Where to start? Proxmox, or Unraid/FreeNAS

I have an old Lenovo system with a 4th gen i5 with 16 GB RAM and 2 8TB drives
I’m considering setting it up as a storage server.
I plan to eventually have a small cluster using something like Proxmox.

I’m looking for opinions on what to do with it.

One possibility is loading Proxmox on this system, and provisioning shared storage as the first service.
Or going with Unraid as I expect I will add disks to this system as I can, and not in large groups.
TrueNAS is an option, but I don’t think it will fit with my ability to only add disks occaisionally.

Sounds like a fun project. My usual first questions would be:

  1. what sort of data are you storing on it? If it is just cat videos then any of your above would work, however if you want clever things like game cache or video editing scratch space, then your options are narrower. Generally I would use truenas for high integrity data, proxmox for virtual machines.

  2. what services do you intend to run? Plex, Nextcloud, containers… Some play nicely with unraid but are generally easier on proxmox.

  3. what is your anticipated growth? If you are concerned about affordability of hard drives, then it is often better to follow good data cleanup practices and wait for them to go in sale and buy in pairs, rather than buy one now and one later. On truenas you can expand a pool easily by adding mirrored pairs. Proxmox is more of a pain (storage in proxmox is just a pain anyway). Unraid is easy but not as data safe.

  4. remember to plan for and perform backups. Notably of the config as well as the data.

Good luck


This pretty much my mirrors my setup and the advice I would give.

It’s good that you’re asking before diving in; if you have time, I would encourage to experiment and try out test setups before you begin, and also plan out what you want your system(s) to do, and how much money, and when, you’re going to invest into building them.
A central storage server without good backup is very risky…

Here’s my home set-up, that I’ve arrived at after multiple years of experimenting, and lots of my own time (and money) expended.

First, I use BackBlaze for off-site backup of all my critical data. so that’s part of my 3-2-1 strategy…]

I have a primary home server and backup server, both running TrueNAS Core. Both are home-built, with Ryzen CPUs & ECC RAM, and ZFS VDEVs set up as mirrored pairs [exactly as @Airstripone describes], using shucked WD Red drives from WD enclosures [always bought as pairs during BestBuy sales]:

  • Primary server has “first layer” data for all my computers - photos, home videos, games, receipts, tax documents, plus music archive and video archive [split into multiple ZFS datasets, based on the importance and function of the data]
  • Backup server: this [less powerful server] is 100% dedicated for backups, and is a target for the macOS, Windows and Linux machines on my network [e.g. via TimeMachine] and also for specific data sets from the primary sever…

I used to run a Plex VM on the primary TrueNas server, but have subsequently built a couple of Proxmox machines, and now host all my VMs on these:

  • Proxmox #1 - for “production VMs” - Plex, PiHole, TrueCommand, music server, print server, etc…
  • Proxmox #2 - using old hardware, for experiments - e.g. macOS VMs, GPU passthrough experiments, etc…

A few years ago, before settling on the above, I also experimented with Unraid [and have a paid license], but I don’t currently use it. IMHO, it’s like the jack of all trades; it does everything in an OK way, but none of it as well at the specialized solutions above.
I may still pull all of my old/unused HDDs together and set up something using unraid as a an additional layer of backup [i.e. a backup-of-my-backup server]…
Advantages of Unraid:

  • ease of use / UI [for storage and VM setup]
  • very flexible and easy to add mixed HDDs on the fly
  • very supportive community

Hope this helps. Ultimately, experimenting and trying things out for yourself is the only way to truly design and build the systems you want/need… and, hopefully, also have a lot of fun/enjoyment/learning along the way…

Thanks for the input.

I was hoping to start the ‘real’ deployment this weekend, but reality has intervened.

My professional background is enterprise data center server administration.

One of the things that is making this difficult is that I want to have the backup in place as soon as this goes live. I may not have a full 3-2-1 in place on day one, but there will be a plan to get there.

Unraid would be easier to fit into the equipment I have today, but it makes the backup solution more complicated. With TrueNAS, I can use replication to second server, and to a remote server, to meet the redundancy target. This is pretty much a solved problem.

I am considering a Proxmox cluster to cover services, and for the lab environment (likely a different cluster). Since I was going to stand this up eventually, the possibility of using Proxmox to manage the file storage as well is attractive. I like have a single dashboard to see the state of my environment. (Of course, I could create my own to collect state from whatever solution I end up with, so this is a very minor benefit.)

Initially, I am looking to use this for storage of data I currently have on a number of small (mostly USB) drives while I am clearing out old equipment we have accumulated over a couple decades. This is purely cold storage.

The next item is a local backup target. Currently, I am using a combination Backblaze and CrashPlan. This will get me to 3-2-1 for those systems.

After that, I will be collecting pictures I have in various media into one place and properly backing them up.

Finally, I will need shared storage if I once high-availability of the services running in the cluster.

@Airstripone I agree that ZFS is the standard for storage integrity. However, I also agree that backups are required. While ZFS is better, Unraid is likely good enough for local reliability.

@edge-case That looks like what I am envisioning. I was hoping to be able to do several of the functions on a single system, at least at the start. Since I want storage first, I’m thinking to start with just that, and grow from there.

Current issue is that I can only connect 2 drives internally on the old system I plan to use which is a large reason I was looking at Unraid, as that can work with the required flash drive and two array drives. However, TrueNAS looks like it will be the best for the full solution due to the ease of replication. I just need to figure out a way to get a third device attached that I can boot from.

I run unraid as my server and proxmox as my backup target. I used to have freenas but it proved to be too unreliable.