How to Build a Personal DIY Cloud Storage System at Home

Ever wanted to access all your personal files from a remote location? By showing you how to build a personal DIY cloud storage system, you can access all your personal files easily, anytime and anywhere.

It’s safe and can hold as much storage as the number of dollars you would like to spend on the hardware.

This technology can also be used to enjoy media in your home, alongside other automation devices.

You can also benefit from cloud storage for other smart home products like your security cameras footage, or media you would like to watch using voice commands from your voice assistant that controls your TV.

So we have put together this article that will help you with your DIY home cloud storage project.

diy cloud storage devices illustration

What is cloud storage?

It simply means to have a storage facility to keep all your files while connecting this storage to a network and/or the internet.

With cloud storage, you can access your files using your mobile phone, tablet, laptop or computer. As long as you have a connection to the internet, you can use your files anywhere. Performance is obviously related to your connection speed.

Performance is at it’s best when you are connected to your storage via a local network.

For myself, I tend to access very little media content from a remote location. So I tend to use documents like PDF’s, Word documents or sometimes some music when I’m not at home.

Having a storage facility like this is handy. I like to listen to my music collection while performing housekeeping tasks in my home.

Making backups of your phone’s images is another useful aspect of this technology. Before I had this setup, I always asked myself, ‘where can I back up my phone’s files to?’ whenever my phone got full.

You can also think of it as your own personal file-sharing network.

What do you need for your DIY personal cloud storage project?

There are several ways you can set up personal cloud storage. Some of your options depend on personal preference and your budget plays an important factor. The more you spend, the better quality gear you can buy, as well as allowing for more storage.

I have a rule when it comes to anything in the computer or technology world: Don’t go cheap when it comes to your hard drives, power supplies or cooling. These things are paramount for safe data, longer-lasting components, and stability.

Let’s look at some of the hardware options to set up your storage system:

  • Use an older computer: This is great if you have recently upgraded one of your computers in the house. The computer you have replaced will be an excellent way to set up a server for yourself. It will be more complicated to set up, but in terms of flexibility, will be one of the best setups to have. NAS storage devices (as mentioned next) can be very picky about how drives are set up. So in some cases, you cannot just replace a hard drive quickly. The other problem with NAS is the limit you have on the number of drives you can run. With a computer, you have plenty of storage bays and SATA connections to hook up your hard drives. Although good quality NAS devices do have a good design to look after your drives, with a computer you can modify cooling to a far greater degree. Cooler drives mean longer life.  The PC option is more of a challenge to set up, but worthwhile in the long run. I wouldn’t use a computer that is too old either. This will avoid needing extra peripherals like SATA cards and network cards capable of Gigabit Ethernet.
  • NAS Storage deviceNAS (Network Attached Storage) devices can allow you to install several hard drives into one unit. This provides excellent safety against data loss. Most of these units have multiple drive bays, so if one drive fails, it automatically has your data backed up on another drive. Some features can be a bit limited, but nonetheless, a great way to keep your data safe. This is the way I would tend to go if you are limited on space, or if you cannot get your hands on a computer. This works in a very similar way as the ZFS (Zettabyte File System) file system for the computer option.
  • Hard drive connected to your router: This is the budget option. Not very good features around data access and video files. Also, the safety of your data will only be as good as the backups you make elsewhere. This router option works better in a local network situation.
  • Use a subscription cloud service: This is another way you can store your data. Upload all your files onto a server owned by a company. This has its advantages. One major advantage is the fact that you don’t have to set up any hardware, and maintenance is their problem. For me personally, the cons are too great to choose this option. Two things bother me. Firstly, how many people can access my data. Secondly, I hate paying unnecessary monthly subscriptions. If there are any good services that provide a lifetime of service for a one-off payment, I might reconsider. There will be maintenance costs if you do not go with a service like this. I like to replace a hard drive at least six months before the end of the warranty period. This is usually between 3 to 5 years, depending on the hard drive you purchase. So it’s fairly low-cost maintenance.

How to set up DIY home cloud storage using a computer

pc computer

First off, do an inspection of your computer. Removal the case lid and blow out any dust that may be present.

Power the computer up, make sure it’s running. If there are any cooling fans that are noisy, simply replace them.

How to replace a fan:

Choosing & Installing PC Cooling Fans As Fast As Possible

How to replace a CPU fan:

How to Upgrade CPU Cooler // How to Replace CPU Cooler or Heatsink

If the PC looks pretty old, consider replacing your power supply – Here’s how to choose one:

How to choose a Power Supply

And how to install it:

How to Replace a Power Supply in a Desktop PC – Advice and installation

I would also recommend this if your power supply looks like a cheap knock-off.

Once capacitors and other electronic components get old, efficiency is lost. This means more heat and poorer power delivery.

Please note: You don’t need a powerful graphics card or power supply for a cloud storage system.

The computer is mainly going to use your CPU and drive access. Even if you plan to stream a lot of content, having an insanely fast graphics card, is not going to be of any benefit after a certain point.

