Building an Open Media Vault NAS (Part 2— Choosing and Installing OMV)

A place to call /home/

Check out the other sections of this guide:

In the last article about building my NAS, I described the hardware I chose in building my home NAS. If you’ve followed that guide (and even if you haven’t, but are looking to install NAS software) you can follow this guide to install Open Media Vault, a robust Debian-based operating system.

Choose Your Own Adventure: Windows 10 or Open Media Vault

My first NAS was a Mac Mini, and Mac OS (sorry, macOS these days) is (surprisingly) a pretty decent file server out of the box, especially if you want to store iPhoto, iTunes, or Time Machine backups across your network.

Disregarding a Hackintosh build (which is well beyond the scope of this article) for a custom built NAS though, your options are Windows or some open source Unix-based operating system. I’m going to avoid any desktop Linux distros (like vanilla Debian or Ubuntu). They can be adapted into providing the NAS functionality you need, but it seems like a lot of unnecessary work when there are already NAS-focused distros.

Windows 10 may not be an obvious choice for NAS operating system, but it’s actually a good option. Windows’s much-vaunted software compatibility is a big deal. Coming from the QNAP, where the App Store is very limited and reliant on third-parties to adapt software to the OS, the range of usable software on Windows is amazing. You’re not relying on a third-party to modify and maintain the software, and nearly everything is compatible with Windows. Need a music server? You have several compatible options. Need a torrent client? Pick from dozens of quality apps. Similarly, when you do get stuck, it’s easier to find documentation for Windows on the web than any other OS.

Additionally, you know how to use Windows. Even if you don’t have a ton of experience on Windows lately, Windows 10 is very similar to its predecessors. Plus, the OS is designed so that your parents can use it, so the learning curve is not very steep.

Windows 10’s major selling point for NAS usage is Storage Spaces, an advanced RAID-like drive pooling file system which offers data redundancy. I haven’t used Storage Spaces personally, though my research indicates that the feature is much better in Windows 10 than it was in previous versions, and looks to be a viable option for pooling drives in a Windows-based NAS.

There are a number of downsides to Windows, though. Windows 10 takes more space than other NAS operating systems. You’ll need at least 64GB to install Win10, and it’s very difficult to trim down the cruft you won’t need (compare that to the 2GB minimum needed by Open Media Vault). Using Windows 10 means you will have considerable useless overhead (much of it hard or impossible to remove). And of course, Windows 10, unlike an open source OS, will cost you money for a license.

On the free open source side, I investigated a few different options, including FreeNAS, NAS4Free, and Open Media Vault. I ultimately decided on OMV for a few reasons. First, I liked that the OS was based on Debian Linux. OMV’s Debian roots mean Debian software and its apt packet manager work in OMV. Those packages also get updated regularly.

OMV’s plugin ecosystem is also pretty good, and the community is active. Coming from QNAP, OMV’s plugin system is great; instead of a few abandoned packages for torrent clients, Subsonic, and other software, the community has worked to keep plugins and documentation updated (don’t underestimate the need for up-to-date docs).

OMV is also focused on home and small business use, so it just felt like a good fit. For example, unlike other NAS distros, it doesn’t use the ZFS file system (and therefore didn’t have the RAM overhead those systems do). Focused on that home/small business niche, OMV’s overall system requirements are also quite modest.

  • CPU: Any i486 or amd64 compatible processor.
  • RAM: 1 GB capacity
  • System Drive: 2 GB
  • Data Drive: Up to you

There are downsides to OMV, though. The only GUI you can access is through its web interface. You won’t be able to VNC/remote desktop into the machine like you would a Windows NAS. Rather you’ll have to use the web gui, SSH, or FTP. In a larger context, there’s a (possibly steep) learning curve if you’re not familiar with Unix, and what you save in money you might lose in time coming to grips with the OS. And while OMV’s plugin ecosystem is good, it doesn’t contain everything (though you can leverage Debian’s package system to install software that’s not already packaged as a OMV plugin), and the breadth of software certainly doesn’t match Windows.

The price was right for OMV, and I prefer using Unix-like systems when possible (plus, in addition to my Mac laptop, and my Windows gaming PC, this allowed me to use Linux on a regular basis), so I decided to install it and at least kick the tires. I gave myself an out though, by making sure the SSD I installed on my NAS had enough space for Windows, if I decided OMV wasn’t the right fit. I’ve been cruising along happily with OMV for months now though, so it appears to have won out.

To be fair this isn’t a comparison between NAS OSs, since I haven’t tried all the options extensively. I’ve provided links to the other OSes I investigated, though, and I’d encourage you to research them. VirtualBox, a free virtualization app, will let you test drive NAS operating systems without installing on separate hardware (I used VirtualBox for the installation screenshots below).

Before moving forward, if you didn’t follow my guide on building a NAS and are using some other machine, you may want to make sure you also check Open Media Vault’s requirements guide before diving in.

Create the Install Media for Open Media Vault

Assuming you’ve got your machine up and running, and you’ve decided to use OMV, it’s time to install the software. You can click here to access Open Media Vault’s Github page, and the link at the top of the page will let you download the latest ISO.

Keep in mind, this ISO will be for the 2.x version of Open Media Vault. As I write this guide, version 3.x is in testing, but isn’t really ready production use, especially for our purposes. Stay on 2.x by downloading the recommended ISO.

Next, you’ll want to create a bootable USB from the ISO. You can use UNetbootin under Windows, Mac, and Linux to create the install media. UNetbootin provides a GUI that allows you to choose the ISO and the drive very simply.

First click the Diskimage option, and choose the ISO you downloaded. Then choose the USB drive from the dropdown drive menu.

