Following up on my previous review of FreeNAS, I have had some time to play around and investigate further. Unfortunately, due to issues with the current release of VMWare Fusion (bridged networking does not work), I was unable to use the downloadable virtual appliance. Instead, I created a clean Parallels virtual machine and installed from the 38MB ISO available via the FreeNAS Web site.
Limitations and minimum requirements
The basic requirements are simple: a computer with:
· A bootable memory device, floppy drive or hard disk (system)
· One or more hard disks (storage)
· 128 MB RAM
· A Bootable CD-ROM drive (for installation only)
There are some basic limitations that need to be considered. NTFS drives are read-only and subdirectories of shares will incorrectly be shown as files. This is due to BSD driver support.
UFS is the natively supported file system of FreeNAS, and it is recommended all drives be formatted using this standard. UFS-formatted drives can be used by Windows clients via the LAN without encountering any compatibility issues.
Only whole disks can be used to build an array set; therefore, the FreeNAS boot drive cannot be included in an array.
Installation is carried via the bootable FreeNAS media’s console screen.
Boot from the FreeNAS installation media burnt from the downloaded ISO image. FreeNAS will start up from the CD and load the console setup menu:
1) Interfaces: assign network ports
2) Set up LAN IP address
3) Reset webGUI password
4) Reset to factory defaults
5) Reboot system
6) Ping host
7) Install on HD/CF/USB Key
9) PowerOff system
Select option 7 to start the installation process. Two further options are now presented: installation can create either a single partition (this disk is then solely a system disk) or two partitions to allow the remaining disk space to be used as storage. I would recommend the second option if the system is to be installed to a hard disk rather than USB/CF media. Do remember that the second partition won’t be available for use in creation of any RAID sets.
Once completed the machine should be rebooted so that FreeNAS now runs from its intended host media. The same console menu will be displayed, and option 1 should be selected. Set the Ethernet interface on which FreeNAS should be active; you will be prompted to reboot the PC again.
Now that the FreeNAS appliance knows which network interface it should be active on, the IP address and other network settings can be set with option 2 from the console menu. Option 6 can be used to test connectivity.
After successfully installing the FreeNAS OS and configuring networking, FreeNAS can be configured using its handy Web GUI. Simply point your Web browser at the FreeNAS appliance's IP address and log in with the default username/password combo of ‘admin’/‘freenas’.
The layout of the FreeNAS GUI is pretty standard; detailed information is viewed and manipulated in the main window while navigation options are presented on a toolbar occupying the left hand side of the page. After login the ‘System’ status page is shown with details on the OS, hardware, and resource usage.
Starting from the top and working down, first configure general options such as hostname, domain, dns server addresses, and of course, change the admin password. An NTP time server can be referenced; I tend to use pool.ntp.org but you may prefer to use your own internal servers for reference. In the advanced options one can disable the console menu; make sure you won’t forget your GUI password if selecting this option!
Disk management is self explanatory and very easy to use: simply format them, add to a RAID group (RAID 0, 1 or 5), and then set a mount point (create a share). These shares can then be mapped and file sharing services configured. A vast array of protocols are supported including CIFS (SMB), FTP, NFS, RSYNC, and SSH. Unison is available for synchronisation between appliances.
User management can be undertaken in a few different ways. The first is to create users and groups on the appliance via the Web interface. The second assumes that you have an Active Directory domain running and allows you to join the domain and manage access rights from there. I haven’t had a chance to try FreeNAS in an Active Directory environment yet, so have had to go with the first option. There are placeholders in the GUI for NIS and Radius authentication modules—I have no idea how long it will be until we see these features being implemented.
After having used FreeNAS for close to a week, I must say that I have very few complaints. The installation was simple, configuration a breeze, and so far the system has required no maintenance or troubleshooting. The diagnostics section of the GUI has tools to enable all kinds of log crawling and even allows logs to be sent to a syslog server. I have had problems connecting to the device using the NFS protocol on my iMac— the SMB/CIFS sharing works just fine so I decided not to waste time troubleshooting. I would love to try the iSCSI support but currently have no access to iSCSI hardware.
Overall I have found FreeNAS to be extremely easy to use and very versatile. I still don’t think I would be comfortable using a FreeNAS appliance in a commercial environment. It could, however, work very well in homes and small offices where budgets are tight and requirements fairly low-level.