Why DIY a NAS?
Having setup and run SwiftNAS (my home’s DIY NAS) for little over a week already, I thought it would be nice to share with you a little of my experience in the form of a comparison against a commercial solution. Why will you choose DIY over commercial? Only by convincingly justifying that question would you embark on this journey. With that I thought it was only logical to go into the comparison first before talking about how I actually gotten my NAS working and running. Read on for my views on DIY vs commercial NAS solution.
Table of Contents
First and foremost I have to admit that I have very little experience with commercial NASes. I’ve only owned a rather basic one and that is it. I never had any experience with higher end models such as the multiple bays QNAP and Synology NASes. My only experience is also rather backdated and thus may be outdated. However, I base my comparison by using results from other reputable review sites as well as my own research and knowledge. The comparisons should be logical and fair and if any doesn’t make much sense do let me know through an email or a comment. I’ll be sure to correct myself whenever necessary.
For $320, I’ve gotten a powerhouse. Most of the components are way more than sufficient for serving the basic duties of a NAS. At this price range, I’ve seen commercial NASes housing the lower ends of Intel Atom CPUs together with a gig of RAM at most. Most of such NASes will only allow two to three HDDs to be used in total. On the other hand, SwiftNAS is able to contain a maximum of 12 HDDs (in a much more space consuming enclosure though) while housing a comparatively much more powerful CPU as well as a smashing total of 8 GB of RAM.
DIY allows you to mix and match parts to your liking. Most of the time, getting the cheapest and most efficient parts available will still amount to a much more powerful NAS compared to what most commercial NASes have to offer. The choices are bountiful and with so many small form factor cases out there in the market, finding one that looks better and more feature rich will be an easy task. DIY will allow you to upgrade and add components in the future should you require so. Modifying and upgrading is easier and more convenient in a DIY solution since everything is done from scratch.
Software and Features
Both DIY and commercial NASes will have sufficient enough features to serve its purpose. Commercial solutions will often have a fancier and a more user-friendly way of doing things, especially with all the graphical web interfaces and manuals to help you get everything up and running. DIY on the other hand requires you to have some hands-on manual installation before you can get it to even work. With that said, DIY will allow you to have the freedom to install and customize whatever you need. The limit is the OS but with OS such as Ubuntu or even the AS dedicated OS, FreeNAS, the customizability is endless. Again, for anything to work it will require some form of manual installation and that isn’t for everyone.
The performance to money spent ratio always favours the DIY side. With the amount of money spent in getting a commercial NAS, you can always get much more powerful hardware. In terms of software, DIY solutions have plenty that fits the bill perfectly. With that said, here is a performance chart of SwiftNAS after the assembly of hardware and installation of the necessary software and applications (I will discuss the performance in detail in another post):
By comparing the benchmarks done by other people and in other reviews, SwiftNAS performs better than NASes at the same price range. Again this will be discussed in detail in another post.
Support & Ease of Use
Here’s where DIY falls apart. The only support you are going to get is through searching the internet for answers yourself. If something goes wrong you have to rely on yourself to fix it, by yourself. For commercial products, there is usually a support hotline you can call or a dedicated email support that you can contact. Having a standardized product would allow for easier time researching too as there may be common solutions to common problems.
With all that said, with everything up and running, DIY and commercial NASes work as they should. There isn’t much difficulty in using any of them once everything has settled down. The installation process for a commercial NAS should be easier and smoother though as with the integrated software and specific hardware there should not be much incompatibility and manuals should very much help in getting everything up and running. There are “manuals” for DIY too, you just got to search for them in the net and follow the good ones.
It seems as though everything is in favour of the DIY path. Better hardware, comparable if not better software, great performance and overall a seemingly better solution. Now that is only if your DIY solution is up and running stably. In order to reach that point of stability, you may have to spend some time tinkering around with things and racking your brains as to why some things don’t work as you expected. The time spent is ultimately the biggest bane of going DIY. You will have to spend time with your DIY NAS before it matures into a complete product.
I’ve previously carefully chosen the words “money spent” and not “cost” mainly because cost will include the amount of time spent maintaining, troubleshooting and setting up the NAS. This is the biggest bane of all, the amount of time spent into working out solutions, maintaining the NAS and setting it all up. Unless one is sufficiently adequate in computers and whatever other related topics (e.g networking), many fear the initial setting up stage as well as the troubleshooting that comes after installation. This is not to say that a commercial product will require no time at all. What I’m saying is that the time spent to get a commercial product working is seemingly negligent when comparing to a DIY product and time is something many people do not have much to spare.
There are people, like myself, that enjoy building computers and tinkering around with the different applications and software. It is satisfying when everything becomes all polished and stable. Indeed, the trouble from troubleshooting isn’t for everyone but if it is a challenge that you are willing to take, DIY is something that perhaps you can try. Otherwise if you want something working out of the box, a commercial solution is the perfect choice. The premium you pay is simply covering the cost of time spent in setting up a DIY NAS.