I was introduced to the concept thanks to Linus Tech Tips (YouTube video here). unRAID is a Linux distribution that is aimed at being a Network Attached Storage, Virtualisation Host and Docker Application server for 'container' applications.
Background and first steps
I have a SuperMicro SuperServer 5027R-WRF loaded with 32GB ECC RAM, an Intel Xeon E5-2609 v2, four 4TB (16TB) Hitachi NAS HDDs and an old 120GB OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS SSD for the OS.
Originally this was used with Windows Server 2012 and had Hyper-V managing various Windows and Linux VMs. It was aimed at being a lab server for various applications and testing as well as being a network storage server.
After seeing the Linus Tech Tips video it sparked an idea, instead of using various VMs on Hyper-V to run applications such as Nginx, Plex and Source Servers when I could use Docker to manage this. unRAID also supported stable VMs using QEMU/KVM and had built in software RAID which allowed very flexible expandability of the RAID including mixing and matching of various sizes and speeds of hard drives.
To boot (and quite literally) unRAID used a USB Flash Drive of at least 1GB rather than the OCZ Vertex 3 I traditionally used for the OS.
The process was simple.
Download unRAID, copy it to the flash drive and run the script to make it bootable. Plug the drive into the server and set it to boot from USB. Finally it was just following the documentation which simply entering in http://tower on my desktop's browser.
Vollia! I was up and running.
Initial Configuration and my first Docker container
I was now presented with the default unRAID web interface.
The interface permitted me to select my Hitachi drives. Three as storage and one as a parity drive for RAID fault torerance. I also assigned my OCZ Vertex 3 as a cache drive for the performance boost.
Once I started the array I was free to configure the unRAID server as I saw fit. I set up my SMB shares so I could add it as a network drive under my desktop and slowly begun transferring all my unneeded (but still necessary) crap to the new unRAID server storage. Whilst doing so I decided to check out Docker.
I'd strongly suggest to have a look at the LimeTech unRAID forums if you want information about the containers that are provider. I found one by LinuxServer.io that was a Plex Server which is great as I originally ran Plex on Windows Sever for the household and on the go.
The process for adding Docker Containers is seamless, the unRAID Web UI filled in the default details and let me add any other variables, paths or or ports I wanted the container to use.
Once added the Plex container immediately started and I was able to use the unRAID Web UI once again to launch Plex's own Web UI.
I now begun adding all my TV shows and Movies to Plex and syncing the libraries. Thanks to the SSD the process was a little quicker than just with the hard drives by themselves.
My final thoughts
I've got to hand it to LimeTech. They made a product that does everything I need and more, with a large community expanding the functionality of unRAID with plugins and whatnot, it's a no brainer. Many users say they moved from FreeNAS, something I haven't had personal experience with, but unRAID appears to be more feature-filled from a brief look.
unRAID appears to be the clear winner here, that is if your wanting to shell out for a lifetime license for a mere $59 USD after the 30 day trial period which yes, you can extend it upon request if your still on the fence about it.
To me it was well worth the cost. The folk at Lime Tech have done a wonderful job on this OS to cater to all things and more!
I'll probably expand what I use in unRAID around plugins and Docker containers as a later topic if anyones interested.