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FreeNAS seems like a great product with a full checklist of features, even iSCSI. But how reliable is it? There are a few scary stories about lost data, for example here. Here is another example.

If you have used freeNAS for a longer period of time or even in a production setting, please share your experiences, good or bad. It would be great if you could also describe the setup, ie which hardware and features (software raid, zfs, iscsi etc) you are using.

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Thank you for asking this question! Everyone is always saying Openfiler, but it would be nice to see some FreeNAS examples for once. –  Joseph Jul 28 '09 at 20:02
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As far as I'm concerned FreeNAS has a cooler name than OpenFiler too –  Mark Henderson Jul 30 '09 at 1:29

15 Answers 15

up vote 35 down vote accepted

I have been using freenas on a spare machine with 4x 1TB hard drives (2 raid 1's, so 2TB usable). It has been up 24/7 for 6 months.

I find it brilliant!

I tested many NAS's devices and only got a maximum of 10Mb/s on a gigabit port, and that was rare, typically it was around 3-4. My main reason for a device was to save energy, however 2x 2 drive nas's = more than a 80+% psu on a celeron system.

On freenas, I have a celeron based machine that cost me under £70, and on the internal 100Mb card, I can easily push 70Mb/s on samba.

The most expensive part was I bought a 4 drive enclosure to add/remove hard drives easily! Was a bit of a waste of money, but looks cool!

I can not complain at all about it and love the system. I did look at openfiler, but it seemed a bit OTT and freenas did what I needed...

To the others who recommended it, not saying Openfiler is bad, but freenas suited my needs perfectly, I boot the machine off of a USB stick and works well... The question was "is FreeNAS reliable" and my answer has to be yes.

The system is using software raid and even though the celeron is a single core 64 bit one, even during a raid rebuild + watching a HDTV episode across the network, it never goes above 60% cpu

To get it working, I downloaded the full iso, put a 1GB usb stick in my laptop, used usb pass through on Vmware Workstation and booted from the iso. I then used the install option and chose the USB stick. (You can do this on the actual machine and I have since however this was my first time using it and I couldn't find a blank cd!)

I put the usb stick in to the machine and booted. It worked fine first time!

Steps to actually get it usable as a nas were the following:

  1. Go in to disk management and add each of the 4 drives.
  2. Go to format and format all drives to software raid
  3. Go to software raid and add disks 1 and 2, 3 and 4 to a new raid 1
  4. Go to format and format both the new raid's to the standard os
  5. Mount both raids
  6. Set up Samba and choose both of the mount points as shares
  7. Set up a couple of users

Then it was accessible over windows by \\ip and using the username and password I chose.

I will be looking at openfiler again soon as AD support is lacking a bit, however for a SOHO / domainless environment, you can not go wrong with freenas.

edit - Via request - Was to big to fit in comments

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Thanks for the info! Would you mind telling me a little bit more about the setup? Are you using the software raid or a separate controller? What filesystem are you using? Is it used mostly as a backup device or do you regularly both read and write data from it? –  Console Jul 28 '09 at 19:14
    
Answered your question, it is a bit to big for comments so edited my main post. If you have anything else to ask, I will be happy to answer. –  William Hilsum Jul 28 '09 at 20:02
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My god, I'm so sick of everyone telling you to go to OpenFiler! I have 6x 1TB drives in FreeNAS and it's been fan-bloody-tastic. iSCSI was a breeze to configure, AD integration is perfect, it's never failed or missed a beat. It had native support for my hardware RAID, and with Jumbo Frames (MTU of 9000) it's bloody fast. –  Mark Henderson Jul 30 '09 at 1:27

I dont have direct direct experience with FreeNas, but I would suggest that you try OpenFiler instead. Like FreeNas, it is is Free and Unix based. OpenFiler is a more commercialized product with many commercial production implementations.

If you are about to commit data that you care about to this product please consider the following points:

  1. As with all free software - use the most commercialized, supported and still free product. Think OpenSuse, MySQL, OpenFiler and so on.
  2. As with all free software - trust but verify!
  3. As with all NAS products - RAID is a must.

