NAS Hell – And Almost Part 2?

pine64-rockpro64-nas
Pine64 NAS Case and RockPro64 SBC.

A kinda update to this post is here.

As noted here and here, I’m having a bit of an ordeal with my home digital storage situation. In short, I’ve been trying to avoid having to purchase a NAS (network attached storage). Reason? Well, I hate stupid technology. To worst-moi, there is nothing more stupid than a monopolised industry trying to find more & better ways to rip-off consumers. But who or what is stupid in the case of over-priced hard-drives stuck in suck-cases with even suckier software? Well, in this case, I think the NAS industry is stupid. I mean. Come on. Because a NAS requires so much CPU power, due to their being pseudo-PCs, relegating the industry to being stuck in price-point-hell that, just like PCs, is also dependent on monopolies (e.g. Intel), manufacturers have chosen the cheapest possible route for making HDD enclosures masked as über smart drive bays. Yeah, that’s the NAS industry in a nutshell, don’t you know. Or am I the only one to have this sort of perspective? For example. Just have a look at the vastness of stuff out there regarding how one can avoid having to buy over-priced bling-bling NAS devices. Enter the world of SBCs (single board computers). I, for one, have been following the SBC world for some time. To my surprise (and luck) the advancement of SBCs has been the main reason why I hate the NAS industry so much. As I’ve noted here, although the Raspberry Pi is a great solution for network storage–and a great solution for many other client/server needs–it is a very limiting device when it comes to NAS function. Still, the DIY NAS has taken on a life of its own. And that has to say more about the NAS industry than what I can worst-write about it. so I’ve been riding the SBC bandwagon with great hope. On the other hand, I have to give credit where it’s due. There is the whole issue of convenience that DIY sometimes just can’t deliver. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve re-flashed micro-sd cards, re-installed OpenMediaVault, changed from one Linux distro to another, etc., all to find out I installed a 4TB HDD into a USB2 case and for what ever reason linux can’t mount it. Or I’ve screwed this or that with either incorrectly installing software or fiddling too much with hardware. Non-the-less, the NAS industry has, I guess, lowered its prices somewhat since 2018, which means there is a an argument out there for wasting Euros in order to get some convenience. Or? In fact, I recently purchased a warehouse-deal NAS. It was a frustration purchase–cause I couldn’t get an RPi to be a Plex media server. Disappointed with the purchase, though, I subsequently sent it back after realising as a piece of hardware it was just as krappy as the limited performance of an RPi. That worst-said, yeah, I’d prefer the limited performance of a cheap SBC than the the limited performance of an overpriced drive-bay. Yeah. The warehouse purchase turned me off more than it turned me on. And on that note, let me die-gress.

A few days ago I finally gave up on yet another attempt at getting OpenMediaVault (OMV) to work on the RockPro64 SBC. I just can’t get the software to work. Here’s a short-list of the problems I had with this version (Stretch Armhf 0.7.9) of OMV:

  • couldn’t write more than 3TB of data on a 4TB disk
  • raid-0 setup (w/ two drives) didn’t work
  • ethernet connection was constantly failing
  • SMB shares were not properly recognised on my Mac
  • ditto with AFP shares
  • TimeMachine didn’t work
  • Plex very unstable and terribly slow
  • Update Manager always showed errors, etc., etc.

The thing is, I really wanted OMV to work. Even though the Raspberry Pi is the SBC that got me hooked on this stuff, more hardware power is needed. The RockPro64 is probably one of the best SBCs on the market right now for just such a task. At least it is according to hardware specs. I suppose in the near future they will get OMV to work on the RockPro64. But with all the tinkering I’ve had to do without any good results, enough is enough. Or? Wait. There’s something else I’ve learned of late. Maybe it’s time to start changing my point-of-view about home storage? I mean. I’ve got a half dozen or so HDDs lying around (after selling my old MacPro). I have three or four old powered USB cases, too. Since I’m a Mac fanboy, do I really want to do things like rely on foreign file systems to save my data? And what about the whole RAID-thing? The only time I’ve ever trusted or even relied on RAID is when I’m using an old USB2 dual-bay case that has hardware RAID-0 or RAID-1 onboard–and that thing ran Apple’s file system without issue. Do I really need a NAS–as I mistakingly, confusedly indicated in this post?

Answer: I don’t know. Or. Never say never?

Continuing the tinkering, I dumped OMV and re-installed DietPi on the RockPro64. Since I was able to format and copy my media files to 2x 3TB drives (but was not able to copy the same data to one 4TB drive!) using the previous OMV install, I put those drives into the Pine64 NAS Case. Btw, there were times with all this tinkering that I thought the power source (12v-5a) was not enough to power two 3.5″ HDDs in the Pine64 case. But that’s another post.

Rethinking my need for a NAS–or giving up on the whole idear–I decided to give DietPi another try. To get things started, and to keep things simple, I just installed Plex and thereby turned the RockPro64 into a media server. Long story short: it worked immediately. In fact, between testing Plex on an RPi 3b+ and the previous OMV-Plex install on the RockPro64, I could never stream any of my movies to either my Mac or one of two RPi’s I have as media clients. That was/is very frustrating because I know that these little SBC’s have aplenty to deliver. By-the-buy, my previous media server was an old Mac Pro–which I do not regret selling it. The reason for getting rid of something that worked–and thereby replacing it with stuff that might or might not work–was the simple fact that I wanted to simplify my life. I didn’t feel like maintaining the MacPro anymore. Full of drives it weight something like 30kg. Plus it’s an energy hog. But I’m off subject.

From the get-go, the RockPro64 with Plex Media Server worked like a charm. For the first time I was able to not only stream a movie to multiple devices, but I was also able to transcode an MKV blu-ray (ca. 30GB). To push it even further, I was able to play four different video streams on four devices. The fourth device did have a few hiccups, though. To say the least, three functioning streams is good enough for me. The thing is, I finally got something to work on these little computers and thereby taking full advantage of gigabyte ethernet and plenty of storage capacity–both of which are problematic with RPi. Of course, that all being said, I now don’t really have a household file storage solution. To deal with that, I think I’m gonna just return to my trusted Apple AirPort Extreme wifi routers with attached USB drives. They will suffice as second-level TimeMachine backups–until the itch hits me again to get a friggin NAS. First-level TM backups are with external HDDs attached to our Macs.

As of this worst-post, I’ve been constantly streaming my media library to my Mac, iPad and iPhone for about two days. Other than one or two hiccups, it works. I’ve also taken the liberty of turning the RockPro64 into a pi-hole DNS anti-ad server and I’ve installed a WordPress iteration where I hope to be able to have a local backup of this blog. If this holds up, the day might come where I don’t have to bitch & moan about hating the NAS industry anymore.

Rant on.

-T

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