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.