Creating your bootable USB couldn’t be easier

Once you’ve created your installation media, you’ll to boot into it. Start by putting the drive in your NAS, hook up a keyboard, an ethernet cable for networking, and then boot the machine. If you used the ASrock motherboard from the hardware guide, press F11 as the computer boots (there will be a prompt). Once you’re in the BIOS configuration, specify the USB drive as your boot drive, exit the config, and the computer should boot into the OMV installer. If you used another motherboard, the process is largely similar, though you may need to check the web for correct key to enter the BIOS config (on the ASUS motherboard in my gaming PC, for example, it’s Del).

Off We Go — Installing Open Media Vault

Are you a bad enough dude to install OMV

The above screen is what you’ll see when the OMV installer boots. You can use the keyboard to choose the first option, Install, or if the pressure of the countdown gets to you, let the Automatic boot option choose it.

This is an easy one

Don’t let the next screens scare you — the installer looks lo-fi, but is actually pretty easy to walk through. Most people won’t even need this guide. Whether you decide to brave it alone, or continue to follow this guide, use the arrow keys to choose a language, or just press Enter for English.

Next choose your location and keyboard layout. The installer will load some more yummy NAS goodness and try to autoconfigure your network settings. It should succeed if your ethernet’s plugged in. If so, OMV will ask you for a name for the NAS. This name will show up when you access the machine from the network. The default name, “openmediavault” is fine, but if you want to get creative, go nuts. Unless you have reason to do otherwise, use the default for the domain name as well.

The next steps asks you to enter the “root” password, then confirm it. The root account is the administrative, superuser account on Linux systems. This is the first step you’ll need to be careful at, for two reasons.

First, you’ll want a strong password. Someone with unauthorized access to your NAS can do a catastrophic amount of damage to your data. Protect your NAS, pick a strong password, and make note of it.

Second, keep in mind this user/password combination is what you’ll use to SSH into the machine to administer it. It’s not the password you’ll enter on the NAS’s web UI (screenshot below) to log in and do day-to-day tasks. It’s a little confusing, but just note that user “root” and your password are what you log into the command line on OMV (either when physically at the machine or SSH-ing into it).

Next you’ll choose your specific time zone (I suspect that if you chose a country with one time zone earlier, you won’t see this screen).

Remember that OMV needs an entire drive to itself in addition to your data drives. If you have multiple drives already hooked up (if you followed the hardware guide, you would have hooked up your data drives in addition to your OS drive), the Open Media Vault installer will prompt you to pick the drive to install OMV on.

It should be pretty obvious which drive is your data drive by the size, so choose that. You’ll be losing a the space on a big, expensive drive if you choose the wrong one, so make sure you choose the small SSD (or thumb drive, or hard disk).

On the off chance you’re using data drives with something on them, and you want to preserve that data, be careful — the OMV installer will wipe everything on the drive it installs Open Media Vault on.

I also remember having some issues at this part of the installation. I can’t quite remember what the issue was, and spent some time trying to recreate it in VirtualBox. If you have a problem here, I’d recommend disconnecting all the SATA cables from your data drives, so that only the SSD (or other) OS drive shows up (in which case the installer will automatically skip these screens).

The installer will load more of the OS, then ask for a mirror to download updated Debian packages (this is simply to choose the fastest place to download the packages from). If you’re in the U.S., choose that option and let’s move on. The next screen asks for a specific server. If possible choose the ftp.<country code>debian.org option, which is the default if you chose the U.S. Finally, to configure the Debian package manager’s access to the outside world, the installer will ask you for proxy information. Likely, you won’t need this (and if you do, you already know what to enter), so leave it black and move forward.

Floppies!

Take a breath, grab a Snickers, and let the installer download packages from the server you chose. After some magic, the installer will finish downloading new packages and pop up this final screen (above). Take OMV’s advice, remove the USB drive from your NAS, and hit continue.

OMV will reboot your machine, and you’ll get a screen like the one above. When I was installing OMV on to my NAS for the first time, I was worried I had broken the installation at this point, but this is just the GRUB bootloader asking whether to boot the OS or into safe mode (Open Media Vault is based on Debian, hence the name). You can let it auto boot into OMV, or choose the first option. OMV will display the systems it’s starting up during the boot.

You should end up at a screen similar to the one above, though instead of “No interface(s) available” Open Media Vault should display the IP address you can enter into your browser’s URL bar.

If the IP address isn’t displayed, you can log into the system using the name and address you configured during the install (root/your password). Enter root, and press enter, then OMV will prompt you for the password (like other Unix systems, OMV won’t display any characters when you enter your password). That will log you in, and you can enter the following command:

ifconfig -a

That will display OMV’s networking information. The IP address you’ll need will be displayed next to “inet addr”.

Once you have that information, you can remove the keyboard, since you won’t be physically accessing the machine again. Find your laptop or other computer, fire up your web browser, and enter the IP address into the URL bar.

Remember when I told you about a different password for the webgui? That’s this screen. The default login info here is admin / openmediavault

You will be greeted by the above screen. You can log in using the webgui username and password (it was displayed when you got the IP address after the OMV installer rebooted your NAS). As a reminder, that information is:

admin / openmediavault

You’ve got a working Open Media Vault install, but our work isn’t down quite yet. In the next guide, I’ll show you how to configure OMV. However, there’s one thing we should do before moving on: change your password, and secure your install.

Enter the above login information and you’ll see the following screen, the meat and potatoes of your OMV install.

Click on the first link on the left rail (which is the second line), “General Settings,” and then on Web Administrator Password. Enter your new password, and confirm it. The installation is done, and you’ve secured your NAS.

In the upcoming last section of this guide, I’ll show you how I configured OMV and some plugins I found particularly useful. See you then.

A single golf clap? Or a long standing ovation?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.