Personal DIY Cloud Storage System

Ever wanted to access all your files from a remote location? By showing you how to build a cloud storage system at home, you can access all your 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 enable access to media in your home alongside other automation devices.

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

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

A cloud cut out is being held to the sky.

What is cloud storage?

It simply means to have a storage facility to keep all your files while connecting this storage to a network 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 related to your connection speed.

Performance is best when connected to your storage via a local network.

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

Having a storage facility like this is handy. I like listening to my music collection while performing housekeeping tasks at 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?’ whenever my phone got full.

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

What do you need for your cloud storage project?

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

I have a rule regarding anything in the computer or technology world: Don’t go cheap regarding 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 home computers. The computer you have replaced will be an excellent way to set up a server for yourself. Setting up will be more complicated, but flexibility will be one of the best setups. 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 your limit 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 have a good design to look after your drives, you can modify cooling to a far greater degree with a computer. 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 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. Some features can be limited, but it is a great way to keep your data safe. This is how I would tend to go if you are limited in space or cannot get your hands on a computer. This works very similarly to 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 to store your data. Upload all your files onto a server owned by a company. This has its advantages. One major advantage is that you don’t have to set up any hardware; maintenance is their problem. For me, 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. I might reconsider if any good services provide a lifetime of service for a one-off payment. 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. Depending on your purchase of a hard drive, this usually lasts 3 to 5 years. So it’s fairly low-cost maintenance.

How to set up cloud storage using a computer

First off, inspect your computer. Remove the case lid and blow out any dust that may be present. Power the computer up, and make sure it’s running. If any cooling fans are noisy, replace them.

If you need, we have put together a list of YouTube videos to look at to accomplish some of these important first tasks:

  1. How to replace computer fans. (Here is an article explaining how to add extra fans to your PC).
  2. How to replace a CPU fan.
  3. How to choose a replacement power supply. This applies if your computer is a little older.
  4. How to install a new power supply.

I would recommend replacing the power supply if it 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 will not be of any benefit after a certain point.

Suppose everything seems to power up, great. If not, try to discover the problem 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 is to have enough capacity to keep a rebuilt copy of your data if a drive fails.

My recommendation is the Western Digital Red drives. For any task, you cannot go wrong with Western Digital mechanical hard drives.

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 manually entering Zpool to create commands.

Setting up FreeNAS

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

Then install FreeNAS to your storage computer from your USB flash drive. (Video tutorial here and here).

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.

There are many ways to set it up and options for different functionality. Gaining experience through playing around with it will allow you to deliver the flexibility you need.

Becoming familiar with FreeNAS and the different things you can do with it will give you a powerful array of tools.

How to install a NAS storage device

This type of installation is really simple. Install your new hard drives if the unit doesn’t have 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. Then, a software package needs to be installed on your computer. If you use a smartphone, an app will be installed. 

The software should give you information about what the device is up to. It may prompt you to take other actions, 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 a default folder(s). You can create new folders or copy any files 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 annoying if you have to replace a hard drive. 

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

A NAS storage unit that allows you to hot-swap your drives is preferable. You won’t have to power the unit off whenever you want to change a drive.

How to set up a hard drive for your router

This is the budget form of cloud storage. See an example configuration here.

The features are limited to your router’s capability. Setting it up can be awkward, but it can still get there. 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. Remember that you need to know your external IP address for remote access, 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 whenever you restart your router.

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

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 using 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 avoid using the external hard drive connected to the router. It can be a lot of work to run correctly with remote access. 

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

In all honesty, if you are new to the whole cloud storage environment, it will be a steep learning curve. However, once you gain a grasp of the basics, things keep getting easier.

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

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