Firstly, my spec is: N36L version (the older one) with 8GB RAM, 2x2TB RAID, 1x2TB Backup. All running FreeNAS.
I rip movies on my desktop machine and then copy them up to my NAS.
* The server will be used to store media to be streamed via wired network to my soon to arrive raspberry pi running xbmc. Also want to use as backup for laptops in the house. Remote access would be nice so that I can access from the office - presumably though I'll need to sort out ip addresses/dns first.
Remote access would be handled by your router or maybe the NAS. I use DynDNS for this purpose.
* What o/s should I put on the server to allow me to do this - will Windows Server 2008 be ok, or should I go for 2011? Ebuyer has various versions of 2008 - which one do I need? I don't mind paying £30 for software that would work out of the box rather than try to set up linux.
A legit copy of Windows 2008 would be expensive. 2011 is the SBS product which includes 2008 Server. Whilst it will be fine (I've run this previously) it's an expensive proposition.
I'd recommend either Windows Home Server @ £36 or use FreeNAS. WHS has the advantage that it will backup all your laptops and it's easy to use.
* I have a blu-ray drive that I can add to the cd-rom drive bay as I want to rip blu-rays using MakeMKV - can this be installed onto the server o/s?
Encoding performance is a bit poo on these. It will do it but your laptop is probably faster. MakeMKV can be installed on WHS and not FreeNAS
* Alternatively should I just use something like FreeNas and then use my laptop to access the blu-ray drive and rip the disc to another drive on the server - will the increased processor speed of my laptop make up for the fact that I've got to run through the network (wired)? Failing that, its a case of ripping the blu-ray on my work computer and transporting it via USB drive.
External Blu-Ray drive? Rip on laptop and then transfer to the NAS?
* Usage is unlikely to be heavy (no VM as I don't know anything about that yet) so can I get away with standard ram, or do I need more to stream media?
I'd personally upgrade to 4Gb with a minimum 2GB for either FreeNAS or WHS. I've got 8GB and it's not utilised and it generally sits just above 2GB