How is Freenas or other software based systems compared to Drobo/Synology/QNAS?

Discussion in 'Mac Accessories' started by Spanky Deluxe, Jun 4, 2015.

  1. Spanky Deluxe macrumors 601

    Spanky Deluxe

    Mar 17, 2005
    London, UK
    I've been after a NAS (or 'snasbox' as my wife calls them) for a while. I was originally planning on getting a Drobo 5N with two 8TB Seagate Archive drives with the idea of adding more 8TB or larger drives in the future. Unfortunately, as I've discovered, the 5N is pretty useless in terms of its maximum volume size and Drobo don't seem to be in any rush to update it.

    The QNAP and Synology machines seem to support larger volume sizes - at least the Synology ones definitely do, I think the QNAP ones do but the specs on their site weirdly don't list volume sizes. QNAP don't do a 5 bay but do a cheaper 4 bay and more expensive 6 bay version (compared to the Drobo) and Synology do a cheaper 4 bay and a more expensive 5 bay.

    I'd really prefer a 5 bay instead of a 4 bay but now we're talking ~£650 instead of the ~£450 I was originally planning for the Drobo. This has got me thinking about whether I could instead use that money to upgrade one of my PCs and repurpose the guts of one of them as a NAS box instead. I have an i7-920 and an i5-2550k system (both are mATX), either of which could do with replacing. I'd basically just need a NAS suitable case, power supply and maybe a raid card and the rest of the 'funds' could go towards the new desktop machine.

    How does Freenass compare though? How 'rock solid' is it? I'm not too fussed about built in 'apps'. The storage is mainly going to be for Plex media storage and Time Machine backups. I'll likely continue running Plex from my desktop computer anyway. The main thing I want is an easy way to upgrade the storage space in future - i.e. a flexible volume that lets me just put in an extra drive and let it do it's thing to maximise it's use like how the Drobo does.
  2. SnowLucas macrumors member

    Feb 19, 2015
    Hp microserver is the dogs for this stuff. With cash back it's less that £100. It can take 4 drives out of the box and many more if you mod it. It's cheap to run.

    Checkout hotukdeals for the current cheapest prices.
  3. foobarbazqux, Jun 8, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2015

    foobarbazqux macrumors regular

    Apr 17, 2014
    You don't need a RAID card with FreeNAS since it uses ZFS. ZFS does, however, need a lot of RAM. The rule of thumb is 1GB of RAM per 1TB of space, more if you want it to be a plex server as well. The FreeNAS forums have a lot of info on what hardware to use but keep in mind that those forums are biased towards enterprise level stuff; there's still plenty of people that use consumer grade stuff though.

    FreeNAS uses ZFS and the others don't. That's enough of a reason for me but not everyone needs that capability. I suggest reading up on ZFS if you want to know more. Plus, it runs FreeBSD which you might or might not care about. For me, however, that's important.

    Very but how "rock solid" it really is also depends on the hardware you use. I don't use FreeNAS specifically but my server does run FreeBSD/ZFS which is the foundation for FreeNAS.

    I'm not sure how easy it is to setup FreeNAS to handle Time Machine backups. I know several people who setup their own FreeBSD servers to handle Time Machine backups but it wasn't exactly a trivial process. FreeNAS might have simplified this process. One of these days, I'll get around to setting this up on my server.

    ZFS, which again FreeNAS uses, doesn't exactly work that way. You cannot add/remove disks from a ZFS raidz. You basically have 2 choices to expand a ZFS pool: swap out every disk in a given raidz/mirror for larger ones or add another raidz/mirror stripe. For example, let's say you have 6 disks in a raidz2 (kind of like raid6) and you need to expand that pool. You can either swap out every disk for larger ones, one at a time and waiting for the pool to rebuild after every swap, or add another 6-disk raidz2 to the pool. You cannot, however, simply add a 7th disk to the raidz2. Another example, let's say you started off with the 2 8TB disks you mentioned in a mirror. You can expand the pool by adding another 2x8TB mirror to the pool and then the data will be striped across both mirrors.
  4. ColdCase macrumors 68030

    Feb 10, 2008
    Even Drobo and others highly recommend backing up your data when adding drives to a virtual volume, as there is a finite risk of corruption.

    Time machine on anything other than apple approved destinations can be tricky less reliable as I've heard a more robust protocol is used when a Mac is backing up to a time capsule or MacOS server. Your call.

    I'd think about repurposing one of your Macs or a used/refurbbed mini instead of using free NAS, unless you are very knowledgeable about how to set it up and run. This is one of those time is money considerations, if your time is free and readily available its not an issue. Its just so much easier to to time machine destinations in a MacOS ecosystem.... perhaps it will cost less than your time is worth :)
  5. Spanky Deluxe thread starter macrumors 601

    Spanky Deluxe

    Mar 17, 2005
    London, UK
    Meant to reply ages ago. Thanks for all your help. This limitation though, kind of rules out FreeNAS for me. I really like the sound of expandable volumes. An interesting thing I've discovered recently is Xpenology which might be an option as it uses the Synology software.

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