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Feature: Storage

A look at the FreeNAS server

By Gary Sims on May 30, 2006 (8:00:00 AM)

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FreeNAS, an open source NAS server, can convert a PC into a network-attached storage server. The software, which is based on FreeBSD, Samba, and PHP, includes an operating system that supports various software RAID models and a Web user interface. The server supports access from Windows machines, Apple Macs, FTP, SSH, and Network File System (NFS), and it takes up less than 16MB of disk space on a hard drive or removable media.

FreeNAS is free to use and deploy without cost. It's an open source project published under the BSD license. The software is popular enough to have gotten more than 20,000 downloads last month.

I downloaded the FreeNAS 0.66 ISO image and burned it onto a CD. To get started with FreeNAS, you need a PC or server with at least 96MB of memory, a network adapter, and at least one hard disk. I used an older PC with four IDE drives attached. I wanted to install FreeNAS on one of the disks and use the other three as a RAID 5 set. My test machine supports only four IDE drives, so I temporarily changed one of the drives for a CD-ROM drive, installed FreeNAS, and swapped back the hard disk before configuring the disks.

Booting the PC from the CD gets FreeNAS up and running, but you still need to configure it. Follow the instructions in the FreeNAS setup and user guide.

One thing to watch while doing the initial configuration is that the FreeNAS server doesn't do any auto assignment of the network card. I assumed that since I only had one network card, it would automatically be assigned as the network card for the system. I was wrong. I only realised the problem after an hour of checking connections and cables. You must assign the network card as laid out in the "LAN interface and IP configuration" section of the user guide.

Once you have the box working, enter the IP address you assigned the FreeNAS server into the address bar of a Web browser. You'll be prompted for a username and password. The defaults are "admin" and "freenas". The start page shows some system information such as the version number and memory usage, with a menu on the left side.

The first thing I wanted to do was get the RAID disks working. Once again, the user guide is your friend, with clear, step-by-step instructions for the process.

Only whole hard disks can be used for RAID sets, so if you install the FreeNAS server onto one of your disks (rather than onto a USB pen drive) then that disk can't be used as part of a RAID set. Also, to get the maximum space from your RAID sets, use disks of the same or similar size. Some versions of FreeNAS insist on the drives being exactly the same size due to some bugs in the software.

One other thing to watch while creating a mount point for a RAID set is that you must change the the partition type to Software RAID. I didn't do this on my first attempt to set up RAID and had to scratch my head for a while when the RAID set didn't work.

The final step to making the volume available on the network is to configure the network services such as CIFS and FTP. Windows machines use the CIFS protocol to access files over the network. CIFS is configured on the CIFS page in the Services section. To enable it, tick the Enable box at the top right and then set the workgroup name. Anonymous authentication is the easiest to get up and running, and you'll find options for authenticating locally defined users and using domain-based authentication. After clicking Save, I was able to access the FreeNAS server from a Windows machine. I watched the hard disks while I copied over some files, and the little LEDs all blinked rapidly as the disks worked in unison. My FreeNAS server was fully functional!

FreeNAS's web management interface is comprehensive enough that to administer the server you don't need to use the command line. There is provision for full shell access via SSH but I didn't find the need to try it. Reading the forums on freenas.org, which are the primary venue for support, shows that some people do use the command line for some more exotic configurations, but for the basic user the Web management interface will be sufficient.

In my testing, the core FreeNAS system was stable, but it is possible to get the system configuration into a confused state. For example, when creating my first local user I ignored the message that a group must be created first and blindly went ahead and tried to create the user. This resulted in some internal errors, and from that point on all local user authentication failed. The only way to fix the situation was to restore the FreeNAS server to the factory defaults and reconfigure the system from the beginning. If you respect the warnings and messages, you shouldn't have any problems.

To secure your server you need to change the default password for the Web management interface. It also might be worth disabling the console menu if physical access to the server isn't limited.

One limitation of the software is the lack of granularity in setting access rights to shares. The local user authentication model is an all-or-nothing affair. You can't set some users to be read-only or others to only have access to certain shares. Once a user is authenticated, he has full access to all the shared storage.

The FreeNAS server has lots of potential and is under active development; there were 11 point releases in the first four months of 2006 alone. It's a good alternative for building a simple network server without having to install a full-blown version of Linux or FreeBSD. It is also a good way to make use of aging hardware, as its system requirements are quite modest by today's standard.

Gary Sims has a degree in Business Information Systems from a British university. He worked for 10 years as a software engineer and is now a freelance Linux consultant and writer.

Gary Sims has a degree in Business Information Systems from a British university. He worked for 10 years as a software engineer and is now a freelance Linux consultant and writer.

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on A look at the FreeNAS server

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NAS Server

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 31, 2006 01:50 AM
Yeah, check the freenas forums before committing data to freenas. Naslite+ from <a href="http://www.serverelements.com/" title="serverelements.com">http://www.serverelements.com/</a serverelements.com> is a much better performer. It's rock solid, easy and fast. Freenas is a dog compared to naslite in every way.

Anyway, naslite can be run for free from floppies from <a href="http://www.serverelements.com/naslite.php" title="serverelements.com">http://www.serverelements.com/naslite.php</a serverelements.com> but the inexpensive pay versions are much faster. Take a look at freenas, then go get naslite and be happy.

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Re:NAS Server

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 31, 2006 02:47 AM
Naslite sucks compared to <a href="http://www.openfiler.com/" title="openfiler.com">Openfiler</a openfiler.com>. This is why Naslite tries to siphon off Openfiler search traffic by placing ads on google on searches related to Openfiler. Too bad that users who search for what they want know better.

