Each year, I try to have a project for the christmas break – it’s usually a bit more interesting than sitting around in an overfed state watching poor quality TV.  A few years ago I decided to do internet genealogy, which became something of an obsession for a few months (and which I occasionally revisit) and indirectly resulted in this website’s first incarnation.  This year, I decided to re-evaluate our domestic computer provision.

While I have almost completely moved to using GNU/Linux on my computers (for the last few years I’ve been using Ubuntu), Mrs Grumpy remains a Windows user (principally XP), so whatever changes I make need to take that into account.  At the moment, we have a number of portable devices which hook up wirelessly to our router, and two Ubuntu desktop PCs and a printer which connect via ethernet cables.  One of those desktop PCs is rarely booted, while the other is used to make backups from laptops and stream music to a Squeezebox 3 (now renamed Squeezebox Classic and no longer marketed).  Backups are handled using BackupPC, which is fairly fiddly to set up, but which is really rather robust and easy to manage via a web interface.

We are increasingly short of space in the house, so I planned to remove both desktop PCs, and replace them with a desktop PC from Dell with a small case and a NAS unit.  So far the NAS has been delivered.  The NAS I chose was a QNAP TS-239 Pro (pictured on the left), following a good review in Linux Format magazine.  I’m nowhere near being a networking/backup guru, so this review should be read with that in mind: how easy is this device to set up from the point of view of the informed non-specialist?

I bought a pair of 1TB 3.5″ drives to use in a RAID1 array – these are very easily installed in the two drive bays.  I made sure to check compatibility of these drives at the QNAP website.  The TS-239 runs on an Atom processor with 1Gb RAM.  There are several USB and iSCSI ports, and a VGA monitor port (though I believe there is no GUI output – I’ve never plugged a monitor in).  Setup is described pretty simply in a Quickstart Guide – there are some installation applications for Windows and Macintosh, but the Linux user merely uses a web interface to do the setup (and nothing is terribly complicated).  I did note down the MAC addresses (there are two ethernet ports) and set up fixed IP addresses in the LAN, so that I could easily find the device on the LAN using a browser.

I am using the NAS for three functions: (1) music server, (2) making regular backups and (3) as a multimedia server (mostly photographs, but also one or two short videos) – it is with these three functions that this blog article is concerned.  Other functions include web server

The QNAP NAS devices use QPKG to install software.  I used this to install SSOTS (SqueezeServer on Turbo Station): this is a kind of interface that one can install the Squeezeserver software.  Then I copied over about 40Gb of music files (mostly mp3, but some flac and ogg) from the old server.  Unfortunately, Squeezeserver versions 7.4.1 and 7.4.2 (beta) refused to scan my music database properly, so I rolled back to version 7.3.4. This works perfectly, and the BBC iPlayer plugin was straightforward to add.  It’s not obvious to me where the scanning issue arose, but other users appear to have similar problems judging from the squeezeserver forums.

Similarly, I installed the Optware interface for the IPKG packaging system: this was needed to install the components I needed to set up the backup system.  Rather than set up BackupPC, which I’d read was problematic, I went for rsnapshot, for which there’s a very clear “howto” available (Howto guide: Daily incremental backups with rsnapshot (zipped PDF)).  [see also this thread in the excellent QNAP forum].  Setting this up to make backups of a Linux laptop was pretty easy.  The first snapshot took about 4.5 hours (!) – subsequent snapshots of changed files appear much quicker.

I’m keen to continue having the Windows machines backup in the same way, despite the Windows backup software that comes with the TS-239.  I found a Howto guide to using rsnapshot to backup Windows XP machines – this was pretty easy to set up on a Toshiba NB200 running XP Home.  Essentially, it involves installing cwRsync and editing a config file or two.  In a week or so, I’ll need to set up a Windows 7 desktop PC, which may be interesting.

To implement the “Multimedia Station”, all one needs to do is to activate the option in the web interface.  You then upload the photographs into folders within the Qmultimedia directory.  The system automatically makes the thumbnails for browsing the images.  The interface is pretty basic, but does offer a rather swish slideshow option (unfortunately this seems to show the photos in a somewhat random order).  

All in all, the device seems pretty versatile.  If software isn’t available directly through QPKG, there’s every chance it’s accessible via the IPKG system.  I reckon some familiarity with the Linux command line is useful in dealing with the intricacies of setting up various packages.  I haven’t yet needed tp plug a monitor into the TS-239 – all my work has been done either through the web interface or on the command line (one package I installed is the nano editor, which is easier to use than the pre-installed vi editor).