Home NAS Servers Compared

Do you even need a Home Server? With all of the photos, songs and home video we have today, just about everyone is a candidate for a home server. You can tell the market is growing because just one year ago at Fry’s Electronics I tried to buy a 4 bay NAS server and they didn’t stock any. Today they have an entire aisle of NAS servers for homes and small business ranging from one to six bays and drives up to 3 TB each. This is several times more storage that Bank of America’s first ATM network.

HP Home Server
HP Media Smart Home Server

So, what is a NAS Server? NAS means network addressable storage. So a NAS Server is a server you can get to in a home or small business office that has a network. If you have a home network you can use a NAS server.

Are there other kinds of servers? Yes. There are two more main types. The Windows Home server and the Apple Time Capsule.

What is the difference? After testing all three in various configurations, I came up with one best answer for my house server, but I’ll let you know what I found.

Since I run my business from home, I consider my setup the most challenging of all. I need the servers to act like home servers for my wife, a business server for me, and a media server for my network ready TV’s and other toys. Once you set up this way you will never go back.

I have toyed with over a dozen servers and setup methods and after years I found a format that works for everyone I set up regardless of server size.

My Server Setup included:

-Personal folders mapped as drives for each laptop or computer in the house (four originally, three now)

-Media Folder Shared Publicly, this folder has Music, Movies, Videos saved (iTunes Server selected to ON in all three cases)

-Dedicated folder for Photos , All computers have access and drives are mapped

-Dedicated folder for Documents, All computers have access and drives are mapped.

So each computer has four visible network drives: Personal, Documents, Media and Photos. Desktops never store anything locally. The only difficulty is syncing the laptops. MS briefcase is a miserable sync protocol. The Apple Time Capsule does the best for sync. I did find some programs that sync better than briefcase for Win 7. I am amazed how such and easy task can’t be accomplished between a laptop and a server and work perfectly between my laptop and phone or tablet.

I have a Windows Phone, BlackBerry, and iPhone. The iPhone is the winner for usability; the BlackBerry wins the sync competition laps ahead of the other two. The Win phone is just plain slow and stays in my desk now.

All of the systems use Western Digital Green Drives to save energy and run quieter. Besides these drives are very low priced, and none have failed. My HP USB drives are the reason I had to buy a server in the first place.

I didn’t try or review any “cloud” solutions because I don’t think there is enough bandwidth available, and given demand that isn’t going to get better. Besides why should I have to pay $14.99 on a flight to get to a couple of files on my server when I can just sync and go?

Windows Home Server ( HP Media Smart Server)–

I bought the top of the line HP Media Smart Server. For general home server use the HP Media Smart Server was very easy to set up. A common complaint for all three methods was speed though. The interfaces to set up the servers were very slow. Apple was the fastest. Maybe I am spoiled with my Verizon FIOS high speed internet, but it shouldn’t take 90 seconds to load an interface for a server that is sitting on my desk should it?

The windows home server is based on the philosophy that everyone in the house is not sharing all of the information. All you do is tell it what computers to back up, leave them on and over night backups are made. With two laptops and a desktop in our house we overloaded a 1 TB server in just under 4 days. But I do have a ton of stuff. One thing though is that I had a separate server just for music and my iTunes library. The HP Media Smart Server running windows home server was only backing up a couple of websites and a pretty large collection of documentation.

The only thing I can figure is the home server doesn’t make partial backups. Every backup is a full backup which is what resulted in the server being full. I had hoped it was making partial backups or incremental backups each night. It was not.

An incremental backup is a backup that only includes changed files.

The Windows Home Server Console was pretty easy to navigate and figure out without reading the manual. I also think most people could do it without a manual as well.

When I added a second 1 TB drive I realized that the HP Media Server and all Windows Home Servers for that matter don’t have any drive redundancy. If the hard drive fails, the data is gone. The only way to insure I had a backup was to buy 2 more 1 TB drives and run a server backup of the first two drives to the second two drives.

When I called HP to ask about this the tech said “Most consumers don’t have the knowledge to install RAID and we didn’t want the support calls.” Well that backfired, I called anyway.

I didn’t like this plan for two reasons. The server is working twice as long for the backup, using twice the power needed and leaving the cooling fan on high for a lot longer.

The HP Media Smart server did look cool if you needed it to sit on your desk.

Pros:

Easy to use

Familiar Windows Feed

Great Look and Finish

Cons:

HP version is expensive

No RAID levels for redundancy

Mapping drives for small business use or file sharing not as easy

iTunes Server didn’t work, had to map a folder.

Very slow to load

Apple Time Capsule

Out of the box, the time capsule is the easiest way to back up the computers in your house every day automatically. You could tell it what computers to back up and how many versions and it would do it. This sounds very similar to the HP Media Smart Server running Windows Home Server, doesn’t it?

Apple Time Capsule Server

That is where the similarity ended.

