Use Amahi for NAS/GIS on Steroids

Lately I’ve been in the market for….something. Mostly backups. Which to me means either a NAS or an offsite storage solution, like S3 or Dropbox (also kind of S3). Right now I handle backups via rsync to a drive sitting in my main PC, but that’s not ideal for any number of reasons.

With offsite backup you get the benefits of disaster protection (i.e. if the house burns down it doesn’t take your NAS with it), along with universal access from any machine on the grid. But it comes with a monthly fee, and since you’re pushing data through the tubes, it isn’t exactly like throwing data around on your 1000MB lan. Not to mention my wife works with HIPAA data, and you have to be careful where you put that stuff. Either S3 or Dropbox would probably be OK if I encrypted those docs with TrueCrypt, but every time I think about looking through some HIPAA regs I fall asleep on the spot. Basically for ~50GB you’re looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 a month no matter how you cut it. I’ve done the math several times and going cheaper is like trying to find the mythical $5 Mexican blanket.

On the other hand, a NAS is yours, and moving data should be as fast as your internal network and your hard drive spindles can take you. A NAS can vary so widely in price based on features/storage that it’s hard to put a price on, but we’ll say ~$250 for 300GB+, whether you buy it or make it (assuming you don’t have a scrap-metal PC you can use for your NAS).

But there’s another wrinkle with a NAS. Many NAS devices do a lot more than data backups these days. VPN, media servers, ftp servers, web servers - NAS devices are becoming multi-tasking servers in themselves.

Which brings me to Amahi, which I read about on It’s strictly software (you’ll need your own hardware for this NAS), but the amount of things it does is amazing, including some FOSS GIS love.

What will Ahahi do in addition to backing up files?

  • Audio streaming (including iTunes)
  • Web server
  • WebDAV for calendaring and support for Vista's calendar client and iCal
  • DHCP and DNS servers (OpenDNS integration)
  • VPN
  • File sharing (linux, Mac, Windows)
  • Wiki, Wordpress, and other collaborative software
  • Integrated search engine
  • Outlook synchronization
  • Torrent server
  • A host of web apps, from a personal weight tracker to a slide show viewer. You can run server side stuff with Python, Ruby, PHP, etc.
  • Lots more, with more added all the time
  • Slick web interfaces to manage it
But the thing that caught my eye was the "Maps" app. It's basically an OpenLayers application using OpenStreetMap and OpenAerialsMap. You download it, enable it in the management interface, and you've got a working mapping site on your home network. Just like that.

The fact that web mapping sites (and OpenLayers) have become so ubiquitous that your NAS may come with one says something about this GIS space. I think these types of developments are going to pick up even more steam in the next year or so, and it’s going to continue to put a lot of pressure on proprietary mappings stacks, particularly on the front-end (back end pieces will likely live much longer).

So, what to do for my backup needs? The ultimate solution is to have a NAS to back up to and to use for all their other magical goodies, and have the NAS in turn sync with an online backup solution. But that’s some serious cheddar, and I’m not sure I have 3-4 Playstation games worth of backup concerns in me. I think I’ll start with the free 2GB Dropbox space and see how it works. They have a good linux client, and I’ve heard positive things about them since they went “public” in September. Still, I can see myself tossing Amahi in a virtual instance just to oogle it.

Amahi currently requires Fedora, but they’re working on a Ubuntu version.