I also suggest that you host your OpenFiler on ESXi, and you will be able to share the machine with other VMs if the system is powerful enough and will not be heavily loaded by other VM's.

You can also load OpenFiler successfully onto Hyper-V - just setup the ethernet adapter as legacy adapter.

Good luck - if this helps please give me credits.

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Thanks for a thoughtful reply, I gave you a +1 but it's really not a reply to the actual question so I can't award you the checkmark. Maybe you can give some actual examples of how openfiler has proved itself (or failed) under heavy use? –  Console Jul 28 '09 at 19:21
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"As with all free software - use the most commercialized, supported and still free product. Think OpenSuse, MySQL, OpenFiler and so on." I don't agree with this at all. Many "commercialized open source" products are garbage compared to their competitors; the commercial market doesn't care about quality, but about what people are willing to pay for. Of course some level of commercialization may be desirable if you want/need a support contract, but the most commercialization is hardly a good thing. –  kquinn Jul 28 '09 at 20:11
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The logic behind the arguments for "most commercialized" is severely flawed. +1 for kquinn. –  John Gardeniers Jul 29 '09 at 8:24
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Severely Flawed? And then you go about agreeing with my point ... (of course some level...). You only have to look around and see that the most actively developed, robust and reliable systems are these. Off-course, all the 'cool kids' like to play with the latest off-beat stuff, but how often do these projects disappear with a whimper or fail to produce a smidgen of decent documentation? Anyone with half a brain will independently consider the argument and will judge your ridiculous comments accordingly. –  cmdematos.com Aug 17 '09 at 23:51
    
I'm with Console... this isn't an answer to the question per se. OpenFiler and FreeNAS are both viable, and probably equally stable, solutions to the problem at hand. There will be shortcomings and strengths on either side (specific hardware support in particular... openfiler on HP DL1xx anyone?) and you can probably find support contracts for both for a price. –  Robert Novak Jun 14 '11 at 17:38

For a while I ran OpenFiler against ESXi. I measured the IOPS I could produce locally (on the machine itself, against a raid volume) and remotely from an ESXi server over a software iScsi initiator and the results were within 95% of local performance -- and it scaled to 4 drives in a raid5 array.

YMMV -- but for me -- it provided near local performance over iSCSI, even with multiple servers attached (* only tested with 3 servers).

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What did you use to measure IOPs? I think I used iometer in an ESXi VM on a iSCSI vmfs partition. It looked pretty bad... –  sdaffa23fdsf Aug 2 '13 at 5:47

I chose FreeNAS instead of OpenFiler because of hardware requirements. FreeNAS basically needs less of everything. I was able to run a 1.28TB RAID1 configuration with just 256Mb of RAM on a 400MHz VIA board with a 128Mb CF card. It's just some really old hardware I had lying around. So far, it has been working well enough. No real complaints yet.

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I've been running Freenas for a couple of years now. First i ran 3 disks in a RAID 5 with a few extras for temporary storage.

I really like the reliability of it, it's rock solid, and once it's set up, it's fantastic.

The basic setup is very easy, especially if you install to a hard drive or CF card (i chose the latter). However, i tried for a while to get it to boot from a USB thumbdrive, and gave up. There are now new instructions on how to get this to work, but my CF setup works fine, so i haven't tried again.

Adding drives, creating RAID arrays, etc is very simple. Setting up Samba/CIFS is also very easy. This means you can quickly set up a server that plays very well with a mixed Mac and PC network.

When you start to customise a bit more, you can run into trouble however. I recently tried to upgrade my Samba transfer speed by tweaking settings, and ended up having to reset to factory defaults and restoring the config from a backup (this is actually easy to do, but i don't think that it should have been a necessary step).

Freenas is a bit fussy about hardware, it doesn't seem to like the onboard Nvidia NIC that comes with my ASUS motherboard, as i said before, it doesn't make using a USB thumbdrive easy.

Recently i've upgraded the disks and changed to 1TB drives backing up from disk to disk using the included Rsync, as the whole RAID 5 thing scared me (i worried that if it went wrong, the risk of making a mistake and losing all my data was too great). BTW, Rsync is ridiculously easy, in contrast to my experiences with trying to use it with Windows.