The Apple Time Capsule had the ability to host an iTunes home server so you only need to buy each song once for most households. (although I am going to test that limit soon with 2 iPhones, 2 iPads and three connected computers with iTunes.) I never got this feature to work correctly on the HP Media Smart Server running Windows Home Server. I have a two call rule. If I have to call tech support more than twice or spend more than an hour on a feature, it doesn’t work.

The addition of additional drives through the USB port worked very easily as plug and play. Better, the Time Capsule allowed for an external drive with RAID 5 to be added, creating a hybrid solution for very small companies or larger home systems.

What is RAID? The acronym isn’t important it is on Wikipedia if you are that bored, what is important is RAID is a smart way to build a server so a drive can fail and you aren’t reloading 100 CD’s back into the server.

I hooked up a Buffalo Terra Station and set it up with four 1 TB drives running RAID 5. Raid 5 shares the data among all of the drives, but you only lose about 1/3 the total storage. Another RAID option, RAID 1 makes a duplicate of both drives. RAID 1 is an automatic version of what the Windows Home Server does, but instead of backing up your computer and then backing itself up, RAID 1 makes two copies at the same time.

I loaded over 600 CD’s and 64 DVD movies onto the drive using my Request IMC (which regretfully I sold with the last house).

Another cool feature of the Time Capsule is the format. While testing an iMac, I had the iMac, Time Capsule and Air Port all stacked in a nice neat little stack with the Buffalo Terrastation standing right on top.

Pros:

Easy Storage Growth

Fastest Interface

Easy to Set Up (even the RAID selection)

Easy to add RAID drives (not included)

Cons:

Expensive after buying a Time Capsule and Drives

Net Gear NAS Ready Server:

The latest version of the NetGear NAS server is silver and mirrored. Put it next to the new G5 tower and you’ll have the Mutt and Jeff desk for nerds or the coolest looking glass and silver retro desk. It just depends on what the rest of your work area looks like.

NetGear Ready NAS NV+

At first the fan on the NetGear ReadyNAS NV+ was really loud, I mean over 60db loud. It stayed like this for over an hour while it formatted the drives and I was genuinely worried about returning it.

I bought the empty shell and loaded the NetGear ReadyNAS with four 2 TB WD Green drives and set it up using their own version of RAID which looks very much like RAID 5. For 8 TB of drive space, I got 5.4 TB of usable storage. That isn’t bad.

After all the drives were formatted, it quieted down to about 28db, just under the HP and over the Buffalo Terrastation. This I could live with since I have studio monitor speakers on my desk to crank up my iTunes library and drown out the world.

The NetGear ReadyNAS had by far the slowest and somehow easiest interface to use. The odd thing was the two-step process to use it. First you launce a program called RAIDar and it finds the NAS Server. Then you click the server name to get a browser interface.

Logging in was simple after I found the username and password. Why NetGear can’t put this in the quick start documentation is beyond anyone’s comprehension. There are literally hundreds of blogs where people ask the question; “ What is the NetGear Ready NAS admin password?”. It turns out there are two answers. One has to do with a company they bought years ago. The new password is netgear 1. I should have guessed that one maybe.

The only confusing thing about the NetGear ReadyNAS is the user setup and permission are on two different pages and don’t look like they relate. When a user is built, the system automatically makes them a private folder that other users can’t see.  Even logged in using the admin username, I couldn’t map the folders for the other users to my computer.

After building all of the folders, you have to tell the NetGear ReadyNAS that everyone can share the folders and save the changes even though this box is already checked. It might be a minor bug, and given the rest of the performance of the Ready NAS Drive, I can live with it.

Pros:

Super-fast network connection. The only setup that could stream a video to two locations at once and run iTunes. The others couldn’t do the video and iTunes even.

Easy Setup

Good looking case

Reasonably quiet fan when not cranking out two movies at once.

Best Price

Use any iSATA drives.

Automatic RAID configuration that doesn’t require a call to tech support.

Cons:

If you don’t like silver you won’t like the case

When I moved back to California I packed each of these drives carefully in carry-on luggage and the TSA decided to completely disassemble the Buffalo Terrastation. The HP made it just fine and the NetGear was shipped FEDEX to prevent a repeat. When I opened my luggage to find the foam all torn open and a little letter that says if you spend the next year of your life telling us why this was ok to fly with, we’ll let you ask us for a new one. I got a pile of parts and four drives. Thank fully I found another used case online and the drives worked. Buffalo doesn’t sell parts or service their NAS servers.

At the end of the day I migrated all of the data from the three servers to the NetGear ReadyNAS NV+ with four 2 TB WD Green drives and put the other two systems in boxes as backups. The NetGear Ready NAS clearly has the power to be a home server or a small business server. Given the size of the servers I used to install for customers, this little box is a great small business solution or home solution that can fit just about anywhere.

If I was a solo operator at home or office, the Apple Time Capsule might be the better solution simply because of the ease of use and support. Like many things that Microsoft has done, the Windows Home Server was a great attempt that fell a yard short of the goal. If you have one, I wouldn’t spend any money to upgrade since you have already figured it out. If you don’t I would skip it.

So if your computer has important stuff, there is a solution out there to help protect it and keep it readily available and out of the cloud.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.