Building an OpenSolaris NAS on the cheap

I’ve been shopping around for a packaged NAS solution that is inexpensive. I’ve looked at LG, Netgear, D-link, WD, Cisco and others. Ultimately, I found plenty of complaints about those and they all seem to have some set of limitations that I just didn’t want to have to deal with. Being a “Maker”, I jumped at the chance to build my own NAS and some people recommended I look at using OpenSolaris. I used SunOS back in the day, then Solaris for many years at work, so it seemed like familiar territory.

My requirements are fairly simple. I want to start with a GigE network connection and 2 1TB drives, in a RAID 1 config for fully redundant storage. The option of adding more drives later, and going to a more sophisticated RAID config would be nice. Our house has a Windows 7 machine for family use and my Mac OSX 10.6 laptop. Probably more machines to come later, and I want to support them all. Likely a mix of Windows/Mac and maybe some Linux down the road.

The other day, had some 1TB drives on sale so I jumped at them. They are WD Green drives, so they aren’t ideal for RAID, but they were  $56 each. For a more serious RAID box, you should really use a drive intended for that purpose. The big thing, aside from speed is to do with the Time Limited Error Recovery setting, which tells the drive to not spend time trying to recover data itself (which can hold up the controller for up to 2 minute), but to let the host handle things. RAID is good at this, so that’s why the drive ought to be configured for a short timeout.

Once I had those drives, I thought I’d see what I could piece together for an inexpensive system. I found a mini-tower case w/ power supply for $57 and MATX motherboard for $57, 4GB DDR2 RAM for $95 and a Core 2 Duo processor for $67. So far, we’re coming in < $400 before tax. Now, the next day, I realized I forgot to add a boot device. I wanted something more reliable than disc, and quite a bit cheaper. Flash drives fit the bill, so I picked up 2 8GB drives for $14 each. I figure I can boot off one, then script a backup to the other “just in case”. Here’s the list;

Cooler Master Elite 360 m-ATX ATX Mid/Mini Tower Case with 350-Watt Power Supply RC-360-KKR1 $56.97
Gigabyte Core 2 Quad/Intel G41/DDR2/A&V&GbE/MATX/DualBIOS Motherboard GA-G41M-ES2L $56.99
Intel Pentium E5300 2.6GHz 2M L2 Cache 800MHz LGA775 Desktop Processor $66.99
Corsair XMS2 4 GB (2 X 2 GB) PC2-6400 800 MHz 240-PIN DDR2 Dual-Channel Memory Kit – TWIN2X4096-6400C5 $94.99
Western Digital 1 TB Caviar Green SATA Intellipower 64 MB Cache Bulk/OEM Desktop Hard Drive WD10EARS $54.49 * 2
Kingston DataTraveler 112 – 8 GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive DT112K/8GBCL (Black) $13.93 * 2

Already, I can see that there are some things I might have done differently, like spend more on drives, less on RAM (smarter shopping, perhaps). On the plus side, with those “Green” drives and the power saving features on the motherboard, my NAS will probably consume less power than most. The parts are due to arrive over the next 2 days, so I’ll post more details and some pictures as I go.

UPDATE:  The direction has changed since I originally posted this and the project in its new form is being documented here.