Support is through the forum on Sourceforge, and if you don't ask questions in the right way, you will be ignored. People are very helpful if you make the effort.

Finally, is it worth the hassle? Absolutely, i have a reliable server that once set up runs and runs. I use it for backing up various machines, as well as holding my photo, music, and video libraries, which stream to various machines. I touch the config about once a year, to upgrade to a newer version, or add disks, etc, and between those times i never need to worry about it.

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Personal experience with the software over time is valuable information for evaluation! You can't put that on someone's website (noone ever believes it when you do). +1 –  BGM Dec 4 '13 at 23:27

I'm running FreeNAS 7 in a pair of office file servers. I use the built-in rsync to periodically back up the primary to an identical machine in the next rack over. And I have scripts that run remote backups to the rsync target on the FreeNAS box. It's pretty solid for iSCSI, NFS, and CIFS as well.

I went with FreeNAS primarily for hardware support... the OpenFiler release that was available didn't support the NIC or the storage adapter on my servers, nor did it support ZFS. I'm probably going to be upgrading to FreeNAS 8 soon (upgrading the backup, letting it sync, then making it the master, and upgrading the former-master).

I now see that this is an ancient thread, but if you're still in the SF Bay Area, one of the FreeNAS 8 team will be demonstrating the brand new release at BayLISA this Thursday (6/16/11) ... check out www.baylisa.org or www.meetup.com/baylisa for details (disclaimer: I'm the secretary of BayLISA so I like seeing lots of people show up).

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I have run FreeNAS boxes for nearly a year with good success. I generally use them as backup devices to local storage so performance isn't of the utmost important. The current systems I have are HPaq 2 GHz P4 with a single 1.5 TB drive. As I remember when we benchmarked about 6 months ago we could get something like 40 MB sustained over a GB connection using NFS. I have used iSCSI as well but not at this point.

I have recently configured a unit connected via NFS to 2 VMware hosts and so far my daily management guy can't see any performance issues.

We have experimented with more cutting-edge hardware using RAID and more drives. Getting newer hardware running has been difficult, so we may end up using Ubuntu for its excellent hardware support and OpenFiler on top.

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I tried to use freenas under VMWare Fusion on my Mac Mini because I want to continue using ZFS and Apple dropped the ball on that one. However, the disk I'm using is a 1TB USB external disk and the FreeNas kernel can't talk to it, the kernel says the USB port times out. A small flash USB disk worked fine.

This was on the unstable v7 release (for zfs), but I can't shake the feeling that the FreeBSD kernel isn't as comfortable with various sorts of hardware as Linux.

I tried an OpenSolaris VM and it could see the disk just fine. I'm thinking about using that since knowing that ZFS keeps my data checksummed gives me peace of mind.

UPDATE: This post got me wondering, so I got around the USB problem by attaching the USB disk as a raw disk. I couldn't get that to work on VMWare Fusion, but I could make it work on Virtualbox 3.0.4.

To make a long story short: With FreeNAS 7RC1 I was able to mount the zpool and I was transferring files to my host systems over NFS at 7MB/s. I then used the same raw disk setup with OpenSolaris 11/08 and I was only able to get 4MB/s.

It's not a very professional test, I know :) The Solaris VM seems to be halting every so often, I'm not sure why.

So in conclusion: FreeNAS on a VirtualBox VM outperforms OpenSolaris by almost 100%. Works as an endorsement for me even though it was only the one test...

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FREENAS is sublime!

I've been using FreeNAS 8 for about six months with pure joy. Still I haven't finished testing all functions yet, but till now all is working perfectly as described in the manuals.

Every single function can be configured by my grandmother without my help. The GUI is great and a VERY BIG + is the independence of hardware platforms.

I use CIFS, NFS, ISCSI and FTP. To get started I used the instruction videos on YouTube, succeeded on the first try and have managed to recreate the setup many times after for testing and demo purposes.

I recommend FREENAS to everyone and I do! Technology should be FREE for the world to make it a better place (and not make the few richer thus making many others poorer.)

REMARK: I very strongly feel that the product FREENAS should remain a shared storage solution. So please do not combine other functions like for instance QNAP does. It is elegantly the best storage solution I have encountered when searching for it for over 6 months.

