Openfiler vs FreeNAS: Tips for building your own NAS

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If you run multiple computers in your home or office, centralized storage can be a daunting task. Ideally, you want your files to be available to all computers. There are several ways to accomplish this. For Microsoft Windows users, the easiest way is to turn on file sharing but doing so exposes your files to potential security risk and performance is not exactly stellar. It’s good enough for the occasional file transfer but not fast enough for real time use of the files from one computer to another. Windows file sharing is also not the best choice for environments using multiple OS such as Mac OSX and Linux.

One option is to use a hardware based NAS (network attached storage) device. Several manufacturers offer solutions to share single drives to multiple drives. These devices often come in a small footprint and offer ease of installation. Just add one or more hard drives and connect to your Ethernet network to begin file sharing. While this is a good option for those who want an easy roll out, it has some disadvantages compared to building a system using a spare PC.

They include:

  • Limited expandability. Some NAS devices include 1-4 drive bays with options to add external drives via USB 2 or eSATA ports. Adding additional external drives introduces an additional point of failure due to a second power supply. If you must go this route, choose a NAS device that supports eSATA.
  • Potentially slower performance due to low power cpu, low memory, and or slower Ethernet port.
  • Less flexibility due to proprietary software.

If you have a spare PC laying around and you are tech savvy, a good option is to build your own NAS using a bare PC and running an open source software such as Openfiler or FreeNAS. Both of these are based on a variant of Unix which is a blessing and a curse for someone not used to Unix. I’ll list the pros and cons of such a solution.

After 150,000 page views on this article, Dino Sims is the first to contribute a little to my coffee fund. Just wanted to give him a public thanks. I write these articles to share knowledge but it is always appreciated when someone gives back a little to encourage me to keep sharing what I’ve learned. If you want to help out, just click on the coffee cup below. 😉  Thanks to additional contributors like Doug Jackson, Matthew McKenzie, Steve Rieger, George Martinez, and John Hough. I’m actually quite surprised. Every contribution is very much appreciated. It’s not the value of the contribution but the fact that you thought enough of this article to cross that threshold to contribute.

Pros

  • It’s Unix which means it’s robust, secure, and free.
  • Very powerful and scalable. Even a PC several years old is more than enough power to run either Openfiler or FreeNAS. FreeNAS requires a Pentium CPU with at least 64 mb RAM while Openfiler requires a 32 bit 1 GH CPU with 512 MB of RAM.
  • Flexible because it runs Unix so you can execute Unix commands and even run other Unix apps for additional capabilities.
  • Very high performance.
  • Supports multiple network card bonding for increased performance.

Cons

  • The biggest con is, well, it’s Unix which means it’s cryptic, not user friendly, poorly documented, and incompatible with some hardware.
  • Large footprint and possibly large power requirement compared to a small NAS box.

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  • Greg

    Nice write up. I just implemented OpenFiler and was very impressed with the performance once setup was complete. Had a LOT of trouble trying to get the internal LDAP server to work for user authentication, so I ended up with IP-based client access restrictions. Did have to muck around a bit in the Unix command line (I remembered how much I hated VI!). Haven’t tried FreeNAS, but I would give OpenFiler a 9 out of 10 rating.

  • Greg

    Nice write up. I just implemented OpenFiler and was very impressed with the performance once setup was complete. Had a LOT of trouble trying to get the internal LDAP server to work for user authentication, so I ended up with IP-based client access restrictions. Did have to muck around a bit in the Unix command line (I remembered how much I hated VI!). Haven’t tried FreeNAS, but I would give OpenFiler a 9 out of 10 rating.

  • http://www.datakeylive.com/ Jeremy

    Greg: As far as I know you can use nano at the command line instead of vi. vi prevents you from make mistakes as easily though.

    • Bish

      I can’t possibly see how VI can prevent error in any way. As a 1.5-dimensional editor, I’m not sure why its poor UI would be recommended over any truly two-dimensional editor at all, so I’m interested in seeing what errors it can specifically prevent. If I had a dime for every error it caused …

      With its 1960s beep-mode methodology, I’m not even sure why we use it any more at all. As more punch-card-types retire out of the profession, they can hopefully take this security blanket with them!

