A network hard drive usually doesn’t have much to do with the topic of smarthome. As Network Attached Storage or NAS system it stores computer data and makes it available to other devices – even if the PC is switched off at the time. For example, you can stream MP3 music around the clock or access your digital photo collection via tablet.
Technically, they are small computers with enough processing power to run their own programs. This makes them interesting as smarthome helpers. In our house, the NAS system has taken over more and more functions over time, which I wouldn’t want to do without today. In and of themselves, many would not justify the purchase of a device costing several hundred dollars. But if the NAS moves into the home anyway, it can also take over a few tasks in the smarthome at the same time.
A NAS system is the perfect homebridge
Those who use HomeKit intensively have certainly already heard about the software Homebridge belongs. It connects devices to Apple’s Smarthome interface that the manufacturer didn’t even intend for it – products such as Logitech’s Harmony Hub or Laundrify washing machine sensor, for example.
Usually Homebridge servers run on a Raspberry Pi or other minicomputer on the network, which among other things has the disadvantage of having yet another device with its own power supply sitting around at home. In addition, the SD cards in such single-board computers are actually not designed for constant read and write access, which can have a negative impact on their lifespan. And if the memory card fails, the Homebridge installation is gone, too – unless there is an up-to-date backup.
A NAS system does not know such problems, because it was designed for continuous operation. It also usually offers more processing power, making the Homebridge more responsive and accessible. That’s why I moved our installation to the NAS some time ago. A relatively easy way to do this is with virtualization software Docker. It can be downloaded directly from the internet on common systems from Asustor, QNAP or Synology and installed on the NAS. Any programs will then run in the Docker environment – isolated in so-called containers – so that they do not endanger general operations.
A corresponding Docker container is also available for Homebridge. Once installed, it acts like its own computer with IP address and running Homebridge on the network. Instructions for the setup are available on YouTube and on the Internet. Just google docker, homebridge and the manufacturer name like QNAP or Synology. The setup takes some time, especially if you are new to the topic. But the effort is worth it.
Home Assistant, ioBroker, OpenHAB& Co.
But the Docker principle does not only work with Homebridge. Such containers are available for all common automation solutions. If you don’t know which open source software to choose, you can try them all safely. Simply the image for FHEM, Home Assistant, ioBroker, openHAB or download another system and set it up on the NAS. For example, I’ve found that Home Assistant suits me best because it requires relatively little effort to learn.
Theoretically, it is also possible to run several automation systems in parallel on the NAS, which then control the same Hue bridge, Sonos speakers and other devices via the network. I don’t see the point of this though – other than to cause confusion. Because in the end, no one knows which rule just turns on the light or plays music
Tip: It’s best to configure the Docker containers to store their smarthome data and settings outside the container in a directory on the NAS. Then the software containers can be updated or replaced without having to set up all the devices again. Instructions for this are also available on the web.
Music streaming with the NAS as Roon server
As the owner of an extensive music collection with more than 25.000 titles I have been using for a long time Roon as audio server (LINK). I come from a time when music was still bought as a CD or download – even though Apple Music has now become a permanent fixture in everyday life. Some pearls of the collection and especially classical albums are simply missing in the streaming catalog of the major providers. I’ll get them from the NAS.
The advantage of a Roon server here is the preparation. What Roon does with the sparsely maintained metadata of my tracks is just phenomenal. Cover images, artist biographies and record reviews as well as countless cross references help me to rediscover forgotten treasures. Navigating it is easier and much more transparent than any automated suggestion list from Amazon, Apple, Spotify& Co.
I haven’t even exhausted all the possibilities in the smarthome yet. For example, automation software such as Home Assistant can control Roon playback and take this opportunity to integrate AirPlay devices – to play locally stored music tracks without any internet connection at all.
In the simplest case the Roon server runs – also Roon Core called – on a Windows, Mac or Linux computer in the network. But there is also a solution for NAS systems from Asustor, ONAP and Synology, which makes the system independent from the computer.
One catch of this otherwise great software: Although Roon is not cheap and costs 120 US dollars per year or 700 US dollars once, patented audio codecs like MP3 and AAC are missing in the package. This means that the server can’t play AAC downloads from the iTunes store by default (Read tip: Why doesn’t my audio file play??).
On a Mac or Windows PC it doesn’t matter much, the Roon server simply uses the pre-installed audio codecs of the operating system. On a NAS these are not always available. Then affected files remain silent. QNAP, for instance, has with the release of its NAS software QTS 4.5 the necessary software components ffmpeg removed from the installation package. Solution: install ffmpeg manually. Roon recommends the version by John van Sickle (LINK) on its support pages (LINK). An English tutorial for this can be found in the QNAP forum (LINK).
Which NAS systems are suitable?
Applications such as Homebridge& Co., which usually run on a Raspberry Pi, virtually shake modern NAS systems from the finger. The processor only has to use a few percent of its power to do this. The additional energy consumption is also of little consequence. Of course a NAS has more hunger than a minicomputer. In my case, it is an average of 30 watts, which is about ten times more than a RasPi (3 to 5 watts). However, the NAS storage is running anyway to deliver data, music and videos at any time. You could also say, I save the additional consumption of a Smarthome server again.
For Roon somewhat stricter standards apply. Software demands more power from the computer. A processor of the category Intel i3 or better should be already, so that the playback does not stutter. Also recommended is a NAS with fast SSD storage or at least a combination of SSD and HDD for the database of the Roon system. Otherwise, scrolling and searching through extensive libraries takes what feels like an eternity.
I for one treated myself to a fanless silent NAS from QNAP last year (HS-453DX). It releases its heat to the environment via a solid metal lid and therefore produces hardly any noise. Only access to hard drives is quietly perceptible from a short distance away. Equipped with two SSDs and two conventional hard disks from Western Digital, it has never disappointed me. In continuous operation, however, its 22 by 40 centimeter surface reaches such high temperatures that you could use it as a plate warmer at the table.