I was hired to create software but now also stuck with governing all of the IT work. The company uses a Windows 10 Home machine as a file server for 13 users. I need to plan for up to 50 employees.

My requirements are to create a domain, host SQL Server, and have a file server as well.

I will be using VMWare for virtualization. My plan is to have 2 host which will mirror each other and be placed into a fail over cluster. They would point to the file Server(3rd host) using SCSI protocol. Below is the link to what the 2 host will be(a little overkill maybe) HP 850519-S01 | neweggbusiness.com

My question is concerning the storage host machine(file Server). What would be the pros and cons having this host using FreeNas instead of purchasing another Windows Server license? I assume I don't need to virtualize this host, just install FreeNas. I was looking at this box below FreeNAS Mini XL (32TB) - Network Attached Storage | amazon.com

This is all still new to me so I need expert advice. Is there anything I should change or do you recommend a different approach? Maybe use a different NAS device(not FreeNas). I would love to hear your opinion, thank you.

  • Oops, thought it said 2016, my bad. – Derek Welton Apr 10 '18 at 22:18
  • If your "file server" is Windows Home, it's possible your client machines are also Home. In which case you'll need to replace/upgrade them all to join them to an AD domain – roaima Apr 10 '18 at 22:20
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    They are all upgraded to Pro now. – Derek Welton Apr 10 '18 at 22:22
  • It's not clear to me how you'll be using FreeNAS. Will you be using it a a datastore for your vSphere hosts or will you be using it as a file server for end user and company data? – joeqwerty Apr 10 '18 at 23:49
  • Will be using it as a datastore for my vSphere hosts which will have all the company data on it. Maybe I worded it wrong but now thinking about it, the vSphere Host will have the file server on there, but would point to the FreeNas box. – Derek Welton Apr 10 '18 at 23:57

Since you've maybe never done this before (at least in this situation), your approach is going to keep evolving. You might want to hold off on purchasing hardware before this solidifies, and keep your implementation staged in VMs or similar on your dev box until then.

If you're responsible for managing this stuff in addition to creating software, you might seriously consider NOT using a locally hosted approach and instead use cloud services. Google Drive can be used as a highly effective company-wide fileserver that can be much more collaborative, durable, and available than locally hosting a fileserver. SQL services can be had using AWS RDS as well as database-as-a-service from plenty of other providers. These approaches may be good for you since they imply less maintenance and worries for local infrastructure. You've already been saddled with two jobs; might as well make one of them less of a thing while making your company more scalable.

FreeNAS is an excellent product with friendly interfaces and powerful underlying software. Its use of ZFS to store data presents a whole new world of capability - in addition to native replication functionality (yes, it can continuously replicate its contents across nodes for failover) that may change your approach. It works best on bare metal with no RAID abstractions (so you can use cheaper DAS/JBOD controllers rather than battery backed RAID controllers), as ZFS expects to communicate with bare hard drives to realize most of its integrity and replication functionality. FreeNAS will also take care of clustering for you quite easily.

FreeNAS will integrate with AD easily. Also consider that FreeNAS has a hypervisor via bhyve. Bhyve is a fantastic legacy-free system, and "hyperconverging" your VMs and replicated storage across two or more baremetal machines using FreeNAS is an approach that can assure you some serious savings. You can even reasonably virtualize AD on it and depend on that VM for identity services without terribly circular dependencies. FreeBSD (the underlying OS) will also run like greased lightning on baremetal rather than a VM.

  • I wish we could use the cloud but they prefer local. How reliable is buying a FreeNAS machine? Would it better to buy a TrueNAS machine(seems overkill but they guarantee reliability)? – Derek Welton Apr 10 '18 at 23:36
  • Buying something with a good support group behind it is usually a good move. TrueNAS has commercial support, and a pretty GUI for high availability. It's also a well built solution. It all depends on whether you're willing to spend more money on a product or more time on a product. – Spooler Apr 11 '18 at 7:13
  • That makes sense, quick question about this, is it normal that the Storage host machine is more expensive than the vmSphere Host? – Derek Welton Apr 11 '18 at 14:52
  • No, for an office of around 50 people and a pretty normal local database workload it's more common that your storage and hypervisor be the same baremetal. 50 users isn't that much, and file services consume relatively little CPU and memory resources. This is the idea behind hyperconvergence, as you generally want to at least attempt to saturate your baremetals before having to buy another expensive server. This is why I mentioned using Free/TrueNAS itself as the hypervisor via behyve. You could also keep your storage on VMware, but ZFS is awesome and people like the data durability it offers. – Spooler Apr 11 '18 at 15:25
  • This makes sense, I appreciate your time with your recommendations. – Derek Welton Apr 11 '18 at 17:07

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