I'm looking at building/buying a NAS and I'm tossing up between buying an appliance based NAS such as the Infrant RadyNAS NV (here: ReadyNAS NV) or building my own NAS using a Celeron based PC and using the motherboards onboard RAID controller (say something like this: Asus P5LD2).
I'm reasonably PC literate but I've never had to use or deal with RAID before so I'm not across all the pitfalls and issues etc. I've done some reading on the appliance based systems and I like the ReadyNAS NV appliance the best (from what I've seen) but I know it'll cost a few hundred dollars more for a comparable storage array. I've also read that the Asus motherboard I'm looking at should work ok as a NAS doing onboard hardware RAID and it'll be a bit cheaper.
My thoughts are that the appliance NAS is (hopefully) more reliable and robust, but more expensive. PC NAS is likely to be less reliable as it has to run the underlying OS as well (such as XP etc - note I don't want to run Linux etc as I'm not very good with it) or I could set it up with FreeNAS but limited support might be an issue with this??
In short, I'm confused and would appreciate all advice, tips and comments (particularly from people that have done similar things).
I think that your estimation of the quality and reliability, etc., of consumer NAS boxes might be excessive. The off-the-shelf devices are running an OS -- typically a version of Linux, and they're typically running very inexpensive hardware. So, free OS + cheap hardware + cute box + build and support = product. You can easily do better if you know what you're doing.
One of the key problems IMO with beginners starting out with RAID is that they assume that because it has redundancy that they don't need another backup. This can lead to further problems when it comes time to modify or extend the RAID setup. So my advice would be to reduce the server budget if necessary to factor in some sort of backup.
There are no really good and affordable "real" backup solutions in the consumer space for TB+ level capacity at this time, so alternatives must be considered. Even a single external drive that's occasionally connected to backup the critical files, would be better than nothing. There are some off-the-shelf simple RAID arrays that are connected via firewire / USB as well. Another solution is to build/buy two servers; identical, or a cheaper one for just backups.
OK, enough on backup; I'll leave you to figure that one out for yourself.
On-board RAID 5 implementations typically don't perform very well for writes. However, they'll probably still out-perform consumer NAS boxes. The "real" solution for performance in Windows would an add-on controller, even "software-assisted" solutions such as the RocketRaid line (notably PCIe) tend to perform well.
RAID maintenance is typically easier with the OS on a separate drive. PATA frees up additional SATA slots. A big can be partitioned into OS and secondary backup.
Drives should be actively cooled for better health and longer life. E.g. Antec SLK3000B + ThermalTake iCage + Zalman Fanmate + add-on 120mm fan can cool 8 drives well. Server-style cases incorporating devices such as the iCage can do this job a bit better, but typically at somewhat higher cost.
My advice, because you are not Open to the wonderful world Linux would be to go with a pre-built NAS and populate it as you move on. You'll avoid all the non-sense that most home brew users face ( like me ) and gain all the benefits of a warranty.
I have a Buffalo NAS, it works pretty good - the TeraStation PRO series uses SATA drives, has Gigabit Ethernet and Active Directory integration support if you need it. The menus could use some help but it is functional - a .6TB model is a little over $700: