Notes by Akhil Saji


Home server project 2021


One of the items on my long term to-do list was to put my old hard drive collection to use by creating a network attached storage (NAS) machine. Over several upgrades over the past few years, I had amassed several 500gb-1tb drives both in 2.5' and 3.5' varieties that were collecting dust. The question quickly became- what was the cheapest and most cost effective way to build a NAS?. Specifically, many of the off the shelf solutions such as Synology carried out the duties of a NAS quite well; however, came with many downsides including the lack of multiple drive bays and quickly rising expense depending on how many drives it supported. Additionally, the many JBOD (just a bunch of disks) platforms that exist, despite being fairly cheap and supporting multiple drives, simply lack the network utility that a modern NAS can provide.


I quickly realized during my research that there simply weren't any off the shelf solutions on the market that would fit my requirements of: inexpensive, ability to utilize multiple small drives, and reasonable performance. At this point I had decided to build my own based on the Open Media Vault (OMV) platform. Based on Debian, OMV offers a plethora of features that any any modern off the shelf NAS will provide, although, with a slightly less intuitive user interface. The following is a breakdown of the parts I used and total cost.

Case: iStarUSA D213-mATX 2U Rackmount case ($0, purchased several years ago at NewEgg ~$45 USD)
PSU: 500W OCz ($0)
CPU: Intel G5400 ($54 @ Microcenter)
Motherboard: Gigabyte B365 DS3H ($70 @ Microcenter)
Memory: Crucial 8GB DDR4 ($25 @ Amazon)
Harddrives: Inland 128gb SATA SSD ($25 @ Microcenter) and $0 for 5tb of storage (5 drives ranging from 500gb-2tb)
Case fans: 80mm intake fans (~$6 @ Amazon)
Software: $0
Total: $186

As you can see, I managed to re-use many of the components I had laying around; however, even if I had bought all the components at the time of building my total cost would have still been in the $250-270 range which is still way beneath the price of the remotely comparable Synology DS220+ which is going for $299 on Amazon at the time of writing this article.

Part DS220+ Custom
CPU J4025 @ 2.0Ghz 2 threads Pentium Gold G5400 @ 3.7Ghz 4 threads
Memory 2gb DDR4 8gb DDR4
Storage 2 drive bays 6 SATA connectors → 6 potential drive bays
Network 2x1gb LAN 1x1gb LAN


Being the closest comparison off the shelf competitor, I used the DS220+ as my comparison point. From a performance, memory and storage aspect, my custom build was both cheaper and faster. Not to mention it also gives me the ability to replace and upgrades parts in the future as I see fit.

Now what are some downsides? I would be a liar if I said setting up OMV was anywhere near as simple and polished a process as Synology is. Unfortunately, despite all the developers best efforts, OMV is still a community developed project that still shows its roughness around the edges. Below are some of the issues I ran into while setting up the software.

  1. Upon installation finishing, I couldn't access the web gui despite the installer claiming I should be able to. This required me to connect via head and run omv-firstaid command from the terminal in order to reset the web gui as well as declare a static IP address.
  2. The process of setting up hard drives, creating a pool between the drives and creating shared folders is far from obvious. This process once again is made far simpler in Synology and just works. I plan to write a summary article on this soon to simply things for myself in the future.
  3. Upgrading drives can also result in unexpected issues. The week after installing OMV, I had upgraded one of my 500gb drives to a 4tb drive due to SMART errors suggesting the former would fail soon. I unmounted the drive and shut down the machine thinking a simple swap would be painless. Unfortunately I was wrong. OMV had issues booting and being a headless machine, as soon as I couldn't access the web gui I knew something was wrong. After an hour trouble shooting after connecting via head to the machine and being unsuccessful in fixing the issue; I ended up just re-installing the entire OS which fixed the issue. I doubt these kinds of issues plague Synology.


If you're in the market for a NAS and are even moderately technically capable (or willing to learn/experiment) I highly recommend going the custom route. If you want to build your own machine but want a bit more of a polished experience, I would recommend buying a copy of Unraid which is basically a significantly polished version of Linux NAS software devoid of the rough edges a community project like OMV has. I have a separate Unraid server and can attest to its quality. This all being said, OMV is an rock solid platform. Once up and running, the server chews through any task I throw at it. I currently have a docker instance running Plex which is able to transcode one or two 4K streams without a hiccup. I would bet the DS220+ can barely handle one.

The importance of VPN

The importance of having access to a VPN recently dawned on me as I noticed several of the WiFi networks I rely on (primarily at work) block access to several critical tools including e-mail, Google Drive and even certain academic websites that are likely deemed traffic hungry. One way to easily bypass this conundrum is to create your own VPN on a virtual private server of your choosing. I purchased a cheap KVM VPS at starting at $2.00/month. Next, load up your favorite Linux OS (I usually opt for Debian or Ubuntu) and use the PiVPN script to install OpenVPN or WireGuard.

The PiVPN script was designed for Raspiberry Pi's however; easily works on any x86 Linux box. Make sure you have curl installed and run curl -L | bash to run the script. If you opt for OpenVPN like I did, you can add VPN profiles using pivpn add. The location of the configuration file will be shown and you can download the VPN configuration file using SCP. For MacOS I recommend using Tunnelblick as a VPN client.

Intake Fan Mod for Dell PowerEdge T20

I purchased the Dell PowerEdge T20 several years ago for an Unraid server build that I use to back up my data. One of the unfortunate design flaws of this system is the lack of an intake fan for system and specifically hard drive cooling. I had completed this mod around 2016; however, recently I had noticed that my unraid hard drive temperatures were consistently in the 102-110 Farenheight range when they had previously been much lower. I suspected that the intake fan I had installed several years ago had failed and decided to replace it. I also remembered that when I had originally purchased this unit I recall several people online looking for ways to do this exact mod so I decided to take a picture and post instructions on how to do this.

The fan I am using is the Cooler Master Sleeve Bearing 80mm Slim Fan. Installation is fairly straight forward, after removing the front panel, use either adhesive such as 3M double-sided tape or high strength string to tie the fan in place (see below). Either option works- I had originally used double-sided tape but this time opted to use suture material I had handy. After installation my temperatures returned to 92-95 Farenheight.