Okay, key things I'm trying to accomplish:

  • Add a firewall to my network
  • Add media file storage (doesn't necessarily have to be on the network, but i would prefer it to be)
  • Add a regular file server to the network for pictures, documents, etc. (i have 4 500GB WD SATA drives i was planning to use for this)
  • Add a print server to the network

I have been thinking about this for quite a while now, and there are so many different options, I just thought I would get other people's thoughts / advice on the matter...

Option #1:
Thermaltake Level 10 GTS case comes with 4 hot swap bays already installed, so I would need to get a 5.25" to 3.5" 4 bay enclosure for the other array.
Basically, I could build an ESXi box with 3-4 virtual machines running (firewall, print server, file server #1, file server #2)
The RAID arrays would have to be hot swappable because if they aren't I would have to shut the whole system down to change the drives over, and with the firewall being on the machine too... i obviously want to avoid and down time...
I was thinking about either an i5 or an i3 with 8gb - 16gb of memory (since it's all VM).
Highpoint 2 port SAS RAID controller card set in JBOD (i'll be running freeNAS), and a couple fan out cables.
The primary drive would be an SSD between 40-80gb to ensure speed and stability.
No need for optical drive (i'll be installing all OS via USB).
I already have 4 1tb WD green drives for RAID 5/6 media array and 4 500gb WD scorpio for RAID 5/6 general array.
[price range around $900 on newegg, and i was kinda hoping to keep it around $500-$600]

Option #2:
Instead of having both RAID arrays in the same physical case, I could just get a smaller box with a 5.25" to 3.5" 4 bay enclosure, build the firewall and everything in there (same as option 1), but have the media array in a separate 4 bay RAID enclosure just hooked up through USB3 or E-sata to one of my existing systems. The thing i'm not sure of is the quality of the RAID controllers in these... anyone have experience with these??

Option #3:
I could build a simple P4 system with 2gb of ram and direct install the firewall onto it, and have a completely separate system in a DMZ off the firewall for both RAID arrays and print server. The problem i'm seeing with this, is that I would likely be running ESXi on the second box and would end up needing the extra memory anyways, so I might as well build it all in one...

Option #4:
I build separate machines for everything... ugh... but that would take up ALOT of space.

Anyways... those are just SOME of the options I have thought about.
Main points:
4x 1tb drives in RAID 5/6 must be hot swappable(media storage)
4x 500gb drives in RAID 5/6 must be hot swappable(general net storage)

trying to get the best set up in the smallest amount of space for the least amount of money.
I'm all about reliability and redundancy, so I would prefer intel, but for the right price... maybe... MAYBE, i might think about AMD... but... probably not. haha

any tips, ideas, or suggestions would be GREATLY appreciated.
please include parts, links, etc for any ideas you have if possible.

Thank you

Option #5:
Buy a small rack (6U - 9U) and build everything in actual server cases...

Dont waste money on the thermaltake to begin. Why not start by buying any pieces that you DEFINETELY will need regardless of the option. Test out which configuration works best after testing those parts. Server rack sounds like a good idea as well

Building anything with 1 esxi host will not save you downtime as the patching for esxi requires frequent reboots. Be prepared to have downtime anyway.

Usually, perimeter firewalls are an appliance. You can of course build a dedicated host for this, but usually the appliances are just as good and can be cheaper depending on your needs.

Any tower server with multiple 5 1/4 inch slots can probably use a forward facing hot swap drive tray. Essentially, any SATA is hot swap. I've seen a nice piece of hardware that sets the drives forward facing in a cage granting access to 4 drives at once without shutting down the host.

Don't do RAID in an external enclosure for your Guest OS drives. It would be good for general storage, but too slow for multiple machines running on it.

External SAN with jumbo frames enabled is a good option for ESXi and I use it with great success running 80 servers off an equallogic array across dedicted gig links with 9k jumbo frames enabled.

Thanks for the reply. I dont think I mentioned this before, but this is just for my home network. The largest amount of 'clients' accessing the file server portion will only be 2 or 3 at a time. There wont be any large files stored there. As stated, it will be only for pictures, music, documents, etc... Just acting as a network backup for our family files.
As for the firewall, I think I agree will Delnith that I should only get what I need right now, and expand in the future as required.
I have an old desktop-type HTPC case that I'm not using, so I'm going to use that for my ESX box.

Planned components for my ESX box:
ASUS P8H61-M LX PLUS R2.0 LGA 1155 motherboard
Dual core Pentium processor
8gb ddr3 1600 memory
2x Intel gigabit NICs (1 in, 1 out)
Corsair 430w builder series PSU
120gb SSD (for ESX, firewall software, and separate OS for print server)
500gb or larger HDD for reporting, record keeping, and backups.
I wont need an optical drive, as I will be installing ALL OS via USB.

For the 'file server' idea... I might just get a 2 bay USB RAID enclosure, and simply 'share' the files over my network...

There's also the idea of using active directory for the file server portion of this... But that was just a thought... I've never used active directory before, but I'm sure I could learn.

Any suggestions? Thoughts?