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File Sharing Made Easy With Media Servers and NAS

By Eric Geier (Send Email)
Posted December 16, 2011


These five open source NAS (network-attached storage) and media server solutions make it easy to centralize file sharing and storage on your network.

1. FreeNAS

FreeNAS is one of the most popular open source NAS solutions, released under the BSD license. It's FreeBSD-based and features a command-line and web interface. It's installable onto a Compact Flash, USB flash or hard drive. It can also be booted directly from a LiveCD.

FreeNAS supports the following protocols: SMB/CIFS (Windows), AFP (Apple/Mac), NFS (Unix/Linux), FTP, TFTP, RSYNC, iSCSI UPnP and Unison (in older versions). It also features support for RAID, ZFS and disk encryption (in older versions).

FreeNAS now fully supports the open source ZFS filesystem, which gives you data integrity protection, practically unlimited size caps, cloneable snapshots, automatic repair, RAID-Z and more. Additionally, 10Gig Ethernet drivers are now included in FreeNAS, giving you extremely fast transfers if using a 10GigE or better connection.

The backup features include periodic snapshots of files. You can restore them if a user's file becomes lost or corrupted. It even supports remote replication so snapshots can be stored at another location for redundancy in case of a disaster at the primary site.

Its networking features support VLAN tagging, link aggregation and Wake On Lan (WoL). The monitoring features include S.M.A.R.T. (smartmontools), email alerts, SNMP, Syslog and UPS (NUT) support.

In version 7 and earlier, you'll find extra services that were dropped in later versions, including: a bittorent client (Transmission), UPnP server (FUPPES), iTunes/DAAP server (Firefly) and webserver (lighttpd).

2. Openfiler

Openfiler is a Linux-based solution that can serve as a NAS or SAN server, available via free (under the GPLv2 license) and commercial options. It's installable onto PCs or servers, plus it can run as a virtual machine instance. Openfiler is a heavier solution than other NAS servers, requiring more on the minimum specs: 1GHz CPU, 2GB RAM and 10GB disk space.

Openfiler supports the following network protocols: SMB/CIFS (Windows), NFS (Unix/Linux), HTTP/WebDAV and FTP

Openfiler includes support for volume-based partitioning, iSCSI (target and initiator), scheduled snapshots, resource quota and a single unified interface for share management. It also offers extensive sharing management features, such as multi-group based access control on a per-share basis, SMB/CIFS shadow copy and public/guest shares.

Network directories supported by Openfiler for user account management include NIS, LDAP, Active Directory, Hesiod and NT4 domain controller. The Kerberos 5 authentication protocol is also supported.

3. CryptoNAS

CryptoNAS is a small NAS project and isn't currently maintained as of May 2011. It's a Linux-based server that was specifically designed to support drive encryption, to quickly and easily build a secure NAS server. It's offered as a LiveCD, installable onto an existing Debian/Ubuntu machines with downloadable binaries, or compilable on other non-Debian-based Linux distributions.

You can create and mount the encrypted volumes via the web-based GUI by supplying an encryption password. Then the volume is accessible on computers in the network via a Samba (Windows) share, which works just like accessing a simple shared folder. You can also access the CryptoNAS shares via Linux, Mac OS X and other OSs that support Samba shares. Once you unmount the encrypted volume on the NAS server or restart the NAS server, they are locked until the encryption password is provided again.

Since CryptoNAS creates the encrypted disk partitions using the LUKS volume, they are also accessible directly in Linux or in Windows via FreeOTFE.

For help on using CryptoNAS, refer to a previous tutorial of mine on PracticallyNetworked.

4. VortexBox

VortexBox is a Fedora-based free and open source media server, released under the GPL v3, you can use in the home or office. It can turn your unused computer into an easy-to-use music server/jukebox. Use it to serve media to players, such as Logitech Squeezebox, Sonos or Linn. Or access the media from your Windows or Mac OS X computers.

What makes VortexBox different from other media servers is that it can automatically rip CDs to FLAC and MP3 files, supporting ID3 tagging and cover art downloading.

VortexBox supports the following sharing protocols: SMB/CIFS (Windows), NFS (Unix/Linux), AppleTalk (for Mac OS X or Bonjour in Windows), DAAP (iTunes and Roku Soundbridge). It also includes DLNA support to play music and video on DLNA-enabled players, such as XBOX 360, Play Station 3 and Windows 7.

5. MythTV

MythTV is an open source media server and digital video recorder (DVR), distributed under the GNU General Public License (GPL), that you may want to setup in the home or office. It can run on Linux, BSD, Mac OS X, and Windows. It features a TV-based interface, similar to set-top-boxes provided by cable companies, and a web-based interface.

MythTV lets you store and play music from your computers on your TV. You can play audio CDs, MP3 files and other music files. It supports various ways to play music, including creating playlists or importing playlists from iTunes. It can display album art and supports several different visualizers or screen animations. It also features a CD ripping utility and storage of t all the album and track details.

MythTV also supports video streaming onto your TV. In addition to playing clips you've stored, external players are also supported, such as YouTube, Flash and archived DVDs.

Its DVR functionality lets you watch and record analog or digital TV, including HDTV. You can pause, skip and rewind live or recorded TV. It features automated commercial detection and skipping so you see just the good stuff. The parental controls can help you limit what users can watch. You can manage the settings and recording schedule on the TV or remotely via a web browser.

MythTV is comprised of server and client components. You can run the server and client on the same machine, or have one or more servers and clients depending upon how many TVs you want to setup. Remember, you'll need at least one TV tuner card on the server. Some computers or video cards may also have an S-Video output you can use to get the MythTV interface onto your TVs.

Although MythTV provides great documentation, you may find the preparation and configuration of MythTV relatively lengthy. Since you're working with video, the higher performance of the server or client PCs, the better. The amount of streams you can simultaneously capture and watch is limited to the performance of the PCs.

Eric Geier is the founder of NoWiresSecurity, which helps businesses easily protect their Wi-Fi networks with the Enterprise mode of WPA/WPA2 security. He is also a freelance tech writer--become a Twitter follower or use the RSS Feed to keep up with his writings.

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