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Simple (cheap?) Linux NAS

I use this project to manage my home NAS, which is utilized for a handful of Time Machine and other backups as well as another filesystem for non-backup use.

The NAS hardware can be any reliable box which supports Ubuntu 16.04 Server and ZFS and has at least one available disk. The box will be dedicated to NAS and reinstalled from scratch as part of setup. A 64-bit CPU and at least 4GB of RAM is required, as those are the recommendations for ZFS.

The code in this project remotely manages the set of users and exported filesystems on the NAS, creating users and ZFS filesystems and modifying network access to filesystems based on updates to text files on the control machine (e.g., your workstation). It also supports a Vagrant box NAS for testing your end-user configuration and also for testing modifications to the project.

My current NAS hardware is an older Thinkpad with 4GB of memory, a Core 2 Duo CPU, and a 4TB external drive unit attached via USB 2.0. This is substandard compared with commercial alternatives, but the limiting performance factor for most client machines in my environment is the wireless network, as only a few machines (including the NAS) have Ethernet connections. When seeding two initial Time Machine backups simultaneously, one over Ethernet and one over wireless, disk I/O on the NAS approached the limitation of USB 2.0, reaching 15MB/second occasionally. At the same time, the two Netatalk processes handling the two clients reached 20% CPU each. As this is a rare activity, I expect that a NAS hardware upgrade would be appropriate for performance only if I had client machines on Ethernet using filesystems on the NAS for frequent operation. (Aside from performance, this particular NAS setup has limitations on drive configurations which would provide local redundancy with decent performance. I'll worry about that after I have off-site backup resolved.)


Currently you can configure filesystems to be exported as Time Machine volumes or NFS shares or CIFS shares.

Creation of the ZFS pool, and thus the choice of RAID and other important characteristics, is not automated or even well-documented here. (That may be a feature.)

Only basic configuration is supported for users and filesystems.


Here are my priorities for upcoming changes:

  1. Off-site backup of the NAS
  2. Verify that security fixes are automatically installed; somehow handle the reboot requirement
  3. Time Machine backups: Axe AFP in favor of SMB, enable Bonjour
  4. Scheduled ZFS snapshots, with schedule tied to a specific filesystem

Setting up a real machine for your NAS

Choose a machine and install Ubuntu 16.04 Server on it. Leave at least one physical disk untouched. (You won't mix the OS and the shared storage on the same disk.)

Connect it to the network with a permanently-assigned IP address. One way:

  1. Connect your NAS to your Ethernet network using DHCP.
  2. Use ifconfig on your NAS to display the mac address.
  3. Find the current DHCP-assigned IP address for that mac address in the DHCP server management console (e.g., your router's configuration screens) and configure the DHCP server to permanently assign that IP to that device.

Give password-less sudo access to the initial user created during the Ubuntu install.

Install this software manually to enable ZFS and allow Ansible to configure the machine remotely:

apt-get install python-minimal zfsutils-linux

Create a ZFS pool called netstore utilizing the dedicated disk(s) for shared storage. This is not automated because it should be tailored for your exact disk configuration.

A sample ZFS pool setup is in the script. It uses a single device, /dev/sdb for shared storage; compression is enabled. With multiple devices you can enable different types of RAID.

This Oracle ZFS documentation will give you some ideas on the possibilities:

Creating and Destroying ZFS Storage Pools

(Check the 'net for any special Linux considerations for your desired ZFS pool definition.)

Defining resources on your NAS

After initial setup, the NAS is managed via Ansible, with configuration stored in files hosts and configuration.yml, stored in a server-specific directory under servers. The samples assume that you will have a server referred to as production.

hosts stores the IP address or hostname for the NAS as well as the name of the user id on the NAS with sudo access which will be used for Ansible operations. See servers/production/hosts.sample for an example.

configuration.yml maintains the set of users which should be defined on the NAS and the list of filesystems. Currently you can configure filesystems to be exported as Time Machine volumes or NFS shares. See servers/production/configuration.yml.sample for an example.

You'll need to use smbpasswd on the NAS box to set the password for users who who own CIFS shares.

Deploying your configuration to the NAS

Run ./ servername to configure or reconfigure your NAS. servername is the name of a directory under servers which has the required configuration files.

Deployment uses Ansible 2.0. I recommend creating a virtualenv using the supplied requirements.txt file. (Per Ansible requirements, this virtualenv must use Python 2.7.) Activate the virtualenv before running

Testing your configuration with Vagrant

Vagrant and Virtualbox must be installed. Check the lines in Vagrantfile to see if those settings will collide with any existing Vagrant boxes you are using; fix as necessary.

Create configuration files in the directory servers/vagrant. You may want to use symlinks to share configuration files between production and Vagrant configurations.

Run vagrant up then ./ vagrant to create and configure the virtual NAS box and ./ vagrant to configure it; use vagrant halt to stop and vagrant destroy to delete the VM.


Simple management of a NAS based on Ubuntu Linux Server with ZFS







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