If everything seems to power up, great. If not, try to find out what the problem is by searching on YouTube for a remedy related to your symptoms.

The final components you need, are your hard drives. Pick the total amount of storage you want and double it.

Then buy the hard drives you need to meet that resulting storage requirement. The reason for this is to have enough capacity to keep a rebuilt copy of your data, in case a drive fails.

My recommendation is definitely the Western Digital Red drives. You simply cannot go wrong with Western Digital mechanical hard drives, for any task.

Remove all of the previously installed drives. I don’t recommend using them.

Install all your new hard drives. I’d also recommend using new SATA cables, this will reduce the chance of dropouts, etc. Choose quality cables, seeing as this is what’s connecting your storage to your motherboard.

What is FreeNAS?

FreeNAS is an open-source network-attached storage software package that can run on most computer hardware. It’s feature-rich and offers full-disk encryption.

If your disks are unformatted, you can use the ‘Volume Manager’ to format the disks into a ZFS pool. This can be done from a handy user interface, without having to manually enter zpool create commands.

Setting up FreeNAS

Download FreeNAS and install the ISO to a USB flash drive.

Then install FreeNAS to your storage computer from your USB flash drive:

FreeNAS® 11 – How to Install

Here is a video on how to build a FreeNAS PC:

How to Build a FreeNAS® by Know How (TWiT.TV)

Once everything is set up correctly, you will have access to your home network.

To set it up for remote access, here is one example you can have a look at this video:

Freenas 11 Setup FTP & SSH Access (Filezilla & Putty) + Static IP & DNS

Here is another one more focused at media:

Stream your home media files away from home

And another:

FreeNAS Home Server – PLEX Media Server

There are plenty of ways to set it up and lots of options for different functionality. Gaining some experience through playing around with it, will allow you to deliver the flexibility that you need.

Becoming familiar with FreeNAS and different things you can do with it will give you a very powerful array of tools at your disposal.

How to install a NAS storage device

nas storage unit

This type of installation is really simple. Install your new hard drives, if the unit doesn’t come with the drives installed already. Follow your specific installation instructions.

Normally it’s a case of powering the unit up and waiting for a ready light of some kind. Then a software package needs to be installed on your computer. If you are using a smartphone, there will be an app to install. 

The software should give you information about what the device is up to. It may prompt you to take other action of some kind, like setting up the new hard drives.

If you are using a computer, you should also have access to your storage through your network. It should appear like another computer on your network. 

Once you click on it, you should see some default folder or folders. Here you are able to create new folders or copy any files over, for later use.

You can use apps on your phone or tablet to access your stored data remotely. You can also log onto your NAS device using a browser from any other device. 

These devices are designed with ease of use in mind, so figuring out how to access your files should be relatively easy. In saying that, I’m sure you will always find an exception to the rule.

This is where it has an advantage over the computer option. Remote access from all devices should be easier if you have chosen the correct product.

You also get single-volume NAS storage products, however, I’d vote against it. These products become a bit annoying if you have to replace a hard drive. 

Also, being a single drive, your rebuild capability is out the window. So if the drive fails, it’s up to your regular backups to keep your data safe.

Preferably, a NAS storage unit that allows you to hot swap your drives is very convenient. You won’t have to power the unit off every time you want to change a drive.

How to setup a hard drive to your router

home router

This is the budget form of cloud storage.

The features are limited to your router’s capability. Setting it up can be a bit awkward, but can still get there in the end. You will also be limited to a single disk. If you have any large enough USB drives lying around, it could serve as an ideal storage disk.

To set this up, use an external USB hard drive. Plug it into the router using the USB port. If your router is too old, you won’t be able to do this at all. You will be forced to use a NAS unit, or upgrade your router.

Most of your router settings will be handled through a web interface. Just remember that for remote access, you need to know your external IP address, so you might need to set up a static IP address with your internet service provider.

If you don’t, your IP address will change every time you restart your router.

Here is a video on how to set up your router for remote access:

How to Access your Router from Outside Network

I see no reason to go into setting up a cloud-based subscription service. All these kinds of services are specific to what they offer.

Conclusion

My recommendation is that you start with a NAS device. It’s easy to set up and hassle-free to use. It’s the easiest DIY home cloud storage project of them all.

Later on, you could always look into doing up an old computer as a server. It makes for a fun project and can do many things. FreeNAS is a great facility, free and powerful. 

Even businesses are taking advantage of the usefulness of such a low cost, quality software package.

I would simply avoid using the external hard drive connected to the router. This can be a lot of work to get it to run correctly with remote access. 

Unless you have a spare external hard drive lying around and wish to experiment on your local network. Then it could be a reasonable learning experience for you.

In all honesty, if you are new to the whole cloud storage environment, it’s going to be a steep learning curve. Once you gain a grasp of the basics though, things keep getting easier.

I hope this provides you with some valuable insights on how to setup your own personal cloud storage system.

I’m sure you will come across many ways you could use this technology in your life.