Building my NAS Media Server
One of my first projects was creating a synchronized media library between multiple computers in multiple homes. The system worked well, but was reliant on many PCs that were on virtually all the time. Often, this would be an old laptop with tons of external hard drives attached, creating an unsightly mess. I was searching for an inexpensive purpose-built solution to this problem, which would effectively be a network attached storage (NAS) device with a small computer to run synchronization and act as a media server. However, virtually all NAS devices combined drives into a RAID array, requiring drives of the same size and speed. This means that an upgrade would require buying all new drives, and when I ran out of storage capacity, throwing away those drives for a matching set of new ones. For someone building on a budget who hates waste, this was simply not an option.
Fortunately, Drobo released a line of NAS devices using their own proprietary RAID software capable of combining drives of different sizes and speeds. This sounds like a subtle distinction, but its implications are huge: upgrading the storage capacity now means swapping out a single drive, not buying a complete new set. Further, the Drobo has a microprocessor on it capable of running BitTorrent Sync and Plex simultaneously, essentially eliminating the need for a dedicated PC server.
Now I just needed to fill it with some drives. I had some old laptop drives lying around, but they didn't have enough capacity to hold my media library. However, I had some high-capacity external hard drives left over from the old servers. Using my handy iFixit toolkit, I was able to disassemble the external hard drives. Fortunately, these external drives were actually just desktop hard drives with a USB controller attached. In total, the NAS now holds:
2 x 8TB Seagate Barracudas (from the external drives)
1 x 4TB Segate SSHDD Solid State Hybrid Drive
1 x 1.5TB laptop drive (in a small adapter cage)
Now my existing disparate drives populate my NAS, and I can add or swap drives one at a time as my media library grows with time. What used to be a mess of USB cables, adapters, and power supplies is now consolidated in one single elegant NAS solution with near 100% up-time and much lower power draw. The Drobo has really changed the way I manage my backups and media.