FreeNas Storage

Commercial products aren’t always the best option, sometimes free and open-source alternatives offer just as much (if not more) than paid counterparts. FreeNAS is a platform for setting up Network Attached Storage without forking out countless pennies on smart drives and cloud services. We’ll run you through exactly what FreeNAS is, what one can do with it and why you may want to consider deploying it.

What is FreeNAS

FreeNAS is essentially an open-source platform built atop of Linux. This operating system can be installed on a PC with adequate components, but it can pretty much work with most modern PCs due to reasonable requirements (you just need more than 8GB of RAM and storage). The main advantage of installing FreeNAS on a machine you wish to connect to a home (or office) network and share files is it has pretty much everything you need to get started.

The OS also makes full use of ZFS, an open-source file system, RAID controller, and volume manager in one. It’s a flexible solution that ensures data is protected, which is ideal for sensitive information, personal media, and system backups. It’s possible to deploy FreeNAS as an enterprise file storage solution  and work in features like FTP and secured external access so you can access files when not on the local network.

Interestingly, FreeNAS doesn’t necessarily need to be installed on hardware and can work perfectly fine within a virtual machine in ESXi, so long as you have a powerful enough machine to handle it. When it comes to connected clients, Windows is supported by FreeNAS, alongside Linux distributions and even Mac OS, which is ideal in a world where consumers own devices running a different OS.

Here are the minimum requirements:

  • Multicore 64-bit processor.
  • 8GB Boot Drive (SSD recommended)
  • 8GB RAM
  • HDD for storage
  • Network port

Should you have a machine available that meets the above requirements, it’s really easy to get setup and ready to go. Once everything is installed, there’s even a handy web interface that can be used to alter settings and manage the OS.

At this point you may ask: “But obviously I need an expensive RAID controller for this level of storage?” Absolutely, positively not!

FreeNAS uses the ZFS file system, which doesn’t suffer from most, if not all of the issues or limitations that legacy file systems and hardware RAID controllers have. Even in the event that your motherboard dies, you should be able to plug in your drives to another machine running FreeNAS and import your volumes.

freenas 11 dashboard

There are ZFS options for creating striped drives, mirrored drives and even a disk array with two parity drives. Which means your array will have to suffer three drives failing outright before you have a catastrophic failure. The flexibility that FreeNAS offers combined with the ZFS implementation makes setups from home all the way up to corporate a possibility. Did I mention that there is no restriction on how much storage you could add?

Loss of data can be a catastrophic experience. Even in the unfortunate events like theft or natural disasters, your data is invaluable. FreeNAS has native support for replication, snapshots and rsync as well as extended support for services such as CrashPlan and even Amazon S3. Got a Mac? You could use your FreeNAS box as a time machine natively! Rest assured your backup needs be they local or cloud, on all operating systems are more than covered.

With the current version of FreeNAS (FreeNAS 11) comes a hypervisor. This means that you can spin up as many instances of Windows or Linux right on your FreeNAS server as your hardware permits. This makes cases like testing out a new operating system or creating tiny virtual machines that have a specific purpose a cinch!

The techs over at FreeNAS have also announced that Docker will be supported in the next release, which opens up your FreeNAS box to the world’s leading software container platform.

Once you have your FreeNAS box setup, it will only need attention from you in the event of a hardware fault or necessary update. The dashboard does have telemetry built in so you have the option of keeping a watchful eye on your disk, network or CPU usage.

Alternatively you could use the built-in notifications to email you in the event that one of your drives has failed.

Another indication of software maturity, is in the activeness of it’s community. The FreeNAS forum is a plethora of knowledge, not just on FreeNAS, but many experts in the fields of security, software development, analysis, and even people that are brand new to the Linux community take part in the conversations.

You will rarely, if not ever, come across an instance where someone hasn’t asked the question you need an answer for, or someone will not be able to answer.