My first NAS was the NetGear ReadyNAS duo – some of you may recall this – possibly with mixed feelings – it wasn’t the fastest tool in the box and mine was one of the earlier ones which had the peculiarly stupid “feature” of not turning on until you pressed a button - how dumb is that?
Well, it didn’t take me long to stick a micro on that so that it would always be on, but ultimately it was slow and disappointing. I then moved onto a Synology DiskStation and I can’t speak highly enough of that. It has been sitting there for years in a cupboard, through thick and thin without even a battery backup, with a pair of 1TB disks in it running Raid – and the whole thing “just works” – holding all my video media, backups etc and I can access the info from wherever I happen to be – not to mention running MQTT and OwnCloud on it (the latter isn’t very fast but that’s another conversation). Would I trust it with my life? Probably.
So I’ve had a fair experience of these systems. Well, this blog entry isn’t about expensive NAS systems. It’s about a cheap one… really cheap that is – and DIY.
How cheap? Well, about £12 depending on what you have handy. For this price you need a handy 2.5” hard drive, a FriendlyArm NEO or NEO2 and of course the 1-Bay NAS Kit for NanoPi. Beware that the front panels for NEO and NEO2 are SLIGHTLY different – i.e. the Ethernet connection position varies slightly so these are not cross-compatible without a spot of filing which is why I’m showing you the stock photo!
Anyway… so I plugged my trusty 100GB 2.5” hard drive into the board (well, it was free and was sitting doing nothing), plugged the NEO2 into the board, downloaded the ROM and.. well, that was it really – turned on the power (you need a 12v power supply) and waited. Sure enough the unit appears on my network. I’m cutting a long story short because in the link above, their link to the software is an image – I have suggested that making it a clickable link might be more sensible. Meanwhile they’ve sent this link for all the NEO (not NEO2) Roms.
The comments about the NAS side of things are based on the above ROM but as a result of feedback, they've just sent me a newer link - you might want to use this later link I received on 25/05/2017 and if you do THAT you might want to skip to this blog entry - part 2.
Once you find the address of the unit on your network, you simply plug that into your browser and you’re asked for country name, username (admin) and the default password which is “openmediavault” – you can of course change all of that. No honestly it really is that simple to get started – sadly as you’ll see, not so easy to get finished.
I have to say it looks very pretty and comes ready with users pi and fa. Oh, on the underside of the board is a battery holder – I popped in a battery and so the unit keeps time thought it is also able to get the time from timer servers so I’m not sure what advantage you get from putting a battery in.
Clearly we are not looking at a redundant-supply RAID NAS here but a simple box to store stuff in by a variety of mechanisms which you can see under “services” in the image above.
If you check the link above, you have speed comparisons, the NEO is not so fast, the NEO2 is faster but still not as fast as a Raspberry Pi 3 would be - but not far off and then – it IS cheaper and smaller. So the NEO2 looks like a good idea (see same link above for more info).
So all very simple to put together – indeed it only takes minutes – but how easy is the software to use? I clicked on the Diagnostics dashboard and that showed a list of services running – with what looked like slide switches.
I’m not sure how clever that was as you can’t do anything with them and repeated pressing does nothing but looks like it should. So, off I went to the services section to enable SMB/CIFS- mainly as it had a little “Windows” symbol and I figured this might be the quickest way to make the disk available to my PC. I named that and hit save, only to be told I could not share user home directories as “they are not enabled”. I went off to “users” and enabled home directories.
I tried to enable home directories but that required a “device” and no device showed.
It turned out that the hard disk had not been “mounted” by default – I found THAT physical disks (all very logical really) and told it to mount… and so enough my 100GB disk magically appeared. Back to users.. and shared folders. NOW I could make a shared folder. It turns out that all the stuff I’d originally had on that disk was still there!
I went back to Physical disks and one of the options was “wipe”. I was given the choice of secure or quick – I chose quick.
I figured this must be because I’d mounted the disk.I quickly unmounted the disk under file systems. Back to the physical disk – wipe – quick wipe – this time it worked – so all pretty logical if you have a logical mind – shame about the pathetic error message above.
When wiping the disk – this message came up.
Now of course all of this tech nonsense is nothing to do with FriendlyArm, it is a property of OpenMediaVault – and I do appreciate that this is free software – but come on guys – messages like that – if I wanted to use FDISK I would not be sitting here with a high level storage solution (as it says in the heading).
I assumed that was not really necessary and went back to mounting the disk. This time the option was wiped out but under storage I noted I could CREATE a disk – ok, I’ll bite. I selected SDA – i.e. the big drive and accepted the default EXT4 and gave it a name –“fred”. I was warned this could take some time and proceeded. Another dialog box popped up to say it was creating partitions and formatting the disk. So far, so good. GREAT.
Then followed a protracted period of gobbledegook.
At the end of this…
I tried mounting the disk and that worked but it said that out of my 100GB, 60GB was used. I went back and tried again.
THIS TIME the process completed perfectly but when I mounted the disk (which the process had noted was a 111GB disk) it still said that 60GB was used.
I decided to share the root folder in the hope I could see where that 60GB was going.
Now I could add a SBM/CIFS share. In users, I told the system to allow user pi to use the same password as admin.
In windows I noted NAS appear in my network – HURRAY – and it asked for a username and password. I put those in and was presented with NAS – an empty space.
I was kind of expecting to see a shared folder FRED. I checked back at the NAS and sure enough FRED did exist. BACK to the SMB settings I noted a SHARES tab. Nothing in it so I hit + and sure enough I could add FRED. I saved that and went back to my PC.
Sure enough – FRED appeared. Success?
I right clicked FRED and selected “MAP DRIVE” on my PC. Sure enough, now “FRED” appeared as a drive on my PC.
Right click properties revealed it as a 117 GB drive with 79GB used. Inside that I found home directories for FA and PI and a lost and found – but no sign of that missing disk space. I tried to make a new folder in the root – it would not let me – fair enough. I went to the PI directory. I tried to make a new folder – it would not let me – NOT fair enough.
Back to the OpenMediaVault interface – I could not see anything that was STOPPING me making use of this drive as user PI but I went to shared folders and noted that user pa had permission to do absolutely SQUAT. I added read and write permissions. Back to my drive on the PC. No difference – user Pi could not do anything.
It then occurred to me that I might have done the map drive bit with my default credentials – I changed that to user PI.
Nope – STILL no ability to create a new folder. The system said this user had read/write ability – the computer said NO. User PI can read/write, group PI can read/write, shared folder can read/write – but computer says no.
I even tried going back to the file system tab in OpenMediaVault and applying a quota to user PI. That produced this subtle message.
So in summary… if you’ve never used as NAS storage system before, this could provide you with hours and hours of fun where you can pretend to be a sysop. If you have done this before – well, I’d start saving for a DiskStation which a trained monkey could use – life is too short.
As I was finishing the blog, and as if to show me, ultimately, who was boss – this message appeared. I guess I’ve been told.
At this point you might think the NAS software is not very good - but please bear in mind two things - this was a first release - and I've updated this entry to point you to a NEW release - also people have written in to say that actually it can be quite good - so maybe I just got in a little bit too early.
But trust me - not all was lost - not by ANY MEANS - head on offer to part two of this entry where I get a LOT out of the box and the NEO2.