Openfiler is a GPL'd NAS distribution which as plenty more features than FreeNAS and Naslite, and targets office and enterprise users.

With regards to this article, having tried FreeNAS, it has a place among the home market. I appreciate the fact that it is open source. I would have liked it if <a href="http://www.openfiler.com/about/" title="openfiler.com">Openfiler's features</a openfiler.com> were compared too, but then this is not an article about Openfiler.

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Re:NAS Server

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 31, 2006 03:23 AM
Openfiler is nice, but the target as you state is the business user. How would Joe Windows Average fair with installing and admining openfiler? Naslite is idiot proof and offers every idiot the opportunity to get a Linux box going without knowing anything about Linux itself.

Features and idiot proof are mutually exclusive. What there is in common however is the ability to share vast amounts of networked storage.

I doubt that the home user masses will fair well with openfiler.

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Re:NAS Server

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 31, 2006 06:17 AM
If you target idiots, the only users you'll get will be idiots. Good luck!

FreeNAS suits the home user quite well and is free. There's no need for using Naslite.

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Re:NAS Server

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 31, 2006 09:35 AM
True, but it does take a really good OS to make an idiot self sufficient. Plus, there are many lightweight applications that don't need a 500 meg OS installed just to share files to the kids PCs. Perhaps the naslite name says it all - it's less than 3 megs in size.

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Re:NAS Server

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 31, 2006 09:53 AM
hence the name "naslite" apparently people comparing it to Openfiler etc, don't get it. It's the most basic, rock solid nas server specific os out there.

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Re:NAS Server

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 31, 2006 02:29 PM
Freenas was fine for this home user, till I seen how slow it is.

The idiots who are promoting it, obviously aren't interested in how long it takes to copy files to/from it.

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Re:NAS Server

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 31, 2006 11:34 AM
Joe Avg has no clue what a NAS is. -- Joe Avg

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You should really try the SSH shell

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 31, 2006 01:57 AM
It seems to give access to the shared files, but not the system. So you can't add lines to your<nobr> <wbr></nobr>/etc/hosts, for example.

The RAID admin is very nice, as is the rest of the UI. But there are a lot of things it can't do, and there is no facility to allow the command line to be used to do those things.

I switched to OpenFiler and it seems fine for now.

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Help I need raid INSURANCE!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 31, 2006 05:48 AM
This post gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling to start using freenas. After reading some more of the forum there, it appears Oliver Cochard put software raid in freenas knowing it didn't work, and says it's "normal" for the system to crash under it.

<a href="http://sourceforge.net/forum/forum.php?thread_id=1504356&forum_id=507590" title="sourceforge.net">http://sourceforge.net/forum/forum.php?thread_id=<nobr>1<wbr></nobr> 504356&forum_id=507590</a sourceforge.net>

Thumbs UP!

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Re:Help I need raid INSURANCE!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 31, 2006 06:54 AM
i tried freenas and just couldn't get it to be stable in RAID5 configuration (5x200GB IDE drives). Kept dropping one of the drives (different one each time, and i tested all the drives, so it's not hardware).

installed suse 10 this weekend, set up RAID5 and samba and it works just fine. (don't think my success is specific to suse, btw.)

guess the problem with gvinum and freeBSD is too much to overcome.

rocannon

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Better than freenas

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 31, 2006 08:40 PM
Based on CentOS 4 which is based off of RHEL 4, OpenFiler is the best NAS distro I have ever used:

<a href="http://openfiler.org/" title="openfiler.org">http://www.openfiler.org</a openfiler.org>

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Key is "aging hardware"

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 31, 2006 11:35 PM
After playing with this a bit, I think the author Gary says it all. This is a great open-source tool for turning old hardware into storage. Most enterprise admins are already going to have systems with Samba and shares set up already. But this utility makes it great to turn old hardware into something useful...a place to put stuff.

It's easy to install, the web interface seems very clean and useful as well. I haven't explored all of it's functions, but it took me less than 30 minutes to turn two old IDE drives into storage space. Again, this isn't going to target the enterprise community at IDE levels, because the performance is slow, but it's a great little open-source tool to throw into your aresenals if you want fast network-attached storage up and running.

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Very Nice Easy to Use and Fast

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 29, 2006 04:28 AM
I tried OpenFiler and NasLite. OpenFiler is a lot of work if you need something simple. It can be powerful but I tried for 3 hrs but couldn't add a share. Also it needs some kind of user auth system to work. NasLite can be nice and all but the way they drive you to buy the full version is cheap. You download the floppy image but they DON'T KNOW how to write that image under windows:) I loved FreeNAS.

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I love the rebooting raid feature

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 31, 2006 04:03 AM
I was using freenas before I started using NASLite <a href="http://www.serverelements.com/" title="serverelements.com">http://www.serverelements.com/</a serverelements.com> until I got caught with the rebooting raid "feature" I didn't know it was "supposed" to be that way, here's a link to the thread :

<a href="http://sourceforge.net/forum/forum.php?thread_id=1502941&forum_id=507590" title="sourceforge.net">http://sourceforge.net/forum/forum.php?thread_id=<nobr>1<wbr></nobr> 502941&forum_id=507590</a sourceforge.net>

FYI : NASLite in benchmarks is nearly twice as fast as freenas on the same hardware

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So much less space

Posted by: Administrator on June 25, 2006 02:58 PM
I like the fact how little of space you need to install it, really great article on source forge, being able to work with windows from it makes it that much more immpressive.

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