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Your data is invaluable and strictly confidential. But which company should you entrust your sensitive data to? Which payment tier should you surrender your hard earned cash? Maybe you want to access your media across all your devices anywhere in the world?

People are quite outspoken on this subject, and with the choices out there, some, if not all of them could be confusing.

freenas cloud
Image Credit: Maksim Kabakou via Shutterstock

Operating systems like unRAID have similar functional flexibility, however there is a cost attached to how many drives you can install. Even the file system that unRAID chooses is vastly different to that of FreeNAS.

The least flexible of the options will be a store bought one. Alternative network storage Network Storage Solutions Explained: Cloud vs. NAS vs. SAN vs. DAS Network Storage Solutions Explained: Cloud vs. NAS vs. SAN vs. DAS We are a civilization of data creators. However, storage runs out. Networked-storage solutions are extremely useful, but what type is right for you? If you're unsure, we've explained the four main types. Read More solutions like QNAP and Synology might be easier to setup. However the cost attached to them, along with limited flexibility, isn’t the same as FreeNAS. Here’s why.

1. FreeNAS Is Free

The absolute best price to pay for anything. Although it’s name is derived from the base operating system it’s powered by (FreeBSD), the current stable version, which is FreeNAS 11, is fully featured and free! Both for people in a home or corporate environment setting. Your wallet will love you for this.

2. Mature Operating System

While being a subjective word, software needs to to meet certain criteria in order for it to be deemed mature. FreeNAS traces its roots back to 2005 and has since been downloaded over nine million times! The evolution of FreeNAS has transformed it into one of the most secure, reliable, actively maintained and globally field-proven NAS operating systems you can get your hands on.

3. Re-Purpose Old Hardware

Do you know that old PC that is in your garage which you’ve promised to get rid of for as long as you can remember? Why not breathe some new life into it. FreeNAS will run on just about anything. Granted you may not be able to simultaneously stream 4K content to your entire neighborhood. But if you wanted a simple, secure file server and or backup server.

inside computer
Image Credit: Matej Kastellic via Shutterstock

With some elbow grease and determination, you could save yourself from the woeful scorn of your unloved old PC. The only items you should definitely buy brand new are the drives. Relative to other components hard drives degrade much quicker.

WD Red 3TB NAS Hard Disk Drive - 5400 RPM Class SATA 6 Gb/s 64MB Cache 3.5 Inch - WD30EFRX WD Red 3TB NAS Hard Disk Drive - 5400 RPM Class SATA 6 Gb/s 64MB Cache 3.5 Inch - WD30EFRX Specifically designed for use in NAS systems with up to 8 bays Buy Now At Amazon Too low to display

4. Enterprise Grade Storage

At this point you may ask: “But obviously I need an expensive RAID controller for this level of storage?” Absolutely, positively not!

FreeNAS uses the ZFS file system, which doesn’t suffer from most, if not all of the issues or limitations that legacy file systems and hardware RAID controllers have. Even in the event that your motherboard dies, you should be able to plug in your drives to another machine running FreeNAS and import your volumes.

freenas 11 dashboard

There are ZFS options for creating striped drives, mirrored drives and even a disk array with two parity drives. Which means your array will have to suffer three drives failing outright before you have a catastrophic failure. The flexibility that FreeNAS offers combined with the ZFS implementation makes setups from home all the way up to corporate a possibility. Did I mention that there is no restriction on how much storage you could add?

5. Secure and Private Personal Cloud Store

You will never have to pay for a cloud storage subscription again or run the risk of your data leaking How Secure Is Your Company's Cloud Storage? How Secure Is Your Company's Cloud Storage? Check out this image that breaks down all kinds of cloud storage threats, some the of issues facing cloud owners, and more. Read More because some malicious, hoodie-wearing millennial has hacked your cloud storage provider and now has a copy of your passport and social security details.

ownCloud will allow you to share your files, contacts, calendars and more on any device. Your data will be stored only on your FreeNAS box and any device you, and only you give access to.

6. The Ultimate Backup and Media Server

Loss of data can be a catastrophic experience, especially if you formatted your five-year-old USB stick with your precious family photos and the only copy of that hysterical video where you dressed up your dog as your minion for Halloween. Even in the unfortunate events like theft or natural disasters, your data is invaluable.

