FreeNAS – A few notes

Mat and I have been talking about FreeNAS a lot recently. My QNAP TS-639 Pro is approaching 7 years old and I’m reluctant to invest further money in drives for it. So we’ve been doing a bit of research on what might be good hardware and so forth. I thought I’d put together a few links that I found useful and share some commentary.

Firstly, FreeNAS has been around for a while now, and there is a plethora of useful documentation available via the official documentation, forums and blog posts. While digging through the comments on a post I noticed someone saying that the FreeNAS crowd like to patronise people a lot. It might be a little unfair, although they do sometimes come across as a bit dickish, so be prepared. It’s like anything on the internet really.

Secondly, most of the angst comes about through the choices people make for their DIY hardware builds. There’s a lot of talk about ECC RAM and why it’s critical to a decent build. I have a strong dislike of the word “noobs” and variants, but there are some good points made in this thread. Brian Moses has an interesting counter here, which I found insightful as well. So, your mileage might vary. For what it’s worth, I’m not using ECC RAM in my current build, but I am by no means a shining light when it comes to best practice for IT in the home. If I was going to store data on it that I couldn’t afford to reload from another source (I’m using it to stream mkv files around the house) I would look at ECC.

Thirdly, one of the “folk of the forum”, as I’ll now call them, has a handy primer on FreeNAS that you can view in a few different ways here. It hasn’t been updated in a little while, but it covers off a lot of the salient points when looking at doing your own build and getting started with FreeNAS. If you want a few alternative approaches to what may or may not work for you, have a look at Brian’s post here, as well as this one and this one. Also, if you’re still on the fence about FreeNAS, take a look at Brian’s DIY NAS Software Roundup – it’s well written and covers a number of the important points. The key takeaways when looking at doing your own build are as follows:

  • Do your research before you buy stuff;
  • Don’t go cheap on RAM (ECC if you can);
  • Think about the real requirement for ZIL or L2ARC; and
  • Not everyone on the internet is a prick, but sometimes it will seem like that.

Finally, my experience with FreeNAS itself has been pretty good. I admit that I haven’t used FreeBSD or its variants in quite a few years, but the web interface is pretty easy to navigate. I’ve mucked about a bit with the different zpool configurations, and how to configure the ZIL and L2ARC on a different drive (that post is coming shortly). The installation is straight forward and once I got my head around the concept of jails it was easy to setup Plex and give it a spin too. Performance was good given the hardware I’ve tested on (when the drives weren’t overheating due to the lack of airflow and an Aussie summer). I’m hoping to do the real build this week or next, so I’ll see how it goes then and report back. I might give NexentaStor Community Edition a crack as well. I have a soft spot for them because they gave me some shoes once. In the meantime, if anyone at iXsystems wants to send me a FreeNAS Mini, just let me know.