Home NAS: Who is really open?

Posted in Sat, 24 Jan 2009 17:04:00 GMT

I was recently researching home NAS solutions. Synology and QNAP, both of which are based on Linux, came up as some of the leading contenders. HP's MediaSmart which is based on Windows Home Server (a derivative of Windows Server 2003 SP2) also seems popular. A post in this thread raised some interesting issues by claiming QNAP and Synology are the closed solutions while Windows Home Server is the open one. This is especially interesting given the GPL v2 licensing of Linux and how it is used in embedded solutions.

The main thing to consider when evaluating this choice is how much flexibility you require. NAS boxes such as the QNAP or ReadyNAS are, in fact, specialized servers, built on a proprietary embedded OS. Bug fixes and increased functionality are provided, occasionally, via firmware updates; additionally a limited number of "add-ons" (essentially, applications written for the particular box) are available to provide other capabilities.
By contrast, an open server platform such as WHS should be much more extensible over time. WHS is based on Microsoft's enterprise-class server products (presently Server 2003, but future versions are rumored to be based on Server 2008), so it in fact is built on an extremely reliable and stable core.

So, in practice, the question comes down to who is actually providing their source code.

  • Microsoft WHS: For the foreseeable future, we can rest assured the source will not be available for WHS.
  • QNAP: QNAP offers source code but a quick check of Wikipedia's QNAP TS-101 page shows that people have been porting SqueezeBox's GPL SqueezeServer (formerly SlimServer) software to QNAP. It would be interesting to find out why people are porting SlimServer.
  • Synology: Access to Synology source code was very easy to find here on their GPL page, http://www.synology.com/enu/gpl/, and in fact, their source code is posted to SourceForge.net.

Considering that Synology and QNAP make their source code available and HP MediaSmart / WHS does not, it's clear that the former are more open than the latter. With HP MediaSmart and Windows, it's possible to end up with a solution where you can no longer upgrade your software as with my recent discovery that VB 6 is alive and well.

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