FreeNAS has native support for replication, snapshots and rsync as well as extended support for services such as CrashPlan and even Amazon S3. Got a Mac? You could use your FreeNAS box as a time machine How to Restore Data From Time Machine Backups How to Restore Data From Time Machine Backups It's really easy to set up Time Machine, the backup software that comes with every Mac — but how do you get your files back when things go wrong? Read More natively! Rest assured your backup needs be they local or cloud, on all operating systems are more than covered.

plex media server dashboard

If you’re storing all your media on your NAS it makes sense for your NAS to serve up that media to your network. Plex is one of those applications that you can’t imagine life without. After adding Plex to your FreeNAS box it now transforms your enterprise grade storage solution into a bad ass media server. With support for pretty much any smart device with a screen or HDMI port. PLEX takes care of all your media 8 Plex Tricks and Tips You Really Need to Know 8 Plex Tricks and Tips You Really Need to Know Plex is a stunning piece of software. Put simply, it lets you stream your media anywhere in the world, on any device, whenever you want. But there is so much more to it than that... Read More : movies, TV shows, home videos, photos, and audio collections.

7. Virtualization

With the current version of FreeNAS (FreeNAS 11) comes a hypervisor. This means that you can spin up as many instances of Windows or Linux right on your FreeNAS server as your hardware permits. This makes cases like testing out a new operating system or creating tiny virtual machines that have a specific purpose a cinch!

The boffins over at FreeNAS have also announced that Docker will be supported in the next release, which opens up your FreeNAS box to the world’s leading software container platform. Be sure to check that your hardware supports virtualisation 7 Practical Reasons to Start Using a Virtual Machine 7 Practical Reasons to Start Using a Virtual Machine The term "virtual" has been co-opted in so many ways. Virtual reality. Virtual RAM. Virtual schools. But Virtualization in the context of PCs can be confusing. We're here to clear it up. Read More  to take advantage of these features.

8. Who Needs Off-the-Shelf? Make It Your Own!

Everything from which components you use, to how you implement is completely up to you. This makes the upgrade and maintenance path for your appliance more supported than buying an off the shelf solution like what Synology or QNAP offer.

diy ram motherboard
Image Credit: Creative Photo Corner via Shutterstock

The sense of accomplishment you get for building your own device, that is more cost effective, reliable and feature rich is addictive!

9. Rock Solid, Set and Forget

Once you have your FreeNAS box setup, it will only need attention from you in the event of a hardware fault or necessary update. The dashboard does have telemetry built in so you have the option of keeping a watchful eye on your disk, network or CPU usage.

Alternatively you could use the built-in notifications to email you in the event that one of your drives has failed, and if you don’t replace it soon, your entire GIF collection of cats is going to be lost!

10. Community Is Awesome

Another indication of software maturity, is in the activeness of it’s community. The FreeNAS forum is a plethora of knowledge, not just on FreeNAS, but many experts in the fields of security, software development, analysis, and even people that are brand new to the Linux community 4 Helpful Communities For New Linux Users 4 Helpful Communities For New Linux Users You might be wondering, "What do I do now?" If you're at that point, then it's time you joined a Linux community — even if you only intend to lurk. Read More take part in the conversations.

You will rarely, if not ever, come across an instance where someone hasn’t asked the question you need an answer for, or someone will not be able to answer. The FreeNAS community over and above all the bells and whistles of the operating system make its adoption as smooth as swimming in a pool filled with double cream.

Are you in the market for a cost effective NAS? How do you currently store your data? Do you use another NAS operating system? Let us know in the comments below! Head to freenas.org to grab your copy.

Image Credits: phive/Shutterstock

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  1. Pete N.
    October 16, 2017 at 1:20 am

    Hi, I've got an ORICO USB box (2TB-RAID 5, hardware switchable mode selection) attached to my desktop and wonder if it's possible to convert it to FreeNAS ... AND ... would it make sense?
    Pete N.

    • Yusuf Limalia
      October 16, 2017 at 2:57 pm

      Hi Pete!
      I don't think it will work I'm afraid :(
      What's the model number of your device let me double check

