The main difference between a home NAS and a commercial one is in the hardware, and we are not referring to the power of said hardware, but to the possibility of customizing the server. If you assemble it at home, you will be able to choose the hardware components that you want without any type of limit, therefore, you will be able to choose the following:
- Motherboard: it is the most important part of your server, it must have many SATA3 ports, support for NVMe and also several PCIe ports in order to expand the possibilities of the equipment.
- Main processor to use, we can choose between using a low consumption CPU or a very powerful one.
- RAM memory: both in type of RAM, speed, if it is ECC or non-ECC as well as the total capacity of the memory.
- Storage: Depending on the number of SATA3 ports on your motherboard and the case you choose, you may have more or fewer bays to house hard drives. You can also install NVMe drives on your computer if your motherboard supports it, and you can also install SATA3 SSD drives to greatly speed up overall storage performance.
- Network card: although the motherboard incorporates one or two network cards internally, we can expand this connectivity through the PCIe ports that the motherboard incorporates.
- Graphics card: in the event that you are going to perform video transcoding, it would be highly recommended to install a GPU inside the server for optimal performance.
In a home computer we will be able to choose all these components manually, in this case we have total freedom to put whatever we want on the server. Currently there is second-hand hardware from Dell or HP that is quite powerful and allows expansion thanks to the PCIe ports, making it a very good alternative to commercial models.
Regarding commercial NAS, it is true that we have a wide variety to choose from, both low-end, medium and high-end models, but they are clearly more limited at the hardware level in terms of expansions. There are many models that do have a PCIe port, but only one, although there are other models that have two or three PCIe ports to install graphics cards and even 10G cards, however, this generally only happens in very high-end models.
Although the manufacturers themselves sell their expansion cards, on many occasions they are also compatible with other brands without any problem, so you can expand the NAS without having to buy the expansion cards for their models, however, our recommendation is that you buy those of the same manufacturer to ensure 100% compatibility with the operating system.
Now that we know the differences at the hardware level, let’s see what differences we have at the operating system level.
Operating system differences
If we set up our own server we will have to install a operating system for NAS, a NAS-oriented operating system is generally used because they already have all the tools installed, and all of this can be managed very easily via the local web. Because we have many operating systems of this style, we will have to choose one among all those that exist to be the base of our server. Right now our recommendation of operating systems are the following (in order):
- TrueNAS CORE (it is based on FreeBSD)
- TrueNAS SCALE (it is based on Linux).
- XigmaNAS (it is based on FreeBSD).
- OpenMediaVault (it is based on Debian).
We will have to install all these operating systems manually following different tutorials on the Internet, to later configure the system from scratch. Thanks to the graphical administration interface, the creation of the different storage pools is not too complicated, however, we believe that it is considerably more complicated than in the commercial NAS operating systems, since the latter have step-by-step configuration wizards. step that explains everything we must do and how it works.
Currently each commercial brand has a different one, although all of them are based on Linux. For example, one of the most complete and that we like the most is QNAP’s QTS which is based on Linux and uses the EXT4 file system, and also the QuTS hero which is based on Linux but the file system is ZFS with everything what this implies. ASUSTOR’s ADM operating system is also very complete and we have many possibilities to extend its functionalities through the app store, in addition, it also allows virtualization of complete operating systems and even Docker.
Differences of the software to install
While in operating systems for “homemade” servers the installation must be done manually, so we will need some advanced knowledge of system administration and also of Linux and FreeBSD, in the operating systems that we have in commercial NAS it is much more this task simple.
All QNAP, Synology and ASUSTOR operating systems have an application store as if it were a smartphone with Android and iOS, thanks to these application stores we will be able to easily and quickly install almost any application that we want, in addition, We also have the possibility of downloading a file with the specific program from the Internet if it does not exist in the application store.
If you want to have a homemade NAS you should know that you will have to assemble it yourself component by component, or order it already assembled, although you also have the possibility of buying already configured servers from Dell or HP at a very good price, even if they are somewhat old. Depending on your requirements and needs, you will have to resort to some models or others, or make them directly from scratch. In this case you need to have some knowledge of computer hardware in order to choose the ideal components for you, otherwise you will be quite lost.
As for the operating system, we are in the same position. You will have to review what configuration options and possibilities each operating system has, and later see what expansion possibilities at the software level we can make. If you want to have an operating system that allows extension with applications and that is very easy to configure, it is clear that commercial NAS are much better because it is already prepared so that you will not have any problems.