Complete Guide to Setup a Network Attached Storage

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Oct 21st, 2011
Complete Guide to Setup a Network Attached Storage

Further to the article about the best practices to organize your media collection, we will go deeper into the world of media storage servers.

Have you ever wondered of creating a file server to link multiple TV’s and to store all the media into a centralized server (as opposed to a dedicated hard drive). In this complete guide, I will cover the steps needed to setup your own Network Attached Storage (NAS server) to store all your media files in a cloud.

What is NAS?

NAS is your personal media cloud

NAS (Network Attached Storage) is an abbreviation of the term network attached storage, which is a storage that can be accessed over a home network as opposed to a single computer access. In other words, a NAS server allows you to share media files between several computers and portable entertainment devices.

Additional benefit is that NAS servers often include multiple hard drives which allows you to backup and mirror data between multiple hard drives.

So, let’s get started with the following 7 steps to setup your own media cloud.

1. Get a network attached storage and hard drives

There are several sharing NAS devices available in the market with different speeds and set of features. Synology DiskStation 2-Bay Network Attached Storage has been my favorite for couple of years and I currently own the DS209+ model (the latest model is DS212J).

If 2-Bay model is too little for your needs, you should check out the Drobo FS 5-Bay Storage Array which allows you to store up 10 TB of data.

2. Install the hard drives

Remember that most of the time the NAS servers do not include hard drives, so you need to buy them separately.

I recently replaced my old Seagate 1 TB hard drives with Western Digital 2 TB Caviar Green SATA II hard drives as one of the Seagate HDDs failed. This incident reinforced the importance to have at least two hard drives mirroring the data all the time.

Installing HDDs was very easy. I needed to unscrew couple of screws, connect the power cable and SATA II cable and put the screws back in place. In few minutes, I was ready the start the server again. Please note that my current model supports only SATA II HDDs, while the newer NAS servers support SATA III connection.

After installing the new hard drives, I noticed that the WD Caviar Greens are significantly quieter compared to my old Seagate HDDs.

3. Setup the RAID and format the volume

RAID is an abbreviation of the term Redundant Array of Independent Disks. RAID storage technology allows you to combine multiple hard drives together by distributing the data across multiple disks. There are several RAID levels depending on how many hard drives you have in use.

Here are the three common RAID levels:

RAID 0 allows you to have the maximum amount of storage, but you will not have backup for the data if one of your HDDs fails. For example, if you have two 2 TB drives, the total array size is 4TB and you will have 3.72 TB of usable storage.

RAID 1 allows you to mirror data between two hard drives, so if one HDD fails, you still have the data secured on the other drive. However, if you have two 2 TB drives, your total array size is only 2 TB and you will have will have 1.86 TB of usable storage.

RAID 5 stripes both data and parity information on three or more HDDs. It is very popular RAID level as it has relatively good performance level and it will work fine even if one hard drive fails in the array. If you have five 2 TB drives, your total array size is 8 TB and you will have 7.45 TB of usable storage.

In my 2-Bay server, I use the RAID 1 level as it provides much greater security compared to the RAID 0 even if I lose 2 TB of storage.

4. Create the media structure to the NAS drive

After you have formatted the volume, it is time to create folder structure and set user access rights to the folders. I chose to create separate folders for each media type such as Music, Photo and Video.

The additional folders include Backup and Documents folders for my desktop computer and Web folder for my Web server (local website development e.g. for this site).

You can read the complete guide here on how to manage your media files structure.

5. Copy media content to the NAS drive

Copying files can take even days

Now it is time to copy media files back to the network drive. Depending on your network speed and number of files, you should allow enough time for this step. It can easily take several hours, even days to complete this step. In my case, I had a temporary 1 TB copy on an external USB hard drive, where I stored all the files from the old 1 TB Seagate HDD.

6. Configure the NAS drive with the media center software

Once you have copied all the files to the NAS drive, it is time to configure it with the media center software. You can do the following steps in most popular media centers such as Windows Media Center, XBMC, Boxee, Plex and Media Portal.

I will use XBMC media center as an example on how to create a video folder share with the network drive.

  • Select Video from the XBMC home menu
  • In the files view, select “Add Source”
  • Select Browse
  • Scroll to the bottom of the list and select “Add Network Location…”
  • Choose the “Protocol” as Windows Network (SMB)
  • Type the “Server Name” on your home network e.g. 192.168.1.43
  • Type the “Shared folder” on your NAS e.g. Video
  • Type the “Username” and “Password” for the folder on your NAS
  • Click OK two times

7. Synchronize you media software with NAS

Final step is to make sure that your media management software will update files automatically to the network drive.

I use Picasa to manage photos, so I changed the default folder as the one in the network storage. In iTunes, I deleted the old music library and imported a new library from the network storage. Remember to change the default saving folder to NAS as well.

What’s next?

CloudCongratulations, now you are ready to enjoy your Network Attached Storage over the home network. Next, try to access media files with your iPad, iPhone or Android mobile phone to enjoy the benefits of having a personal media cloud.

If you feel that the network speed is too slow e.g. to play HD videos over the network, continue reading this guide on how to stream Blu-ray movies over the home network.

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