  2. Shawn A
    July 13, 2017 at 6:40 pm

    I spent months going over probably 10 different free and paid "roll-your-own-NAS" solutions, and FreeNAS, NAS4Free, and OpenMediaVault is what I narrowed my choices down to. I ultimately went with OpenMediaVault because it would work best on the free hardware I had laying around in my basement unused. FreeNAS requires a minimum of 8GB of RAM to run correctly with ZFS. ZFS in general is very resource hungry. I ended up installing the OMV extras package, and setup SnapRAID and MergerFS to create a sort of software RAID that is more flexible. Basically, SnapRAID uses one of the drives to store the parity info in case a drive goes offline, and stores a log file on each of the drives to check against. This is the redundancy part of the equation. MergerFS or other pooled volume managers basically takes several drives and creates a single unified mount point to dump data to, and distributes data across the drives as it sees fit. The beauty of this solution is that I can lose any single drive in the array, and replace the drive easily. I am also not relying on Linux Volume Management for a software RAID solution, so in case something happens to the OS, or the array gets destroyed or corrupted, all my files are stored on each drive as a normal EXT3/4 partition, so I can pull any of the drives out of the array and read the files on any other Linux system without any problems. I just like the flexibility of this setup. I think for home use, it has a lot of advantages for data that doesn't see a lot of changes on a regular basis (media files for example, are pretty static). NAS4Free is a fork of the original FreeNAS project, which works with older hardware as well. A good second choice for sure. FreeNAS is definitely more targeted towards those with more robust hardware and enterprise use however. But it's definitely a good solution.

    • Yusuf Limalia
      July 14, 2017 at 7:25 am

      You've definitely done your research! I can see how not relying on LVM, and the ability to pull a drive out and read it on another machine can be really useful in quite a few use cases.
      You're quite right about FreeNAS needed more RAM than the other solutions out there. FreeNAS' implementation of ZFS uses all that RAM for caching and some of the really cool features of ZFS.
      Doesn't help that there is currently a RAM shortage globally and prices have gone up slightly!

    • Joseph J. Pollock
      July 19, 2017 at 8:42 am

      Thanks for the great post. I am very wary of zfs/raid for that reason. I will look at OpenMediaVault right after I post this.

    • Joseph J. Pollock
      July 19, 2017 at 8:58 am

      I have been trying to figure out NAS for some time with limited success.

      I have two major concerns which are not addressed by this article (which is good as far as it goes.)

      1) I see Freenas saying you need a bunch of iron (expensive) to run a NAS. At the same time, I see NAS products built with atom processors.

      I want to store a bunch of mostly static stuff which I will access once in awhile. I probably don't need to stream anything. I probably also want to use the NAS for daily backups from my notebooks using rsync. So my bandwidth should be really low.

      I can't imaging needing 8GB ram or lots of cores.
      So how much iron do I really need?

      2) I am a long time Linux user, but I know very little about security.

      How secure will my NAS be and just how much do I have to do and know to keep it that way (beyond just installing OS updates.)?

      • Yusuf Limalia
        July 19, 2017 at 9:17 am

        Hi Joseph! Really good questions!

        1) The difference between FreeNAS' and the Atom processor bunch is that FreeNAS doesn't require a hardware RAID controller. Infact FreeNAS works better if it gets direct access to your drives. FreeNAS opts to store all of this RAID config and ZFS in RAM. That's the reason you need 8GB as a minimum. Subjectively if you had to ask me which i'd rather replace between RAM and a RAID controller (in the event one goes bad), I'd choose to replace the RAM any day of the week. I found this link to their site really helpful in explaining some of the design considerations you will need to make:

        http://www.freenas.org/blog/a-complete-guide-to-freenas-hardware-design-part-i-purpose-and-best-practices/

        2) If by security you mean getting ssh access to your box:
        I have my FreeNAS box only accessible via SSH-Private / Public key pair.

        if you meant people getting access to your shares:
        This ultimately is up to how you setup your share and file permissions.

        Any plugins you install (currently) will be in Jails. So they are completely segregated from your Tank of data, and will only get access to what you give them access to. I say currently here because Docker will be coming as an option in the next release. I prefer them over Jails.

        You being a long time Linux user, I highly doubt you will have any trouble here. As long as you're on a STABLE release of the OS, you should be good. I, like you believe that you have to suspect every loophole and treat all mediums as untrusted. Out of the box however, the only vulnerabilities will be the ones you introduce.

        Fortunately the community is so knowledgeable, and tutorials normally have caveats on security decisions you need to make when implementing any addons to the base system.

        Hope this helps!

  3. Pircs
    July 13, 2017 at 3:21 am

    I believe at this point mentioning FreeNAS 11 and virtualization support is aggressive when also mentioning a Mature OS and Rock Solid. Given the history of FreeNAS Corral; version 11 will receive a wide berth for the time being.

    • Yusuf Limalia
      July 14, 2017 at 7:27 am

      I was really disappointed in what happened with Corral. Hopefully they've learnt a lot from it. I surely did with my early adoption! I normally never take the plunge until after a few months. The UI and Docker support was just too much for me to miss out on. Lesson well learnt!

