Storage optimize

FreeNAS for beginners: What it can and cannot do

Rick Vanover considers what FreeNAS can and can't do for you as a free storage solution. See his gallery on how to configure FreeNAS for CIFS storage connectivity.

In my post on free software titles that can be used to make money in consulting, one product that came up from TechRepublic members in this discussion (and others) is FreeNAS. FreeNAS is a software storage operating system based on FreeBSD that supports all of the major storage networking protocols. Right there is the big difference between it and some of the other products; FreeNAS is focused on storage networking protocols. This includes, but is not limited to, Common Internet File System (CIFS) as is used for Windows networking, FTP, NFS and iSCSI.

FreeNAS is very flexible, as it can be installed on direct hardware or within a virtual machine. Be sure to check Donovan Colbert’s tip on how to configure it as a VirtualBox virtual machine for a synchronization service. This is just the nature of FreeNAS, it can do a lot of different protocols and use cases for storage networking. As the name implies, it is free; and that is a good thing. In fact, features such as replication, deduplication, and other smart functionality that drive these solutions adds incredible value to the customer seeking free storage software.

FreeNAS isn’t new either, in fact I’m three years late in introducing FreeNAS here as Justin Fielding did just that in 2007 on this very blog.

The biggest area in which FreeNAS can’t help free software seekers is fibre channel storage management. While block storage is available via the iSCSI initiator and target functionality; the name is FreeNAS not FreeSAN.

Today, FreeNAS has a number of options available for easy-to-run use. This includes flash or embedded types of installs for USB sticks, small hard drives, and virtual machine appliances. To be fair, the free storage appliances such as FreeNAS and others like it are not on my priority list. The VMware Compatibility Guide dictates what products are on the supported configuration list for my virtualization platform of choice. For FreeNAS, the storage protocol is iSCSI and, like other products, iSCSI for VMware virtualization may work with products not on the support lists. However, this is not an area you want to rely on for a production workload, unless it is an acceptable risk. Mark it a call to diligence to trade off the costs of a supported solution with the free package that works for you.

See the companion gallery, "Configuring FreeNAS for CIFS storage connectivity."

What is your opinion of FreeNAS? Share your comments below and tell me what you’d like to covered.

About

Rick Vanover is a software strategy specialist for Veeam Software, based in Columbus, Ohio. Rick has years of IT experience and focuses on virtualization, Windows-based server administration, and system hardware.

12 comments
jdprior
jdprior

FreeNAS does not support dedup. Replication is a nice idea, but you'll need to build your own SAN (a single box with a one or even four network connections is a NAS, not a SAN, despite support for iSCSI and NFS). Openfiler is easier to use, but lacks in development and support. FreeNAS is not ready for production equipment unless you're using in-house support for everything other than a hardware failure warranty replacement.

MKleinpaste
MKleinpaste

I'd take this little post with a huge grain of salt since the author should look up the definition of SAN. iSCSI is a SAN protocol, one of many. FC is just SCSI over Fibre Channel. Although FreeNAS can host NAS services, iSCSI doesn't share a "folder" across a network as a NAS devices do. iSCSI shares a SCSI LUN that the iSCSI client binds to. The host of the iSCSI client then formats the LUN as it would any physical drive. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Storage_area_network#Network_types

matheusjgsantos
matheusjgsantos

Can you analyze openfiler too? It's a nice product, with a free version, and support fibre channel.

PhilippeV
PhilippeV

FreeNAS is very well suited as a replacement for NAS sold to the general public with their bogous Media Centers. This article just focuses on VMware on enterprise servers for cloud configurations. And don't forget thart this article is highly biased in favor of VMware. There are other hypervisor OSes, that are also free and are not just free trial with costly licences. Notably from Oracle/Sun, with a broader range of hardware compatibility supports than VMware or Microsoft's Windows Servers, and much simpler configuration, and a larger choice of host OSes and guess OSes supported.

smpcompdude
smpcompdude

I'm using two FreeNAS Servers as iscsi targets for two ESX Servers. I've had more issues with the ESX hardware than I've had with the FreeNAS hardware. In a year and half I've not had a communications break or hardware issue that was FreeNAS fault.

jakesty
jakesty

the data still passes over a network connection. In a SAN environment you have the direct connection from the servers to the SAN w/o the network overhead and chatter in the network via broadcasts. So iSCSI is a SAN protocol, it's just not as good as a 'Real' SAN. Probably works fine for small environments, but I wouldn't use it for any company of significant size or need on the data.

b4real
b4real

MKleinpaste: I did note that While block storage is available via the iSCSI initiator ...

jakesty
jakesty

Rick did mention Virtual box. Somewhere you missed the point about freenas and that it's not a SAN replacement. This is the important part of the article, not only the platforms that can connect to it.

gechurch
gechurch

Thanks for your experience. Some of my clients use ESXi a bit with DAS and it would be nice to centralise the storage for a few of the clients. Obviously having a supported setup is extremely important once for larger organisations. Places using ESXi are likely to be more concerned with prioce than support though, so this may be a good option for many companies using ESXi. Without having done much research into this area though, my feeling is that a decent multibay NAS box would be a simpler, less error-prone setup than using FreeNAS, and would cost a similar amount. Is there a big advantage FreeNAS has over a NAS box that I'm not seeing?

b4real
b4real

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of those situations. I just can't make broad recommendations that going down that route is OK.

VBJackson
VBJackson

If iSCSI is being used as a SAN protocol, it should be set up with dedicated NICs, switches, and network. Under those conditions, the only traffic that should be on that network is SAN traffic. With 1gb NICs and switches, performance should be high enough for anything short of an enterprise database.

SvalenciaTech
SvalenciaTech

And then again, there are many opensource platforms that can make use of FreeNas. It's not all about VMWare and MS.