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Switching to a NAS

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I've been building computers for decades, but one peripheral I've never really had an opportunity to use is a NAS box. I'm interested in getting a 4 or 5 bay box and looking for advice. The big players seem to be Netgear, QNAP, Drobo and Synology. I'd be using AFP shares and Time Machine. I'm willing to spend up to $600.

Basically I want to take two internal 2TB drives and two USB 3.0 drives (2TB & 3TB) and place them on my network instead of in my cases. With the exception of Drobos, it seems like all support adding drives via USB 3.0 ports.

All of these drives have something on them already and I don't currently have anything to dump data off onto. So I'm wondering, do NAS boxes have to be setup with blank drives? I'm sure the answer is yes if I want to set up a RAID, but can I just host the drives as they are in a non-raid config for now? Eventually I will get two more drives to start building my raid and ween myself off individual drives.

I know the Drobo supports mixed drive sizes and adding storage or replacing drives as you go. Do other brands have models that allow this? Or is everyone else still requiring identical size drives to setup a raid?

I'm also curious how these units handle external storage (via USB). I'm guessing you can't add them to the RAID. Do they just function as separated drives on the network? Are they limited in purpose to the point where it would just make more sense to leave them attached directly and not over the network?

Any comments on brands people like, features that you find useful in one setup vs another, or advice for a first-time NAS buyer would be appreciated.
 

nobodynose

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I've been building computers for decades, but one peripheral I've never really had an opportunity to use is a NAS box. I'm interested in getting a 4 or 5 bay box and looking for advice. The big players seem to be Netgear, QNAP, Drobo and Synology. I'd be using AFP shares and Time Machine. I'm willing to spend up to $600.

Basically I want to take two internal 2TB drives and two USB 3.0 drives (2TB & 3TB) and place them on my network instead of in my cases. With the exception of Drobos, it seems like all support adding drives via USB 3.0 ports.
From everything I've heard and read, Synology is the gold standard. You have to look carefully at the specifications of any NAS device you choose - look for USB 3.0 vs. 2.0 ports, which networking protocols are supported (i.e. SMB/CIFS, AFP, NFS), whether Time Machine is supported if you want to use that, etc. Don't assume that all models from a given manufacturer support all the same protocols (for example, Synology has some that are SMB/CIFS only, no AFP or NFS).

Personally, I have a Zyxel NSA-320, which serves my needs and was cheap. While it doesn't do general AFP shares (it does SMB/CIFS and NFS), it does support Time Machine backups. I am using NFS to access it from my Hackintoshes, it's much faster than SMB/CIFS (and automount is the bomb!) The USB ports (2.0) can be used to transfer files directly to the NAS storage from external storage, but they cannot be used to share USB storage directly on the network. And having only two drive bays, it can do RAID 0, RAID 1, or JBOD.

All of these drives have something on them already and I don't currently have anything to dump data off onto. So I'm wondering, do NAS boxes have to be setup with blank drives? I'm sure the answer is yes if I want to set up a RAID, but can I just host the drives as they are in a non-raid config for now? Eventually I will get two more drives to start building my raid and ween myself off individual drives.
For the external USB drives, you're probably fine, but for the internal drives, you have a problem. Most if not all NAS devices that I know anything about run Linux, and use a Linux-friendly filesystem such as EXT4 or ZFS for the internal drives, whether or not they're configured as a RAID. You will have to wipe your existing drives.
 
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Thanks for the advice. The details about the file system type are especially helpful. I didn't think of that.
 
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