Windows server vs. NAS box HARDWARE SPECS
In the blue corner, Windows Server; in the red, an open-source NAS. So which is best for your particular needs?
We’re riding your easily manipulated machismo as an excuse to look at the pros and cons of using Windows as a home server. The demise of the real Windows Home Server line in 2011 left a hole in Microsoft’s range, one that Windows Server Essentials could never quite fill with its small business remit, at a time when, annoyingly, a home server is of more use than ever.
We all have so much digital ‘stuff’ that we want to keep, access, stream, share and keep safe that it’s hard to know where to put it. Sure, there are cloud solutions, but who knows where your data is going to end up being stored. Plus, access speed is always limited by your upstream/downstream speeds. So while throwing stuff up to the cloud is useful, there are limitations and concerns with thirdparty services.
There’s nothing better than having real bare-metal in your locality, running services for high-speed access and backup, from where it can be pushed over slower connections to the cloud if you want. The question is, is it better to run Windows on your home server box, or is an open-source solution preferable? We’re here to find out, and explain how to set up your own box.
You know we already know the answer, but we’re going to do a fair and balanced test. By comparing what an open-source network attached server OS can accomplish against Microsoft’s Windows 10, we can at least play with something interesting and free.
WHAT IS A NAS?
Network attached storage is, in some ways, an outdated term, because a ‘NAS’ these days does a whole lot more than just store files. That’s the motivation behind this article — can a modern NAS, even a free open-source implementation, take on the might and flexibility of a full-fat Windows box? A huge chunk of that answer relies on what you want from that box.
When the term NAS was first coined, people were just happy to easily access remotely stored files (and not get nuked by the Russians), nevermind get any specific additional services. Today, people expect a NAS to provide remote management, file shares with full permissions, print services, a slew of network protocols, virtual machine support, media transcoding, media streaming to multiple devices, supporting tens of storage devices with multi-terabytes of storage, with snapshot and versioning features on top of backups, plus a smorgasbord of flexible plug-in options. But why choose a potentially limiting NAS solution over a Windows install? Let’s start by taking time to compare and contrast what both options have to offer. We’re going to look at one of the leading open-source NAS distributions, called OpenMediaVault (OMV for short), which is available from www.openmediavault.org. This is up to version 4.0.14 (codename Arrakis, for Dune fans) as of the end of 2017, and only supports 64-bit hardware — older 32-bit hardware needs to fall back to version 3.036, from mid-2016, which isn’t ideal. It does support ARM processors, and it has builds for the popular Raspberry Pi 2 and 3, and ODroid SBPCs. Beyond that, requirements are minimal: 256MB of memory and 2GB of drive space. The system is designed to run ‘headless’, so there’s no requirement for video hardware, and it can run from a USB stick. It’s based on the Linux distribution Debian, which is one of the best supported and longer running distros out there.
Windows 10 still supports both 32-bit and 64-bit processors, with a minimum speed of 1GHz. 2GB of memory is the minimum for a 64-bit system, while 1GB is required for 32-bit systems. The minimum drive space is 16GB for 32-bit and 20GB for 64-bit systems. Microsoft states a DirectX 9.0 video card is required.
We’d question both of these minimum requirements in a real-world setting, though. Windows is likely going to need at least a 64GB drive,