what do you intend to do with all that storage?

What do you do with all that space anyway?

It’s a pretty obvious question, but you’d be surprised by the sheer amount of space people in Ireland seem to buy. Some of our best sellers are low cost external drives, particularly now that external 1TB setups are below the €100 mark. As we mentioned above, you can grab a couple of Hitachi 1TB drives here for €69 each. It’s easy to go overboard on space, but remember that if you intend to set up a RAID1 affair you’ll need to buy twice as much storage to make sure you’re safe from drive failures.

Well, there's no reason not to...

Well, there's no reason not to...

The idea here is that now you can have a really scary amount of space. Enough to be safe the knowledge that in the foreseeable future you won’t have to ask yourself, “What do I need to delete?” without compromising your current setup in any way. With all of your media stuck on a network drive, you never need to think about the clutter and awkwardness of the external situation, or the potentially warranty voiding exercise of adding more space to a machine you’ve already got sitting at home.

Moreover, if you have multiple machines on your home network that are used by different people, then you’ll neatly avoid passing hard drives around if anyone needs something. Ideally, you’ll find yourself storing less and less on an internal drive and begin to make a move towards a kind of in-house cloud computing. It’s a lot easier for all concerned and the relatively easy option to set up RAID1 in FreeNAS means you can maintain all of this with a relatively slim chance of failure.

Set up an automatic backup:

One of the best uses for a practically failure-proof piece of large scale storage you’re always attached to (network-wise, not physically) is the ability to back up no matter where you are without too much difficulty.

This is a godsend for the laptop-bound among us; it’ll allow you to set up an automated backup of your machine without you needing to do anything more complicated than leave your laptop on when you go to sleep, which isn’t a bad deal by any stretch of the imagination. Automatic backups are fantastic if only because, in day-to-day use, so very few of us every do a backup. They’re something to put off constantly and then, eventually, tear your hear out in frustration when it’s too late.

If you don't have a backup and this happens, you may want to kill yourself.

If you don't have a backup and this happens, you may want to kill yourself.

Moreover, once you’ve got your backup all set to be handled automatically then you’re pretty much good to go with whatever you feel like doing without having to worry about it.

Much as Denis from RMA says that the easiest way to do a backup is “old school” by which we can only assume he means, “by hand and only when I can’t avoid it,” it’s generally a lot better to set up a backup to run while you’re asleep. Sadly, that seems to be the only way for most people to get their backing up done reliably. The easiest way to do it is to shell out the few euro it’ll cost you to pick up a copy of something like Norton Ghost or Acronis TrueImage and run with that. It’ll do the heavy lifting for you. Both offer free trials too, so there’s always the try-before-you-buy option.

Closing

Whatever you end up using your new array of convenient storage for, you’ll most likely find that having a vast, amorphous cloud of capacity you don’t really ever have to worry about changes how you do things around the house. It’s one thing to keep a vast (assuredly legal) assemblage of media on an external drive in your house. It’s entirely another to make that collection part of your home network and not have to worry about plugging in to anything.

For when your drive gives up the proverbial...

For when your drive gives up the proverbial...

More importantly, that sickening crunch when your a drive falls over and you know there’s no way on earth to fix it is a lot less horror inducing when you know you can just pick up a new hard drive, slot it into your laptop and restore from a day old backup.

Of course there’s a bit of setting up to get done, but once you’re there you should realise there’s a reason FreeNAS has been nominated “Most Likely To Change The Way You Do Everything.” It’s not quite as sweeping as all that, but it does add a sense of security that’s otherwise hard to get without paying more for it.

If you already have computer components that you would like to add to your PC, why not register for and bring them along with you to one of our Build your own PC classes and we’d be happy to show you how to do it! Visit http://www.komplettblog.ie/events/ for location and dates.

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5 Responses to “Set Up Your Own File Server”

  1. Build Your Own File Server « Komplett Ireland Says:

    […] Your Own File Server By komplettie When we ran our article on setting up your own file server, we ran with the assumption that most people would have an old PC lying around the house, not doing […]

  2. Rob Allen Says:

    I use windows home server for all the automatic lifting of machines on the network , media shring etc, I am happy as well with its remote access options over the web.
    Using your network server to backup PC’s is great, but beware, wireless is crap. In fact , I would love if you did a piece on Wireless networking, seperate the facts from the lovely figures on the boxes stating speeds you will never get 🙂

    • komplettie Says:

      Interesting idea, I’d love to debunk some wireless networking myths too… you hear some amazing things that people believe are absolutely true.

      I once had occasion to talk to a man who was of the firmest belief that the reason his wireless wasn’t working was because the fan beside his tower was “blowing the wireless away.” It’s not even as though you can blame them either, there’s no real channel for education or fact-checking for a lot of this stuff 😦

  3. Build Your Own RAID Array « Komplett Ireland Says:

    […] Your Own RAID Array By komplettie We’ve touched on RAID arrays in our last two articles and received a fair few questions about how difficult it is to set up a RAID and just what it […]

  4. Server Blog Says:

    Server Blog…

    […]Set Up Your Own File Server « Komplett Ireland[…]…

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