We had already seen together how create a Jeedom home automation box or even install Home Assistant on Raspberry Pi in order to host a home automation server at home. But, with soaring component prices, the famous nano-computer is no longer the economical solution it used to be and many of you have been asking us in recent months about the possible alternatives. At a time when a Raspberry Pi 4 kit sometimes trades for up to 200 euros, it may indeed be wise to prefer a mini PC (NUC) or a network attached storage (NAS) server. If both solutions are interesting, you will have already understood that our preference goes to the second. This is why today we will try to answer the question: which NAS to choose for home automation?
- 1 Home automation NAS: a scalable solution
- 2 Which NAS to choose for your home automation?
- 3 Which hard drive to choose for your NAS?
- 4 The essential inverter
- 5 Install a home automation server on your NAS
Home automation NAS: a scalable solution
Before seeing what are the best NAS for home automation in 2022, let's start with a quick definition of what a network storage server is and its scope of use within the framework of our connected homes.
What is a NAS?
A SIN, or Network Attached Storage, is defined as a device intended for storing and sharing files on a network. Although it is sometimes reduced to a simple hard disk connected, it is generally much more than that and can be considered as a real computer with a optimized operating system for storing and sharing files on a network. However, we will more readily speak of a server because, unlike a computer, it generally does not have a screen and it is designed to operate 24 hours a day .
Energy consumption is an important parameter in our connected homes. From this point of view, a NAS consumes much less than a PC or NUC. Admittedly, it is not as frugal as a Raspberry Pi or Odroid type nano-computer, but we can ask of it much more.
Obviously, the power consumption of a NAS will depend on its use and the number of tasks assigned to it (virtual machines, containers, home automation hubs, video surveillance, etc.), but its processor and power supply will be optimized for these purposes. This is also the reason why we generally do not find a graphics card, a particularly greedy equipment.
A Swiss army knife for the connected home
A veritable Swiss army knife of our connected homes, the NAS can serve as:
- media server: Plex, Kodi, etc.
- download server: torrent, etc. As long as you stay legal of course.
- CCTV server: it acts as an NVR.
- web / mail / FTP server : practical for a blog or a small website,
- database server: MariaDB, MongoDB, MySQL, etc.
- home automation server: Home Assistant, Jeedom, Domoticz, and more...
- multi-protocol concentrator: MQTT, ZigBee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth, EnOcean, RF…
In addition to (almost) everything, the NAS does it right, with high availability and a 100% local operation if you wish it. Indeed, beyond the storage of your personal data at home, your connected objects will not have no cloud needed to work. Admittedly, like any computer system, a NAS can misfire, but you can count on approximately 99.99% uptime if you have configured the beast correctly.
Which NAS to choose for your home automation?
Well, that's all well and good, but what are the best NAS for home automation ? Vast subject, because if there is a plethora of NAS manufacturers on the market, only a small number of them offer us equipment adapted to this use. Although it is relatively easy to make your own NAS DIY with THUNDERS ou OpenMediaVault, here we are going to dwell on the two major consumer brands that are competing for the market of Home automation NAS: QNAP and Synology.
Some people will advise you against 2-bay NAS, but it's an entirely feasible option, especially if you mainly dedicate it to your home automation. In absolute terms, you can even opt for some single-bay models, but we recommend a minimum of two bays that will allow you to secure your data by mirroring with a Btrfs volume in RAID 1 for example. By using Docker, you will have enough resources to do a whole bunch of things.
Virtualization-enabled QNAP NAS
QNAP offers a large number of models, but only those that support Intel VT-x (TS-x51, TS-x53 series) or AMD-V (TS-x20, TS-x21, TS-x69 Pro, TS-x69L series) are compatible with Virtualization Station which will allow you to use virtual machines for your home automation.
We have only selected three, but you will find the complete list on the brand's website. Please note that all QNAP NAS have slots allowing you to increase their RAM. We recommend that you place at least 8 GB of memory there, if it does not already have it.
Choosing a Synology DiskStation NAS
Although QNAP makes great hardware, Synology is to NAS what Apple is to computers. In other words, the brand offers high-performance hardware capable of lasting for years and an optimized operating system simple enough to be used by everyone. It is therefore the brand that we recommend.
Indeed, if the hardware counts for a lot in a NAS, its operating system and its software ecosystem count just as much. And the least we can say is that the Taiwanese company did not do things by halves with its recognized solution named DiskStation Manager or DSM for friends.
Designed on a Linux base optimized for NAS, the operating system Synology DSM makes it very easy to manage and administer a home server. Whether you are a beginner, an advanced user, or an expert in the field, it is easy to use. It remains to choose the model, which is not an easy task…
In the 2-bay range, the Synology DS220 + is a good choice for beginners, but we recommend the Synology DS720 +. Indeed, the DS720+ is equipped with an Intel Celeron J4125 quad core processor which turns out to be twice as powerful than the dual core Intel Celeron J4025 which equips the DS220+. Both come with only 2 GB of RAM , but you can add 4 GB of RAM to them for more comfort.
