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Review: FreeNAS

Earlier today I posted a Lifehacker article about building a home server using Ubuntu which is a solid free Open source option based on Linux. I thought i would also share this gem of an OS FreeNAS with you which does many of the same things outlined in the lifehacker article.

I’ve been using FreeNAS for a few years now and find it to be a highly capable operating system and I thought i’d share with you some of the information about the OS.

What is NAS?

Network-Attached Storage (NAS) is a computer attached to a network that is dedicated solely to providing data storage for other devices on the network. This is often done either to save space, increase storage space cheaply, or provide convenient file-sharing. NAS systems were traditionally only high-powered servers, but as the power of commodity hardware has increased, it has become much easier to install a fast, efficient NAS server in home and small office environments, or just build one yourself!

FreeNAS will run on a lot of older hardware so it doesn’t need the High Powered servers from a company comms room and this is because of the underlying Operating System FreeBSD.

What is FreeBSD?

FreeBSD is a free Unix-like operating system descended from AT&T UNIX via BSD UNIX.  Although for legal reasons FreeBSD cannot be called “UNIX”,[1] as the direct descendant of BSD UNIX (many of whose original developers became FreeBSD developers), FreeBSD’s internals and system APIs are UNIX-compliant. Thanks to its permissive licensing terms, much of FreeBSD’s code base has become an integral part of other operating systems such as Apple’s OS X that have subsequently been certified as UNIX-compliant and have formally received UNIX branding. With the exception of the proprietary OS X, FreeBSD is the most widely used BSD-derived operating system in terms of number of installed computers, and is the most widely used freely licensed, open-source BSD distribution, accounting for more than three-quarters of all installed systems running free, open-source BSD derivatives.

FreeBSD is a complete operating system. The kerneldevice drivers, and all of the userland utilities, such as the shell, are held in the same source code revision tracking tree. (This is in contrast to Linux distributions, for which the kernel, userland utilities, and applications are developed separately, and then packaged together in various ways by others.) Third-party application software may be installed using various software installation systems, the two most common being source installation and package installation, both of which use the FreeBSD Ports system.

What is FreeNAS?

FreeNAS™ uses a custom version of FreeBSD and a web-based interface to provide a fully-featured NAS environment. FreeNAS™ offers software-based storage and backup solutions for a variety of applications, from home to enterprise.

Essentially FreeNAS has taken that solid core of FreeBSD and the stability and security it offers and removed the items it doesn’t need to reduce the size of the Operating system so it has a smaller footprint when it is installed. What you need with a NAS is for the software which controls it to take the least amount of space possible because this provides you with more space for storage on your box.

Features:

While a NAS  is essentially a simple system, it provides simple control to your storage FreeBSD offers many other features which i’ll take directly from their site later in this post however three things which I think are prudent to cover are:

Web Interface

FreeNAS 8 is managed entirely through a web browser interface after the initial setup. All of the services FreeNAS offers and all their settings can be configured though this graphical interface.

Volumes image

The volumes screen is where every FreeNAS configuration starts. The “New Volume” Button lets you select which drives you want to use and in what arrangement. Once each volume is created, additional options appear appropriate to the type of volume.

Users image

The FreeNAS Users and Groups Screens simplify adding new local users and configuring groups. All of the underlying FreeBSD options are available, and a number of default users and groups are provided for convenience or the needs of particular services.

Services image

FreeNAS offers a large number of sharing, user management and networking features that can all be enabled from this single page. Each toggle is also accompanied by a button to open up the configuration options for that service.

Sharing image

Shares for all three sharing protocols are managed from their respective sections of the sharing page. Individual shares can be added and configured here, but protocol settings must be changed from the appropriate service page.

Command Line

The FreeNAS CLI (Command Line Interface) allows many networking and connection tasks to be performed simply from the console, intended to assist in getting the web interface up and running quickly, without resorting to the shell.

Additionally, the web interface password can be reset from the CLI (so keep your console safe!) As a last resort in case of a horribly misconfigured installation, the FreeNAS configuration (shares, services, etc.) can be reset to the original defaults.

Of course, the shell interface of the underlying FreeBSD system is also available from the CLI. Power users can troubleshoot or perform complex tasks directly in the environment they’re used to.

ZFS

The Zettabyte File System is an advanced open source filesystem originally developed for Solaris. FreeNAS currently uses ZFS version 15 as its recommended filesystem for devices with 6GB of RAM or more.

ZFS includes software RAID called RAID-Z. Regular RAID-Z writes one parity block like RAID-5, while RAID-Z2 writes two parity blocks like RAID-6. Both are available in the FreeNAS Volumes screen when creating a new volume (assuming there are enough disks available). More complex parity arrangements are also possible.