      Nano’s fine. Pico’s probably fine. Every editor’s fine, as long as its UI isn’t so obstructive as VI.

      • http://topher.livejournal.com Christopher Cashell


        I’m not even sure why we use it any more at all. [. . .] Every editor’s fine, as long as its UI isn’t so obstructive as VI.

        Spoken with an impressive level of ignorance and arrogance. vi is an excellent text editor, and with even a minimal level of experience and knowledge, it is significantly faster and more capable than nano/pico and most other editors. Like many tools with a great level of power and functionality, it does require a small investment of effort to learn. However, equating a little bit of necessary complexity with “bad” will leave you using tools intended for children or amateurs. So, to answer your statement, the reason we still use vi, despite it’s age, is because vi works, and works incredibly well.

        “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” –Abraham Lincoln

      • ScrappyLaptop

        Because vi will fit nicely into things like busybox and other tools that fit into a 16MB disk-on-chip image? Sometimes I swear I’d not be surprised to JTAG my toaster and find vi sitting there ready for use.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NTFPYFZ57DS3CRGEH6FTVGXCRQ JEFF

        If you actually spent an hour learning how to use Vi you would see how much better it is than Pico or Nano, and why it is still around. Although, admittedly, Vim is significantly better than standard Vi.

  • http://www.datakeylive.com/ Jeremy

    Greg: As far as I know you can use nano at the command line instead of vi. vi prevents you from make mistakes as easily though.

    • Bish

      I can’t possibly see how VI can prevent error in any way. As a 1.5-dimensional editor, I’m not sure why its poor UI would be recommended over any truly two-dimensional editor at all, so I’m interested in seeing what errors it can specifically prevent. If I had a dime for every error it caused …

      With its 1960s beep-mode methodology, I’m not even sure why we use it any more at all. As more punch-card-types retire out of the profession, they can hopefully take this security blanket with them!

      Nano’s fine. Pico’s probably fine. Every editor’s fine, as long as its UI isn’t so obstructive as VI.

      • http://topher.livejournal.com Christopher Cashell


        I’m not even sure why we use it any more at all. [. . .] Every editor’s fine, as long as its UI isn’t so obstructive as VI.

        Spoken with an impressive level of ignorance and arrogance. vi is an excellent text editor, and with even a minimal level of experience and knowledge, it is significantly faster and more capable than nano/pico and most other editors. Like many tools with a great level of power and functionality, it does require a small investment of effort to learn. However, equating a little bit of necessary complexity with “bad” will leave you using tools intended for children or amateurs. So, to answer your statement, the reason we still use vi, despite it’s age, is because vi works, and works incredibly well.

        “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” –Abraham Lincoln

      • ScrappyLaptop

        Because vi will fit nicely into things like busybox and other tools that fit into a 16MB disk-on-chip image? Sometimes I swear I’d not be surprised to JTAG my toaster and find vi sitting there ready for use.

  • Amir

    I’m working on setting up a photography vault with openfiler. I did everything on your list, but nothing seems to work from vista’s explorer window to bring up the drive. Any additional tips?

    Thanks

  • Amir

    I’m working on setting up a photography vault with openfiler. I did everything on your list, but nothing seems to work from vista’s explorer window to bring up the drive. Any additional tips?

    Thanks

  • Leigh

    Thanks for the write up.
    I followed your setup instructions, and can see the share from an XP computer, but get \\ is not accessible …. The netwrok name cannot be found.
    Did you come across this error when you were setting up?

  • Leigh

    Thanks for the write up.
    I followed your setup instructions, and can see the share from an XP computer, but get \\\\ is not accessible …. The netwrok name cannot be found.
    Did you come across this error when you were setting up?

  • JimC

    Nice job on the write-up, but I wanted to add something about the FreeNAS. 1st I could not get the transfer speeds you got with the 1000baseT adapter (I installed a Netgear GA311). Second you need to be very carefull with the software raid. I WAS running (2) 250 Gig Drive in a Mirror and one died and it crashed the whole mirror instead or degrading it. Since I chose the UFS File system in the mirror, my UBUNTU liveCD will not mount the partions since UFS is the BSD variety and not the linux variety such as EXT2. Also in all of the FREENAS literature, they say they support the other formats but USE AT YOUR OWN RISK BECAUSE THEY MAY CRASH OR CORRUPT THE DATA. The FreeNAS Server also drops out in the middle of large transfers.

