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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