RAIDiator: Infrant Home NAS / RAID

When I lost a secondary MP3 drive to disk failure a while back, it was like being hit upside the head with a blunt object – a reminder that I had no good way to back up my main MP3 collection, and I could easily lose all my music at any moment (and not just the music, but five years worth of collection tweaking work). This month, finally filled the 160GB main music drive to capacity. Meanwhile, the drive that hosts backups for Birdhouse, plus Amy’s and my home backups, had been flirting with capacity for a while. Decided I couldn’t put it off any longer – time for a fully redundant, high capacity network-attached RAID.

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Had been pretty sure I’d go for the Buffalo TeraStation Pro, as it’s easily the most affordable product in the category. But the morning of the day I was going to place my order, literally, caught a passing reference on TWiT about the Infrant ReadyNAS NV – an absolute rave from Leo LaPorte. Googling “Buffalo vs. Infrant” turned up this thread, which scared my pants off. Already knew the Buffalo products weren’t super Mac friendly, but I hadn’t realized their support was so bad. Public forums abandoned by support reps for more than a year, users struggling to get a shred of support from Buffalo. In contrast, Infrant seemed to provide fanatical support, frequent firmware updates, were on a rapid cycle of feature releases…

The Infrant products cost about 20% more, but it became quickly apparent it would be money well spent. Especially when I started reading up on their X-RAID technology – a RAID variant that allows for non-destructive expandability. X-RAID is basically RAID 5, but when a RAID fills up, just replace its disks one-by-one, re-building between each replacement. When the fourth one is done, the extra space magically appears, no data lost. Very cool.

Decided on the ReadyNAS NV, configured with 4x250GB Seagate SATA drives. The unit arrived yesterday, and I’ve been busy tweaking the system’s bazillion options, re-jiggering my iTunes library and backup systems, and migrating data. Only glitch was that the NV shipped in RAID5 mode while I ordered it in X-RAID mode, so had to rebuild it. The process took about an hour, but was no big deal.

Not finished tweaking, but so far I’m blown away by the system. The quality of the bundled software and services, the construction of the unit, the performance, the quality of communications with the Infrant staff… everything about this experience has been stellar.

In X-RAID config, I’ve got about 680GBs to work with (parity plus overhead chews space, but that’s the price you pay for data integrity). Created a pair of shares (one for backup and one for general use), broadcast them via AFP, set up automounts for Amy and I, and everything’s humming.

Surfing through FrontView (the NV’s web-based administrative interface), the feature set is almost intimidating. It quickly dawns on you that this is not just a set of drives strapped together with a little firmware – this is a full-fledged Linux client and server, pimped out into a serious custom storage ride. Highlights:

Ability to create any number of shares and broadcast them over CIFS/Samba, NFS, or AFP, several share security models with fine-grained user/group access options (or guest access), built-in https web server (not just for admin access, but for remote file access). Built-in DAV server. Built-in SlimServer, built-in iTunes streaming support (so you can stream directly from the NAS rather than having to keep a computer running at all times), discovery over Bonjour or AppleTalk, support for home media servers such as Twonky, built-in FTP server, built-in rsync capability, built-in printer sharing. Built-in backup capabilities (able to create and schedule backups either from or to the device against remote FTP, NFS, websites, and rsync servers; button on front panel of NV initiates backup immediately (though I plan to keep using my existing rsync scripts for now)). Automatic email alerts for dozens of event types (temperature and quota overruns, UPS, disk failures, etc.), scheduled power on/off and disk spin-down, optional file system journaling, built-in USB ports (with ability to automatically detect photos on inserted cards and copy them to a photo library)… the list goes on.

All of that is packed into a clean-looking silver/gray box that seems almost impossibly small – barely larger than four hard drives sandwiched together.

Updating the RAIDiator operating system enabled a ton of new features that weren’t present in RAIDiator 2.0, which the unit shipped with (the 3.0 beta I have installed now presumably isn’t included because it’s beta, but I’ve had zero problems with it so far, other than a glitch in the FrontView menuing system). The firmware update process was painless.

