As fantastic as XBMC is, we found a shortcoming recently when Natz picked up an MP3 player to use at work. XP's handling of FTP servers mapped as a drive is horrible, and since XBMC doesn't implement a SAMBA server there was no easy way for her to access al the the CDs I laboriously ripped to it.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
I initially tried to pick up an inexpensive off the shelf NAS enclosure, a Vantex Nexstar LS. It turned out that the enclosure doesn't implement any kind of TCPIP networking, but rather requires the installation of a driver on windows and mac based machines to access it. Funnily enough Vantec spin this as being more convenient than 'complicated network settings'. I suppose they've never heard of DHCP. Anyway, after that disappointment, and with 'proper' NAS enclosures being a bit more expensive than I could justify splashing out on I took @dreamfoundry's advice and checked out FreeNAS.
As it's name suggests, FreeNAS is a free NAS server, supporting an impressive array of sharing protocols, including Samba, FTP, UPnP and many more, numerous data security solutions are included as well. The server is implemented as a lightweight FreeBSD distribution with a web interface to the core components. The entire installation weighs in at a little over 32MB and requires a measly 96MB of system memory to run. The machine I resurrected to install it on is a humble old AMD 800MHz box with 384Mb ram.
The initial installation is basic, simply burn the image available on the download page to disc, and boot the target machine on it. Select the appropriate installation type from the menu presented (I installed to one of the hard drives but a USB is available for machines with USB boot support). After the short installation process and reboot, a menu is once again presented which includes the option to set the IP address (or enable DHCP). From here on in it's time to start up a browser on another machine on the network and continue the setup through the web interface (default username and password are admin and freenas respectively).
By default no drives or sharing services are set up. These must first be added (Disks->Management) and assigned mount points (Disks->Mount Points). Finally, services can be enabled from the Services menu. Each service has it's own required settings, but they're all pretty self explanatory.
The entire setup process shouldn't take more than half an hour from start to finish. For a more complete setup discussion this guide is a really great resource (though the look of the server has changed since it was written). The end result is a NAS solution that just works, and is extendable with a number of addons available from the FreeNAS.org forums.