Recently my DROBO Gen 1 storage device “died” and I was looking for a solution to cater for our media needs (cord-cutter) – movies, TV series, etc. using Plex Media Server to serve it up to our devices in the home.

I also needed a storage area for our day-to-day photo usage, software needs, etc.

The basic requirement was for as much storage as possible, with great speed and easy access on multiple devices (windows/mac/ios/etc.)

I had the following hardware available:

  • HP N40L mini server (more details) with 4GB RAM
  • 2 x 3.5″ 1TB SATA drives
  • 1 x 3.5″ 2TB SATA drive

After some investigation on the web, I found this great piece of software – NAS4Free – which suited my needs and hardware perfectly.

NAS4Free is built on FreeBSD and has multiple features “in-the-box”.

Installing it was a cinch !

  • Basically, download the Live-USB image
  • Extract the image
  • Write the image to USB device (your installation device)
  • Boot from (installation) USB device
  • Follow the prompts and select “9” to install on to (another) USB flash disk (the one you’ll use to boot your server)
  • Installation is quick & easy and once done, remove installation USB drive – insert the actual USB boot device into your server and switch on !

I opted to install the software on a USB flash disk (4 GB is fine), which the HP server allows you to do (there is an internal USB slot for booting your OS).

This opened up the 4 internal drive slots for storage use, ideal for my requirement.

Once the USB boot device was configured, I shut the system down and installed the drives into the slots in the HP server. (using 3 of the 4 available)

I then proceeded to boot the server and started the configuration – all done via web interface (once you boot, the server screen will tell you what the IP address is and you use admin / nas4free as username/password [remember to change it !])

NAS4Free-login

Setup is fairly easy and all the instructions can be followed form here

Once you have the basics done, it’s time to add your drives

Go to Disks -> Management and add the drives you have to the system. NAS4Free supports ZFS storage (which is apparently a great system 🙂 )

LazyNAS-Drives

NOTE:
Please note I made a conscious decision here
– I wanted the MOST drive space at the fastest rate – so I created a single volume, stacking all my drives together.

THIS IS RISKY !
If one of the drives fail, then the whole pool fails …

Typically you’d rather create a pool as a mirror or RAID-X, or something and ensure you have redundancy.

ZFS-options

My aim though was to have a much space available as possible, fast access times and I’ll manage backups separately. (well that’s my initial thoughts 🙂 )

Once the drives are accessible to NAS4Free, you need to create a Virtual Device which contains your drives (under the ZFS menu).

Then you add your drives to the Virtual Device and your NAS has space available.

NOW you need to share this on your network.

Easy with NAS4Free 🙂

Go to Services -> CIFS/SMB (especially if you have Windows devices on your network)

Configure the settings under the settings page (defaults are fine and you just Save&Restart to get going).

Create a SHARE – once you’ve enabled CIFS/SMB.

SMB-Shares

This is easy – create a name, select the mount point on the pool and “Bob’s your uncle” … it’s available to use !

One of the easiest software configurations I’ve had in a while and after about 2-3 weeks I can report that the system is performing amazingly well.

Side note:

Yes, I know … I’m running the risk of loosing a drive (similar to my DROBO experience) and then loosing ALL the content on the NAS.

I do have a plan though … I have 1 slot open in the HP Server and plan on getting another 2TB (maybe 3TB 🙂 ) drive to put in there – then I’ll mirror/sync the (important) content to that drive … but for now I’m VERY HAPPY with NAS4Free !

That’s all folks !

Like always, have fun !

🙂