Two issues I need to grapple with. The first is the noise level. The NV is not exactly loud, but it is loud enough to notice, and to diminish the enjoyment of music. Ultimately I’d like to re-locate it to a closet, but that will mean drilling a hole or two in the floor for ethernet, and would love to avoid that. Some users are into fan modifications, but would rather not go there. The other is transfer speeds. The NV itself is perfectly fast, is gigabit capable, and its AFP implementation seems quick. But both my iMac G5 and Amy’s Mini have 10/100 chipsets, so we’re pretty much stuck with the situation until future machine upgrades, which are likely a couple years out. No problems playing or ripping to iTunes with its library on the NAS, but you definitely feel it with large file copies. Probably just something we’ll have to get used to.

Short version is that I’m wondering how we survived so long without a NAS. Went into this thinking simple thoughts: “Unf. Need. Big. Redundant. Storage.” Now my head is swimming with the possibilities. Had no idea how powerful a tool this could be. Considering that I never have to worry again about disk failure, life is good.

Remembering now that in 1994, I paid twice this much for a 2GB(!) SCSI drive, thinking I’d put an end to my storage needs forever.

Music: Johnny Cash :: Dirty Old Egg-Suckin’ Dog

20 thoughts on “RAIDiator: Infrant Home NAS / RAID

  1. Mike

    I’ve been thinking about setting up a similar box for similar reasons. If I may ask, did you at any point consider homebuilding a NAS box (either ground-up or using freeNAS, openfiler, etc.), and if so what made you ultimately decide to use an off the shelf solution?

    -Mike.

  2. shacker Post author

    Hey Mike – No, I didn’t really consider going home-built. I have the inclination but not the time, and no interest in having some bulky frankenstein around the office. Wanted to take advantage of the small, relatively quiet form factor, having everything in firmware, not having to deal with setting up all kinds of services, etc. 10 years ago I would have built something like this myself, but these days I’m more on the “Just give me something that works” side of the equation.

  3. Les

    I use a old box running FC3 as an RSYNC box for backing up my MP3s from my main FC3 box that is my media storage/samba box.

    I went with homebrew mainly because I had the hardware and depending on the the emergency I should be able to get into my computer room or garage (opposite sides of the building) to retrieve the goods.

    Don’t get me wrong my computer room is loudest in the house and at some point I’ll probably go rack form factor (kid #2 will force my hand) but it works for now and the wife can use a laptop when the summer heat turns the computer room into a sauna.

  4. Les

    Duh, I should say both my media share server and backup box have 2 250GB drives setup in a RAID0 config. Sure it’s not RAID5 so it doesn’t have the parity but it was a few less drive to buy in the long run.

    Once a year I run RSYNC with the delete flag to get rid of any files on the backup that I removed from the source for any reason (renamed files/tagging issues etc) but other wise I can restore any file previous to me running in that mode.

    Webmin as always was a great help in helping me get my RAID config setup.

  5. Jim

    According to Apple’s specs, iMac G5 has gigabit ethernet. Intel Mac Minis do too, though the original (g4) mac mini does not. Dual G5 cheesegraters do too.

    Just so you know.

    -Jim

  6. Milan

    I have two 250G SATA Maxtor Maxline II’s if you want em (cheep). Had 5 yr warranty when I got em, then my RAID 5 crashed badly on linux because I wasn’t running mdamin and I then my second drive failed. Doh. Have since given up trying to maintain filesystems at home … until I the bug bites me again.

    Loving Odeo at the moment. http://odeo.com/play#starred/CrystalTaylor/627538

    My dvds and cds are shot to hell as well. I have a rockin collection of tapes in my closet, just my tape player is full of crayons!

  7. shacker Post author

    Jim – Both my iMac G5 and Amy’s Mini G4 are from the pre-gigabit days, dangit.