Every ZFS filesystem is checksummed from top to bottom to confirm data integrity. If inconsistencies are found, parity blocks can be used to repair corrupt data. This scrub is turned on by default in FreeNAS 8 and can be scheduled or configured from the web interface.

At any time, a “snapshot” of a ZFS filesystem can be taken, preserving all files in the system at that time against deletion until the snapshot expires or is deleted. This can be done manually or scheduled regularly. These snapshots act as roll-back points in case of accidental critical data deletion.

Snapshots also provide a way to back up a ZFS filesystem – it’s possible to use them to incrementally back up a filesystem to another one. Replication can be scheduled regularly along with snapshots.

Other Features

Thin Provisioning

Thin Provisioning

Thin Provisioning is another excellent addition to the FreeNAS™ features list. Thin Provisioning allows the administrator to allocate users more space than physically exists in the system. When paired with ZFS, it becomes easy to manage your total data pool size, and quickly and effectively grow to meet your users needs as they use more of their allotted space.

Continue

Backup and Restore

Backup and Restore

Remote Replication allows you to copy a snapshot to an offsite server, for maximum data security.

Continue

Driver Support

Driver Support

FreeNAS is based on FreeBSD 8.2 and features much of the same driver support. This gives anyone building their own FreeNAS device or re-purposing old hardware a wide selection of hardware choices.

Continue

Snapshots

Snapshots

If your data is somehow lost, FreeNAS™ makes it easy to restore from a previously generated snapshot. With the periodic snapshots feature, you can worry less about data loss, and use your system stress free.

Continue

File Sharing

File Sharing

FreeNAS™ supports many popular networking protocols, and is easy to set up in most home and enterprise environments. You’ll be up and running in no time, and your users can connect with the protocol of your choice, no matter what operating system they run.

Continue

Feature Chart:

System (Hardware Requirements)

Minimum Requirements UFS only
2GB Disk Space
4GB RAM
Recommended Requirements Full ZFS
4GB Disk Space
6GB+ RAM
Networking
SMB/CIFS Windows shares, cross-compatible
AFP Apple Shares and Time Machine backup
NFS Unix shares, cross-compatible
FTP Transfer files through browser or client
TFTP For small file transfers
RSYNC Backup Service
SCP (SSH) Secure Remote administration or file transfer
iSCSI Share disks or volumes as block storage
Services
Bittorrent Plugin coming in 8.2
UPnP Server Plugin coming in 8.2
iTunes/DAAP Plugin coming in 8.2
Webserver Plugin coming in 8.2
Remote Replication Back up incrementally to other FreeNAS or ZFS devices
Snapshots Roll back to previous filesystem version
Thin Provisioning Allocate storage in advance of availablility
10GigE drivers Support for high-throughput hardware
VMware Guest Tools Enhanced performance as a VM
cron Schedule operations from web interface
sysctls Manage FreeBSD boot options from web interface

Drive Management

ZFS ZFS v.15
Software RAID 0, 1, 3 (in UFS)
Stripe, Mirror, RAID-Z, RAID-Z2 (in ZFS)
“Fake RAID” Software graid
UFS Unix File System
Ext2/3 May be imported
FAT May be imported
NTFS May be imported
RAID-Z Double or single parity

Monitoring

S.M.A.R.T. Monitor hardware status
Email Alert Email messages on designated alerts
SNMP Standards-compliant management interface
Syslog Standard system message format
Remote Syslog Store system messages remotely
UPS Power failure protection
Web Interface Manage FreeNAS over the web
Net CLI Web shell interface coming in 8.2

Conclusion

FreeNAS is a solid distro with a tiny footprint which is built on the secure foundation’s of freeness, the creators are still actively developing the distro which is a good thing and you get a good selection of basic tools and services to get your data shared to your users on a home or small business server.

6 comments on “Review: FreeNAS

  1. Driveby Commenter
    June 21, 2012

    This is a nice enough review. But, it would be even nicer/more helpful if you also reviewed and contrasted openFiler.

    • projectzme
      June 21, 2012

      I would had i heard of it, and to be honest they look like they are aimed at two different markets. I’d agree they are both Opensource NAS Distros I’ve just never used OpenFiler before.. Tell me your opinion.

  2. Geesus
    November 23, 2012

    This is a review????

    • projectzme
      November 23, 2012

      This is a constructive comment???

      • Geesus
        December 3, 2012

        Ok, I give you some constructive comment: do a proper review, instead of copy & paste general stuff from other sites.

        Maybe you don’t know what a review is.

      • projectzme
        December 3, 2012

        Who said it was a review? I use this site as a personal reference to myself for useful stuff I might need to use personally and professionally. Too many times I’ve bookmarked pages to come back to and they are gone…

        If you don’t like that, such is life

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