This is all part of a series.
Digital media and distribution is the way of the future. Netflix is doing it, iTunes is doing it, and Steam is doing it. These are three very successful examples of cloud based streaming and digital distribution services. There are many more I could have used as an example, but in my opinion these are the most successful ones out there and the most popular. While iTunes and Steam charge on a per episode or per item basis, Netflix charges a flat monthly fee for unlimited viewing. I prefer the Netflix model, unfortunately with Netflix you don’t get the content right away, instead it usually arrives after the season has ended or the Blu-Ray has been released. However Netflix does have original programming such as Daredevil, Trailer Park Boys, Lilihammer, Arrested Development, Hemlock Grove, and House of Cards. Still this requires an internet connection, and if you want to watch in Super HD a somewhat fast one at that.
What if you own hundreds of DVDs, HDDVDs, and Blu-Rays as it is in my case. What if you could access this content instantly on your television and reproduce them in 1080P with high fidelity multi-channel sound, and even in 3D if you would like. Well if you have the time, money, and would like to learn something new this is all possible. That and you will also have the satisfaction of completing something cool. You could have an instant on, Movie, Television, and Music jukebox library that you can share through out your entire house.
The goal here is to put together a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device which is capable of serving up the information to your network and the devices on it. These devices could include a smartphone, HTPC, or a laptop. As far as NAS devices go you have two options, either buy a ready made NAS from manufacturers such as QNAP, Synology, ASUSTOR, Drobo, NETGEAR, or if you have an old computer kicking around you can purchase a registration key for unRAID and build your own solution. The benefit of going with your own build is that you can expand it as you please and you can add hardware and hard drives as you go along. You would be future proofing by going with a custom build, as you can tailor it to your needs. It can grow with you as you require. The ready made NAS devices come in pre-configured sizes and they take a limited number of Hard Drives. One thing to note about unRAID, there are three levels of licensing for unRAID, Basic which supports 4 drives, Plus which supports up to 8 drives, and Pro which supports up to 25 drives. Prices are $29, $69 and $119 respectively.
As a best practice, you always want to have a parity drive in your drive array. A parity drive is a Hard Drive in a RAID array to provide fault tolerance. This will ensure that is one of your drives fails all your data will be recoverable. If one of your drives does happen to fail you should immediately replace the parity drive and rebuild it. A good practice is to always have a spare drive on hand, or hot spare as some call it. Also when you are making the initial purchase and buying multiple drives of the same make for your array, another best practice is to buy drives from different stores. This way you can ensure that the drives came from different manufacturing lines and all of them will not fail at the same time. After all you’ll probably want to store your pictures, and home movies on this rig. Always have a hot spare ready to go, it’s an empty drive that sits in your array ready to be used if another one fails, this is important as it prevents any down time or a double drive failure.
unRAID is not a RAID array, hence the name. unRAID is an array of disks with a parity drive. The parity drive holds a bit sum of all the drives in the array, and if a single disks fails the parity can rebuild said failed disk. If two disks fail, then you are SOL. Having said this you will only lose the data on the failed disks, the rest will retain their data. This is why it is important to have a hot spare on hand at all times.
If you plan on going with a pre-built device might I recommend Synology or QNAP. In my opinion these are the most popular ones on the market and they both have good communities that are willing to help you out if you hit a wall with with any settings. Also they are one of the few NAS devices that have packages for SABnzbd, Sick Beard or Sonarr, and Couch Potato. I will not get into specifics of these applications but these are some of the more popular packages.
As of Unraid version 6 most of the packages that you would require can be installed as a docker container. Docker is a sort of Virtual Machine that runs applications in a self contained package on top of an OS layer independent of the OS that the container is running on. I find this to be a better solution than the Unraid plugins in previous versions, however you can still opt in for plugins in Unraid 6 there just isn’t a lot of them. They’re a dying breed. I would strongly advise against plugins. Why? Well, I find that the plugins have a tendency to break too often, especially if a prerequisite is changed or altered on the server, or another plugin updates it’s version of a prerequisite. With docker this is not an issue as all the prerequisites are in the container itself, and migrating to a new version of unRAID will not break your applications. Docker is also OS agnostic, meaning the same docker container can run on Linux, Windows, and Unix operating system. If you want an idea of what kind of docker packages are available for Unraid 6 just head over to the Lime-Technology forum and have a look at some of the packages that the awesome developers have designed specifically for unRAID.
Another nice feature in unRAID is that it supports virtual machines via either XEN or KVM. In the final version of unRAID there is a possibility that XEN might be dropped in favour of KVM. KVM is native to the Linux kernel and allows for easy hardware I/O passthrough. I’m currently using KVM with the assistance of a couple of plugins. I’m running an Ubuntu server with murmur installed on it, but this might be punted in light of a developer creating a docker container for it. If you wish to run KVM on unRAID you’ll need to install the VM manager and the Libvirt plugin of the server. The instructions are available here in the second post. Or you can just grab them from here:
As for the hardware requirements, almost any computer will do, you’ll need a flash drive, a motherboard with some sata ports and some hard drives. Realistically you could be running unRAID on your laptop if you want to, but that would defeat the purpose. I would recommend at least a 4 core processor with 8 GB or RAM, less if you do not plan of creating any Virtual Machines and 4 Hard Drive slots.
As for other hardware I recommend the Supermicro AOC-SAS2LP-MV8 8 Channel 6GB/S SAS/SATA PCI-E SAS card, and the Norco RPC-4224 24 Bay Hot Swap SATA/SAS 4U Rackmount Server Case. If you already have a tower case then you could opt in for a 5 bay drive enclosure such as the Norco SS-500 5-bay SATA/SAS hot swap rack module. This bay enclosure fits 5 standard size Hard Drives and occupies 3 x 5.25″ bays in a case. It’s a perfect fit for the smaller size setups. If you do go the route of the Norco SS-500 bay and get a SAS card you will also need a Forward SAS to SATA breakout cable.
Yes you will spend money on something like this, however it will still be cheaper and more effective than purchasing a QNAP or Synology device. Having said this there are pros and cons to both.
An unRAID home build can be cheaper than the competition, you can upgrade it as you wish and you can do it slowly. With unRAID you can scale it up or down as you need it and it can be powerful enough to run VIrtual Machines. Unlike FreeNAS or others, unRAID is easier to setup than the competition. unRAID however is not a true RAID NAS. unRAID has an array of disks that can be of varying sizes provided the parity drive is as large or larger than the largest disk in the array. If more than one disk fail in the array the data on said disks is lost, but only data on the disks that failed.
With systems like QNAP and Synology they are ready out of the box, provided you insert some disk in them. These NAS systems are not as easily scalable, however some of them do offer expansions. They can provide greater fault tolerance. These systems can cost more than a mid range computer depending on the amount of bays that you require. The cost can be as much as $1000 for a 5 bay solution. Applications are very easy to install and configure you don’t need to be a tech wizard. These systems are small, quiet, and don’t draw a lot of power. You can hide one of these under your bed if you desire.
Both are good options however I’m here to guide you through some of the hurdles involved in getting an unRAID system off the ground.