    Milan – Ouch! No need for the 250s (four brand news ones in this rig), but thanks. I’ll trade you a crayon in a tape deck for a cashew in a parallel port.

  8. Mal

    I went with the Buffalo Terastation last fall and have been happy with it, though the interface is limited and the features you have seem a bit nicer.

    So far no problems, aside from a weird freak thing a few weeks ago that initially had me panicked. We had a thunderstorm and the TS dropped off my network after a power surge that barely dropped power for a second. The rest of the PCs, TV and such didn’t even reboot, but I saw and heard the instant crack of lightning nearby.

    It took me a little while to realize that it was offline and I went to the basement to check it out and found it still on. I forget if I had added it to a UPS before this or not. After a few reboots and hub/switch resets I realized the hub was showing no connection and swapped cables. At first I thouhgt maybe the ethernet was fried or the NAS was fried, but it seemed that somehow just a cable went. Strange, as it seemd tied to the lightning, and I was happy it didn’t do more serious damage. I still think the whole thing was odd as I’d have expected the ethernet port or the hub to be blown before a cable would crap out. But the cable swap fixed it.

  9. shacker Post author

    Mal, yow! That must have had you freaked out for a while. Never heard of a cable acting like a fuse before, but sounds like you got lucky. Glad to hear the TeraStation has worked out well for you. I know they do work and work well for many – I just got a very bad taste in my mouth after reading a few threads about non-existent support.

  10. Alderete

    Thank you for a great, detailed post (your usual standard). I have been looking at and thinking about an Infrant myself, for pretty much the same reasons you give for getting it. I do have two more questions about the device:

    1. Can it be hooked up to a UPS in such a way to safely shut down in the event of a power failure and battery drain?

    With journaling turned on disk corruption seems unlikely, but still, we do have funky power in SF, and my mother’s power in SJ has been horribly affected by the recent heat wave (and all her neighbors running their AC 24/7). I want a UPS attached to anything I plan to put that much data on.

    2. Is there a way to do full backups “in situ”?

    While a RAID5 configuration is terrific for managing the risk of disk hardware failure, it’s not much protection from theft or fire. Only off-site backups can do that. But with so much data on the unit, there’s no easy and cost-effective way to do that, except for backing up to more hard disks.

    What I would like to be able to do is have a way to stick in a drive in the unit itself, have the backup occur automatically (like getting copied across the RAID), then when the copy is finished, pull the drive, and store off-site, with a complete copy on the drive. Or is there a way to pull/replace some of the RAID5 disks, and have the pulled drives function as a backup? Maybe you’d need to do a mirrored RAID, instead of RAID5, do get that to work…

    A reasonable substitute might be to plug in an external USB drive, and do the same thing, though I wonder about data integrity in the case of something not integrated with the NAS; would the copy be in-sync with the data on the NAS?

    At any rate, I’d be really interested to know more about the backup capabilities, and what you end up doing with it.

  11. Alderete

    OK, I just went to the Infrant site, and I answered my backup question. (The device has USB ports, and the built-in software makes it a one-button operation to back up the NAS to an external USB drive. Sounds slick.)

    But I have to wonder a bit. The copy also says “Low power consumption and silent operation,” but Scot, you complained about the noise. So I guess “silent” isn’t quite true. I’d be interested in further reports on your experiences as you continue to work with it.

    BTW, the comments on Mark Pilgrim’s post about how to back up 100 GB of data is where I learned of the Infrant, and the post and follow-ups are quite interesting to anyone who’s wrestling with the consequences of having huge quantities of data (most likely audio and video), and how to protect it from disasters…

  12. Mike

    10 years ago I would have built something like this myself, but these days I’m more on the “Just give me something that works” side of the equation.

    I know what you mean, I’m well above that age myself. ;) Unfortunately I have a large pile of machines begging to be useful again, all rescued when I didn’t know there even was such an age…

    Best, -Mike.

  13. shacker Post author

    Hey Michael – Glad you found it useful.

