Learning By Doing

I was recently talking with a friend about doing some research into a NAS solution for home and that I was trying FreeNAS out in a VM. He asked…why? Why not just buy one? He had one, a model I knew about, and said it was solid storage if maybe not the greatest at media streaming. So why would I consider building? To save money?

My answer was just to learn. I see something or run into a problem or  read a blog post about a solution and my interest is engaged. For this instance it was a combination of things; my router at home supports attached storage but it’s not redundant, I wanted something that would do iSCSI for when I want to mimic availability scenarios, and I was wanting to – finally – move some of the CD collection to disk and stream it around the house.

I started by reading about NAS. Lots of consumer/prosumer devices out there and you start to get an idea of various capabilities and price points. One that I liked from Synology has four drive bays and is $500 without the drives. What am I buying for $500? And given that it will run various plug-ins to extend it, what am I gaining or losing by not running a full ‘home server’ type scenario?

I’ll do more writing on the decision results I a later post, but what happened here is that I’m reading about NAS thinking to buy one, even at $500+, and then I run across FreeNAS. Free to try, free to use, why not load it into a VM just to see? Then I get into it and see that it uses ZFS and has some interesting RAID options. I mention this to my friend and he scoffs – who would use software raid?

It’s funny, I agree with him. I’ve used hardware RAID since I’ve been an IT guy,no one uses Windows software RAID (right or wrong). So now I’m challenging my own assumptions. As I write this I’ve been watching some video on ZFS and it’s interesting. It’s designed to make storage easy to use,and it’s designed to be robust – robust in a database robust kind of way, checksums everywhere to insure good data. I don’t know that I’m a convert to software raid yet, but ultimately it is software even if on a card. We’ll see!

I’m not done exploring FreeNAS or ZFS. I may look at OpenFiler, a product similar to FreeNAS. Maybe I’ll look at Storage Server, maybe not. I’m not – yet anyway – intending to  master the world of NAS or file systems or home servers, I’m just learning, following my interests in a way that makes the learning if not effortless at least pleasant.

It’s hard to know what I’ll learn that will matter in the long run. Or if I will do all this and still buy one off the shelf. It’s not the kind of research thing I can or want to do every time (well, maybe I would if time allowed), but I know that it has value and is worth the investment, I just can’t prove it before I do the learning.

Leave some time in your professional development schedule for some random learning. Install Oracle. Code something in F# or Ruby. Build a Linux server. Try Virtual Box instead of VMWare. You might be surprised of the value of a few hour investment.

One thought on “Learning By Doing

  1. So true. It””””s kind of fun, you””””re not on any kind of schedule, it is interesting, so why not learn for learning sake and see where it takes you. I often find that something I learn ””””over here”””” will inform/guide/solve/light-bulb-moment something else ””””over there””””. Everything””””s related it seems. And it””””s a great feeling to see the connections, and, well, learn for the fun of it.


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