Le Synology DS920 +, which we have chosen for our tests in our lab, embeds the same processor Intel Celeron J4125 than the DS720+, but offers 2 more bays and is natively equipped 4 GB of RAM which you can increase to 8 GB (instead of 6 GB max on the 2 bays). It is therefore more scalable, especially if you want to run several virtual machines like us. You can even add 2 x M.2 MVMe SSD to accelerate its cache, but between us this is only of interest in the context of professional use with large volumes of files to process or if you host your website.
Le Synology DS1520 + is also a very good choice with the same hardware, but it offers 8 GB of pre-installed RAM (not expandable) and a fifth bay which is not necessarily super useful, but which has the merit of being there.
Finally, you can go further and choose an 8 or 16 bay NAS. But is it really useful? Not necessarily. In fact, it all depends on your usage. Your means too, or perhaps your need to play it in front of your friends. More seriously, trying your hand with a “small” NAS is probably the wisest choice, especially since the hardware evolves regularly and you will always be able to make two NAS work together. Or resell it to acquire an even stronger one.
In any case, if you want to use virtual machines like us, it may be wise to equip yourself with an additional RAM module because 4 GB is a minimum if you want to run virtual machines. The model recommended by the brand is obviously the Synology D4NESO-2666-4G, but it is possible to place other marks there.
Which hard drive to choose for your NAS?
Although it is not mandatory, it is strongly recommended to choose hard drives for NAS.
Why ? Because they are designed specifically for this use and their firmwares are particularly more suitable for intermittent access. They are also less energy consuming, their standby system is more efficient, and they often offer better performance. Finally, they are above all much more durable. True, they are also more expensive, but this increased longevity ultimately makes them much more attractive in the long run.
We will retain three brands: Seagate, Western Digital and Toshiba. Of course, the Pro or Plus versions are the best, but you can turn your eyes closed to the WD Red which are very good entry-level models that will suit the vast majority of users.
- Seagate IronWolf or IronWolf Pro;
- Western Digital WD Red or WD Red Plus;
- Toshiba N300.
What about the SSD? Like computers, Hard Drive Disk (HDD) are gradually pushed out by the Solid State Drives (SSD) which rely on flash memory chips. The SSD has many arguments for it, in particular a much higher access speed, but also less risk of mechanical failure since it has no moving parts. Add to that the fact that it consumes about 60% less than an HDD, and you could well believe in the miracle solution. Unfortunately, its lifespan seems a little shorter and its price is much higher.
The essential inverter
Again, this is not mandatory, but keep in mind thatusing a NAS without an inverter is risky. We can even say that it is not recommended at all.
Why ? Simply because this type of device does not tolerate power cuts well and your files may be corrupted. Admittedly, NAS today have recovery and verification systems, but rebuilding a RAID volume can be long, very long, and with no guarantee of success. Also we advise you to invest in an inverter, especially since it is possible to find around 60€.
In addition, an inverter will allow you to protect your box or router, your computer, etc. In the event of a brief power outage, which is the most common, this will prevent all your home automation from stopping suddenly and then restarting. In addition, all inverters protect equipment from overvoltages and, icing on the cake, you will be able to configure your NAS to shut down cleanly in the event of a prolonged outage. This will allow you to secure your data and wait at the candle for the electricity fairy to return.
Install a home automation server on your NAS
Within the framework of the server virtualization (VMM at Synology, Virtualization Station at QNAP), the virtual machines (VMs) share the same physical server (CPU/RAM/HDD), but each has its own operating system. This is a plus from a security point of view, the isolation between the VMs being intrinsic to this technology. If a VM is corrupted, you just have to delete it, the others will not be affected.
Within the framework of the containerization (Docker is the best known), it's a little different since, in addition to sharing the same physical server, containers share a single operating system. In case of corruption, if you install a corrupted container for example, all of your containers will be exposed. Nevertheless, it is possible to secure Docker and its main advantage lies in its frugality, since it requires much less resources.
Docker or VM?
Several parameters will determine your choice:
- Hardware : Intel VT-x or AMD-V compatible processor, minimum 4 GB RAM, Btrfs volumes;
- RAM : 2 GB is a minimum, 4 or 8 GB recommended;
- Warehousing : a minimum of 2 TB is required to create backups, snapshots and restore points;
- Use Case : your VM will necessarily request resources occupying on average 20% processor load)
- Peripheral devices : the number of USB devices to manage
In summary, we advise you to choose:
- Docker : if your NAS has less than 4 GB of RAM and/or if it already has a load greater than 50%;
- VMM : if you have at least 4 GB of RAM and a load of less than 50%.
Note that a VM will generally limit you to Max 4 USB devices (at Synology anyway). That's enough to use both ZigBee, Z-Wave, and Bluetooth, but if you want to add more protocols, Docker has you covered.