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Building a PLEX NAS, so many questions

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Feb 26, 2009
I've tried to research, but some basic questions seem difficult to answer. Either I'm not asking the search engines properly or they're bad questions to be asking. The plan is to run a PLEX server on it and use it for PLEX plus general backup and storage. RAID5 is my preference due to fault tolerance.

I know I should use NAS specific drives. What drives are currently the best buy? 3 TB seems to be the $/TB champ in most series at the moment, but I seem to remember something about people recommending to stay away from the 3TB discs in general due to failure rates. Is this still true?

With RAID5, would I be safer building it off an add-in card or running it off the MB slots? My concern is not losing the data should a non-HD system failure of some kind occur.

It'll be built either using an old 2600k motherboard or an old QX9650 motherboard depending on availability simply because they're free, but I'll still need an ATX NAS case and power supply in either situation. I'll most likely start this out with 3 HDDs and upgrade as needed. I'd like to be able to fit 5-6 eventually.

I'm still reading up on OS and file system choices (oi, so much reading), but I'd appreciate any thoughts on the above as I inch towards making this a reality.
I'm still reading up on OS and file system choices (oi, so much reading), but I'd appreciate any thoughts on the above as I inch towards making this a reality.

Yep sure is alot of reading. Ive had my nose in the screen for this subject a bit as well in the recent months. ZFS seems to be the king of all filesystems for everything (not really but its got alot of nice features that will go well with NAS) I actually decided to go with XFS for mine because it was natively supported in the OS I chose, but when Im willing to put in the work and reading time, I think I will migrate to ZFS.

As for OS, you can really take your pic. FreeBSD will maximize your storage space, but strand you in the land of CLI (so I skipped it). I went with an OS that has a GUI and run the machine headless. General backup and storage really doesnt take a whole lot for an OS though, so if you do want a GUI then choose something that is light on your resources (Xubuntu, Lubuntu, Puppy Linux all fit the bill). I can tell you for a fact that PLEX is in the repositories for the *buntu OS's, but Im not sure about Puppy except that it is definately lightweight.
If you are going to run Plex server on a low power CPU, you will be limited when it comes to transcoding (reducing a higher bit rare video to a lower bit rate.)

If you are planning on using the direct play feature, it won't be an issue.

Plex has a great webpage that tells you what various CPUs will do for transcoding.

Either of the CPUs that will come available should be sufficient for transcoding if needed. Most of the use will be Direct Play or Direct Stream anyway though.

OS is tricky only from the perspective that it'll be running in my basement. I'll need something I can remote into to download/install updates if it doesn't handle them automatically (most nix distros can't). I've never tried to setup something like that before so it's virgin territory for me.
I'll need something I can remote into to download/install updates if it doesn't handle them automatically (most nix distros can't).
QED: https://help.ubuntu.com/16.04/serverguide/automatic-updates.html

I'd be very surprised if that couldn't be easily done with any 'nix. You can script pretty much anything unlike the situation with an OS based on a GUI (of which I can only think of one.)

If you haven't already done so, look for blog posts from Backblaze on HDD reliability.

I personally wouldn't (and haven't) bothered with a GUI on a headless server. I'd be very surprised if Plex didn't have a web interface that is more convenient than schlepping a monitor, keyboard and mouse around when you need to administrate. There are probably web GUIs available for general administration too (but having managed Linux systems for decades from the command line, I have never looked.)

If you choose Linux, I'd recommend Ubuntu Server 16.04 LTS. It's one of the most popular and will be the easiest to find answers for.

I did hear that it was wise to buy TB class drives in even denominations. This was right after I bought some 3TB drives for my NASs. ;) I don't know if there is any fact behind that claim.
I've tried to get GUI 'nix to auto-update in the past without success, but I honestly have no experience with scripting. I figured remoting into a GUI interface might be easier to setup, but it's entirely likely that I could be wrong, as I've never set that up either. That question would probably be better served by asking in the OS forum I suppose after some intense Googling.
I only use a GUI because I am CLI handicapped. Eventually I hope to be able to run from only CLI but until that day.... I use GUI as well :)

There are a few options for remote control and I'll just assume you've read a bit and let you poke around for the one that suits you best, and give a strong recommendation for TeamViewer if you go the CLI route. They've done good work with that little program.

Now that someone has mentioned it, I do recall that the Plex interface is web-based. No need for GUI at all (unless you are handicapped like me :D). If you decide to go CLI route then your OS choice becomes pretty easy. Linux or Windows? Assuming Linux then grab a server version you are comfy with (I second what was said earlier about Ubuntu server and the large community to help with issues - good call) and get ready to rock. Good luck :)
I have a server just like this setup. Initially it was setup 100% on ubuntu using ZFS in a dual raid Z2 config with XFCE and remote desktop through I forget but some other software thats built into the xubuntu suite.

Moving to a more technical level setup I changed to XEN, running ubuntu for media server functions, centos for ZFS with webmin setup, and windows7 with team viewer and the XEN control panel so I could remote in from off site and manage the various OS.

I dont use plex as I run a highly modified version of PS3 Media Server, but it should work the same.

Also I have 8x 3TB WD Red series drives in my NAS have not had a single issue with any of them in the years ive had them.
Well it appears I'll be forgetting using ZFS as the RAID array cannot be grown easily. If you start with 4 drives, you have to add another 4 drives which can either be striped or mirrored with the original array. Start with 4 drives with RAID-Z2 and you wind up with the parity drives either striped or mirrored as well. So 8x 3TB Reds would yield 12GB of usable space.

Since I plan to expand this as necessary in the future, that's not at all attractive to me. Unfortunately, all the FreeNAS guides seem based around ZFS for the file system. I may just wind up with plain old Ubuntu LTS as a result.

Also, FWIW, WD 3TB Reds are on a minor sale on Amazon today. $97.99 a pop.
Actually ZFS is very easy to expand. You simply make separate sets for each group. You can setup a 4 drive Z2 array, and then add a 3 drive Z2, Z1, or even Z0 array next to it. The data gets evenly spread across the entire Zpool. Something seems off on your storage calculations, or I am mistaken about the number of drives I have in my array.

FWIW you originally said you wanted to go with a raid-5 setup, but now are referencing a Z2 array which is raid-6. Technically if you start with a 4 disk Z1(12TB of usable space) and then later add a second 4 disk Z1 you would end up with the equivalent of a raid-6 solution as you technically have 2 disks of parity before data loss, and that would net you a total of 24TB of usable disk space.

One other thing to consider is that you can do an inplace disk size swap with ZFS. So for example your long term goal is a 6 drive array with 3TB disks in Z2(12TB usable space, 2 parity disks) but dont have the funds to shell out for 6x 3TB disks up front you can stretch your budget and get 6x 1TB drives to start off with and swap them out one at a time over time and when you finish your array will rebuild to be the 12TB variant rather than the 4TB initial array.

My array is a little more paranoid with a total of 4 disks of parity split across two Z2 arrays. Really its up to you to decide how much data redundancy you need, and what your long term budget is.
I only used RAID Z2 as an example. From what I've read, the issue lies in the vdevs. What I'm planning at the moment is three 3TB drives in RAID5. If I add a fourth drive, expanding the RAID array to 9TB with one parity drive is possible. Can the same be done with ZFS and RAIDZ1?

From what I've read, it isn't.