Storage protocol configuration choices with FreeNAS

The FreeNAS storage platform provides a wealth of options for storage protocols. IT pro Rick Vanover shares pros and cons for each of the storage protocols available on the free storage platform.

Earlier in the year, I did a blog post on FreeNAS and outlined what it can and cannot do. Since then, I have been playing with it occasionally and like its configuration options that are available. While it doesn't provide block fibre channel connectivity like a number of other products, it does have a very broad offering of storage protocols available.

FreeNAS provides over eight storage-specific protocols, including iSCSI target, CIFS (Windows file share), NFS (network file system) and iTunes. Figure A shows the FreeNAS network services configuration panel:

Figure A

Click to enlarge.

This brings up a good discussion point, — when is it the right time to use different storage protocols? Some are pretty straightforward, such as if you want to make an iTunes server. But provisioning resources via NFS, CIFS or iSCSI is a fairly critical decision; yet, they all can be used effectively the same way.

For general provisioning of storage with FreeNAS, the iSCSI target is one of the best options. In this way, the storage consumers (computers) would run an iSCSI initiator to receive disks as a fixed local disk even though they are accessible over the network via the iSCSI storage protocol. If the data is to be a file server, the iSCSI target could be assigned to a Windows (or Linux) Server and then shares and permissions assigned there to the fixed local drive that is shared via iSCSI.

FreeNAS can, of course, perform the file share process natively by running its CIFS engine. This storage protocol is what I toured configuring in this gallery to provision a disk resource as a Windows share via CIFS with FreeNAS. For very small environments, this is probably a solid choice. The purist in me doesn't think it is as clean as the iSCSI LUN provisioned to the file server, but again the small environments may find a good use case for a purpose-built server as such.

The NFS engine within FreeNAS is the hardest use case for me in terms of traditional storage management options. NFS shares can be used for virtualization with VMware vSphere, for example. But, if I am a vSphere administrator; I should always choose VMFS datastores over NFS datastores when given the choice. This is because vSphere features are first in line with VMFS storage as VMware has purpose-built the file system for vSphere. NFS is an option when non-Windows clients are involved other than VMware ESX(i) hosts, such as Linux or UNIX systems.

For typical file sharing using a free storage product such as FreeNAS, which storage protocol do you select? NFS, CIFS or iSCSI? Tell us which one you select and why.


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.

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