I love turning old PCs into something useful. They’re perfect for appliances. They are slow as hell with Windows running on them, but they become supercharged machines when running stripped down versions of open source operating systems with specialized services.
I already run an open source firewall called m0n0wall. It’s one of the most stable pieces of equipment in my house. The uptime is only affected by a severe power outage. And it’s rock solid being that it runs BSD.
I have tried every other open source firewall out there, but m0n0wall is superior in functionality and overall operation. It even has an included VPN server so I can securely access all of my home files and network when I am on the road. It even supports wireless PCI cards so I can roll my own access point if I so choose.
A smart guy by the name of Olivier Cochard adapted the code from m0n0wall and created a NAS appliance product out of it called FreeNas. I just bought a 250 GB internal drive that was about $50 today for an old PC to run FreeNas. I’ll surely add more later as I test it out.
FreeNas is still taking shape so it’s not exactly easy for a novice user and it still lacks some important features that are found in commercial applications, but over time this will surely fall into place. But early iterations show that performance is quite respectable. I didn’t break out ethereal, but just eye-ballin’ it shows that it cranks along with massive file transfers.
So I can literally throw together a terabyte of NAS storage for about $200 since I already own the old PC and the software is open source.
I remember 10 years ago when a terabyte of storage was over a million bucks and now I can afford to put one in my closet as a blackbox network backup device.
The commoditization of hard disk drives has been overwhelming over the years. The result of this commoditization has also been a drag on the cottage industries that built products around the notion of expensive storage and how to deal with it better.
But this same drag has had an opposite effect on the consumer market. Go to Fry’s, Best Buy, or CompUSA and ask for a NAS appliance. This is something that you couldn’t really do 12-18 months ago. They might not have known quite what you were asking for then, but Netgear, Linksys, and Buffalo are just a few of the vendors manufacturing NAS appliances for the consumer space.
It makes total sense. Blackbox storage has benefits for the end user. A whole slew of communities has formed around the creation of replacement firmware for these devices as is also the case with video game consoles and wireless access points by the same vendors.
The only problem with blackbox devices for the majority of the consumer space is that they can only be mod’ed to a certain extent. I mean, that’s what blackbox devices or appliances are meant to do. I have a feeling users will want more than just storage for MP3s and such.
I have a feeling that these appliances will also drive the need for continuous data protection (CDP) software for the consumer space. CDP is essentially event drive snap shot software that lets you do a point in time recovery based on an event.
But the problem is that the NAS appliance would have to run some sort of CDP service and currently that is only limited to enterprise type of applications because of the costs involved.