    After your write up I think I will either try Openfiler or NASLite.

  • JimC

    Nice job on the write-up, but I wanted to add something about the FreeNAS. 1st I could not get the transfer speeds you got with the 1000baseT adapter (I installed a Netgear GA311). Second you need to be very carefull with the software raid. I WAS running (2) 250 Gig Drive in a Mirror and one died and it crashed the whole mirror instead or degrading it. Since I chose the UFS File system in the mirror, my UBUNTU liveCD will not mount the partions since UFS is the BSD variety and not the linux variety such as EXT2. Also in all of the FREENAS literature, they say they support the other formats but USE AT YOUR OWN RISK BECAUSE THEY MAY CRASH OR CORRUPT THE DATA. The FreeNAS Server also drops out in the middle of large transfers.

    After your write up I think I will either try Openfiler or NASLite.

  • http://www.blaszta.com Jay

    Nice article! I have around 1 TB raw photo files, and thinking of creating NAS. Openfiler seems the way to go!

  • http://www.blaszta.com Jay

    Nice article! I have around 1 TB raw photo files, and thinking of creating NAS. Openfiler seems the way to go!

  • http://www.imped.net Imp

    FreeNAS is *not* Linux. It is based of FreeBSD.

  • http://www.imped.net Imp

    FreeNAS is *not* Linux. It is based of FreeBSD.

  • Fred

    FreeNAS SMB share is slower than Openfiler. So if you are sharing and connecting from multiple OSes. It would be better to to use openfiler.
    but if you want to get away with older hardware, FreeNAS is way to go.
    my computer’s network read/write speed via SMB on FreeNAS is about 8~10MB/s. They say it’s BSD and Samba issue. Samba works better with Linux.

  • Fred

    FreeNAS SMB share is slower than Openfiler. So if you are sharing and connecting from multiple OSes. It would be better to to use openfiler.
    but if you want to get away with older hardware, FreeNAS is way to go.
    my computer’s network read/write speed via SMB on FreeNAS is about 8~10MB/s. They say it’s BSD and Samba issue. Samba works better with Linux.

  • Glen

    I have just setup a FreeNAS server at home, it’s on a older Athlon64 3200 (single core), booting off a very slow USB flash drive (but it is setup in embeded mode, so just slows the bootup down slightly) and sharing a single 1TB HDD. I am getting sustained transfer speeds of 30MB/Sec. I did have the same hardware setup as a VMware machine with a FreeNAS VM and was only getting 5MB/Sec.

    How much faster is SMB under Linux rather then under FreeBSD, i cannot imagine much faster then 30MB/Sec.

    On a side note, i think RAID1 is a waste of time for a home setup, instead, i have a second NAS sitting in the garage and it rsyncs to that every night. If the house burns down, the mirror is remote. If i accidently delete something, i have until 3AM to recover it from the master before it replicates.

  • Glen

    I have just setup a FreeNAS server at home, it’s on a older Athlon64 3200 (single core), booting off a very slow USB flash drive (but it is setup in embeded mode, so just slows the bootup down slightly) and sharing a single 1TB HDD. I am getting sustained transfer speeds of 30MB/Sec. I did have the same hardware setup as a VMware machine with a FreeNAS VM and was only getting 5MB/Sec.

    How much faster is SMB under Linux rather then under FreeBSD, i cannot imagine much faster then 30MB/Sec.

    On a side note, i think RAID1 is a waste of time for a home setup, instead, i have a second NAS sitting in the garage and it rsyncs to that every night. If the house burns down, the mirror is remote. If i accidently delete something, i have until 3AM to recover it from the master before it replicates.

  • http://blog.rohrauer.at Joshi

    Hi,

    nice article. made my decision a little bit easier – i will give openfiler a real try 😉

    greetings from austria

  • http://blog.rohrauer.at Joshi

    Hi,

    nice article. made my decision a little bit easier – i will give openfiler a real try 😉

    greetings from austria