My congrats with your achievements!!

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The only gotchas that I've run into in the past is that sometimes complex ACLs don't behave as expected, although I ran into this personally about two years ago, so it is very possible that those bugs are fixed.

If you have complex ACL requirements, I'd recommend testing.

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On 2 occasions now I have setup a freenas box with 2 - 1 tb drives as a software raid, copied all my data to the share, and then the power in my house went out from a storm, longer than a UPS would handle it, and each time, I have had to rebuild it from scratch. It kills the raid and there is nothing you can do to get it back... luckily I have rStudio recovery software that I was able to use to recover my data. It is all a very time consuming process and really annoying that you basically have to start over from scratch. If you use FreeNAS, it would be worth to have not only the raid, but also an external drive to copy all your data to because you could lose it all using FreeNAS. I am looking for an alternative solution for my file server.

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This is just absurd. Power failure is your own fault, not the fault with any array software.. Of course there will be a problem when some hundred MBs of data in the memory waiting to be written to HDD are lost because of power failure.... –  sdaffa23fdsf Aug 2 '13 at 5:51

Use FreeNAS from USB stick so saved another disk bay, and it work perfectly for years. Recently moved to 8 branch (clear install, then import volumes and re-setup - took me 2 hrs), still a bit 'too nice' interface, but still the same robustness.

USB flash is fairly good choice. Here are the steps:

  1. Download .iso file.
  2. Find .xz file in the iso, extract it (I used 7-zip).
  3. Extract .xz file (7-zip helped again). The file you have now is an embedded version of FreeNAS.
  4. Put it onto USB flash (at least 2Gb). Use Physdiskwrite to do that, run physdiskwrite -u image-file, and answer which disk you need to write info to. You can check the disk by PhysGUI.exe (in the same archive).
  5. That's all, boot from that USB flash.

P.S. If something go messy (under Windows it may be so), you may want to clear USB stick. Use diskpart for that:

  1. Open a command window as admin (cmd), type diskpart and press Enter.
  2. Issue list disk command. Find out which disk you need.
  3. Now do select disk # (replace # with the number of your drive).
  4. Type clean and press Enter.
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That is an interesting approach. –  BGM Dec 4 '13 at 23:32

I'd rather go for openfiler. It's even more complete than FreeNAS, and has an excellent reliability track.

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I've been running a setup similar to sybreon's for over a year at the office with no problems. The only annoyance's I've had are with Samba user management (though I haven't tried new versions).

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Maybe ok for lab, far from usable for production

1) so many bugs... and developers really don't care... As far as I know, most developers on this project are iXsystems employees and they focus on selling their hardware... This is the worst organized open source project I have seen. Developers keep closing tickets leaving bugs not fixed.. Reboot is a solution for some bugs but hey this is a storage server... You can't just randomly reboot it.... Spend 10 minutes on http://support.freenas.org/ then you probably don't want to waste your time on FreeNAS

2) FreeNAS is so insecure.. If you can't put it into a totally secured network (note internal != secure), don't use it... I doubt it was even designed with security in mind.

3) For CIFS, the permission management is totally a mess.... I can't find an easy way to allow each user to have their private storage and a public storage. And if you use it with AD, usually the configuration file cannot be correctly generated... The AD permission related features are so broken in the web interface reboot is the fix....And the performance can be awful (memory related issue I guess, i could hit 950mbps+ with iperf but CIFS write can get be as slow as a few mbps)....

4) For iSCSI, the performance is really just ok... I use it with ESXi and get a lot of warnings on degraded I/O (latency over 1s...). With Intel PRO/1000 PT Dual Port I expected a lot better....

Due to some bugs inherited from previous release, I have to manually edit the config file over ssh to enable the web interface every time I reboot the box. I guess that's some good security measure...

In short, if you have $, get EMC/NetApp If all you need is RAID, get a hardware RAID card and save the time for something that matters. If you don't, just use FreeBSD/Solaris to create a storage server. Then you can have a better picture of what might work.

IMO using FreeNAS for production is a good way to lose customers/get fired....

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