    There are a number of UPS options in FrontView, and a lot of references in the docs. You can get UPS status in the status bar, and can get email alerts of changes to the UPS by email. Most interesting is that you get better write performance with a UPS. By default, full journaling is enabled, but you can turn off full journaling if you have a UPS attached, since you have a greater guarantee that power won’t be pulled out from under it.

    As for in situ backups, in RAID5 mode, replacing a disk is going to cause it to be rebuilt into the RAID. You can however configure a drive to be a “hot spare,” which may connect to what you want to do.

    The NV has USB ports, and these can be configured to work as part of the (very flexible) backup system, so you could copy certain shares to attached USB volumes for off-site use.

    You can also allocate volume space for “snapshots” in the event that a backup takes longer than the backup interval, though I don’t fully understand this concept.

    The one hitch I’ve found with the built-in rsync backup system is that it’s notion of “incremental backups” only means “just back up changed files,” but doesn’t mean “store 30 days of rotating changes” – a feature I have with my own rsync script and which has allowed me to restore an 11-day old version of a file for hosting customers on multiple occassions. So I’m back to using my old rsync script rather than the built-in system, but now can’t power off my main machine if I want to if I want to providing true incremental backups to customers.

    “Silent” is ridiculous, and I’m honestly surprised they would say that. Power consumption is about half to two thirds that of an iMac G5.

    The Pilgrim thread was great, thanks for that.

  14. SJML

    I’ve been looking into getting a NAS myself, and haven’t been able to find details on this one question anywhere…

    Is it possible to set the multiple drives up as separate RAIDs? For instance, I would want two drives set up in a RAID 1 for backups, and another two in a RAID 0 for media serving. Could I do that with the Infrant? Their website only indicates that I can set up two RAID systems to mirror each other.

    Thanks for the great information.

  15. JohnG

    Having bought a Linksys NSS6000 for work and had too many problems with it including, recently, total failure, then seeing how many others are suffering with the whole NSS range when I looked at the Linksys Forum, I went searching for peoples experiences with other makes of NAS. The Infrant gets high praise in lots of places and finding your blog was extremely useful to me. Will be going for one of them – a year down the line from your blog they now offer 4*750gb seagate drives as an option too.
    Thanks for keeping your blog.
    John

  16. shacker Post author

    And a year down the road, my Infrant is still running strong! Though I wish a storage option of that size had been available when I bought it…

  17. Marty Mankins

    Just came across your blog post today, after having lost my WD My Book 500gb drive last night (attached to my Apple Extreme Base Station via USB). It was my backup of my backup (another WD 500gb My Book), which I had lost just the week before (both less than 6 months old)

    I have another backup that has all of my critical data on it, but the drive I lost last night held all of my TV shows, the master iTunes library (the one that has the collective group of all songs from each of the Macs) plus some other data (backups of all of my .dmg install programs, recently updated with all the latest versions). Only recovered 3.2gb of data out of 150gb lost… sad… very sad.

    I can recover about 50gb worth from the various Macs, but as you said above, it’s the time it took to get it all organized, like my music collection and how it was configured with album art, naming, titles, etc.

    I am currently looking into the ReadyNAS NV+, which is now owned by NetGear (not one of my favorite companies in the world, but willing to look at this product based on your use and success)

    I’ve managed terabytes of data over the years as an IT guy for business, and now it’s time to bring some of that technology home to safeguard against less-reliable backup means.

    I’ve lost my share of data in the past, but this is the first time I’ve lost the backup of my data and I really don’t want to run into this again.

  18. shacker Post author

    Wow – tough times Marty. Sorry to hear about it. While I’m *not* backing up the NAS, I do have the security of knowing I’m protected against drive failure with it, and that feels really good. I can say that it’s been 100% reliable since I got it more than a year ago.

    Best of luck,
    Scot

  19. shacker Post author

    @Hater: Wow. Great support is the reason I bought a ReadyNAS rather than a Buffalo. And the few times I’ve had to rely on their support, it’s been stellar.

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