November 24, 2008

Home network setup (or how a multi-function NAS saved my day)

I finally managed to set up a reasonable home network. We had a few issues that needed to be solved:
  1. Running out of free network ports in the router - more, please...
  2. Both of the two printers in the house needed to be on the network.
  3. I needed a common network drive for music, photos (with some sharing capabilities) and as a place to put backups from our PCs.
  4. A backup solution for this common network drive (in case the drive fails).
  5. Even more backup (in case something realy bad happens to the entire house).
The old setup consisted of an ADSL modem connected to a wireless router with a 4-port switch and an old print server with only one usb printer port. Very standard, I guess. So after some consideration I went for two new purchases:

A network switch to handle issue #1
I chose a TrendNet 8-port gigabit switch.

A multi-function NAS to handle the rest of the issues:
A Qnap TS-109 with a 500gb disk (I threw in a Samsung F1) .

So what is this thing? It's a small server with room for a harddrive of choice, 3 USB ports, an eSata port and of course a network connection. The network now looks like this:

Many multi-function NAS products exist - Qnap and Synology seeming to be the leading product lines. Out of the box (and a few clicks in the web-based administration tool) I was able to set up:
  • Printer server for 2 connected USB printers.
  • A network share for our familiy pictures. Wwe use Picasa and it works fine to map a network drive and point its picture folder to this drive.
  • A network share for our music. I put all our mp3's there and setup iTunes on my machine to have its iTunes Music folder pointed to this share. All other PC's use iTunes + the iTunes server capability of the NAS for playback. This way I can rip new cds from my machine and every machine on the network can play it.
Backup (you will notice I'm caring a lot about backup):
The different models in the Qnap series comes with one or more disks, so you could choose a model with 2 disks and set it up to use a Raid 0 for data redundancy. I chose the TS-109 with only one disk, and I then use Qnap's scheduled backup feature instead. This way I can make use of a spare 500gb usb disk, I had. Each night it will automatically run the backup.

In case of total disaster (let's hope it never gets to that, but accidents do happen) I want some kind of remote backup. You can pay for internet backup solutions, but I found it too expensive when you need large amounts of data backed up. Instead I use the remote backup feature of the NAS - the plan is to set up a similar NAS for a familiy member at another location, and by knocking a few holes in our firewalls we should be able to sync each others data over the net.

So, to draw a few conclusions: For about 430$ (2.500 Dkr) I was able to build a nice solution for home network, sharing and backup. I could have chosen a Windows Home Server based solution like the HP MediaSmart Server, which would be a fine solution too (and about 500$ more). Anyway, I like the small footprint of the Qnap.

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