  4. Curtipus
    July 12, 2017 at 1:05 pm

    Please remove the part about reusing old hardware. You're only feeding fuel to the fires that the freenas community constantly has to put out. A better alternative is checking out servers on eBay that were pulled from data centers for super cheap prices. Thanks

    • Yusuf Limalia
      July 14, 2017 at 7:33 am

      Good shout on reusing old servers. I've seen Google ones on sale on eBay as well. AS long as you're willing to put up with the noise and probably paying a pretty penny if your power supply goes. At least you will know the hardware is more geared towards 24/7 operation!

  5. Bobby Villadola
    July 12, 2017 at 12:21 am

    One reason the other ten reasons suck...

    This isn't actual backup.

    Your house burns down, you're SOL.

    • Yusuf Limalia
      July 12, 2017 at 7:14 am

      Thanks Bobby.
      #6 actually mentions replication, crashplan, and Amazon S3. Both could be used for off site backup.
      Personally I use crashplan, which is like $7 / month for unlimited space. I also keep very important information on S3, so restoring is really quick.

      Hopefully my house doesn't burn down, but if it does my data is safe on FreeNAS thanks to the integrations it offers.

  6. Northwinds
    July 11, 2017 at 10:36 pm

    Nas4Free much better! Works on more hardware and support forums/help are much friendlier!

    • Yusuf Limalia
      July 12, 2017 at 7:15 am

      I've heard some really good things about NAS4Free! I'm actually really keen to try it out. Having a great community behind a product really helps. Thanks for the info!

  7. fcd76218
    July 11, 2017 at 9:22 pm

    I'm glad yoou're so enthusiastic about running your own server and thanks for the write-up. BUT...

    "2. Mature Operating System"
    Very relative term! Linux has been around since the mid-1990s and still is considered 'not ready for prime time' by many.

    "3. Re-Purpose Old Hardware"
    That old PC in the garage probably is an i586 or i686 so will not be able to handle modern SATA III drives. Also the mobo will probably max out at 2 GB RAM making your server as slow as molasses in February.

    "5. Secure and Private Personal Cloud Store"
    That malicious, hoodie-wearing millennial can as easily hack your personal cloud as he can a commercial one.

    "8. Who Needs Off-the-Shelf? Make It Your Own!"
    Home brew may be more cost-effective than commercial but it still not free. So much for re-purposing old hardware in the garage for free.

    • chlordane
      July 11, 2017 at 11:35 pm

      2. Mature Operating System
      >> "Very relative term! Linux has been around since the mid-1990s"

      FreeNAS is built on FreeBSD, which has been around since 1993. There's that...

      >> "and still is considered 'not ready for prime time' by many."

      Says who?

      I actually administrate Linux (RHEL, CentOS, Debian) in the real world enterprise, so I don't know where you're getting that information.

      3. Re-Purpose Old Hardware
      >> "That old PC in the garage probably is an i586 or i686 so will not be able to handle modern SATA III drives. Also the mobo will probably max out at 2 GB RAM making your server as slow as molasses in February."

      Obviously you read up on what FreeNAS requires to run before attempting to deploy it on old hardware.

      Minimum Hardware Requirements:
      Multicore 64-bit* processor (Intel strongly recommended)
      8GB* Boot Drive (USB Flash Drive suffices)
      8GB* RAM
      At least 1 direct attached disk (Hardware RAID strongly discouraged)
      One physical network port
      http://www.freenas.org/hardware-requirements/

      People consider 2nd Gen i5/i7 to be old these days, and it will run FreeNAS just fine.

      5. Secure and Private Personal Cloud Store
      >> "That malicious, hoodie-wearing millennial can as easily hack your personal cloud as he can a commercial one."

      Sure, there are vulnerabilities for everything.

      The latest OwnCloud CVE:
      https://www.cvedetails.com/vulnerability-list/vendor_id-11929/Owncloud.htm

      One excellent feature used on FreeNAS:
      https://doc.freenas.org/9.3/freenas_storage.html#encryption

      You can do what you like with your data.

      8. Who Needs Off-the-Shelf? Make It Your Own!
      >> Home brew may be more cost-effective than commercial but it still not free. So much for re-purposing old hardware in the garage for free.

      Come on, man...
      This scenario is for those who already have the hardware available.

      People are doing neat things with FreeNAS builds:
      https://forums.freenas.org/index.php?threads/new-build-with-a-custom-gui-display.42968/

      The author is encouraging people to look into FreeNAS, nothing more.

      • Yusuf Limalia
        July 17, 2017 at 7:18 am

        Could not have put it better myself Chlordane.
        Very well articulated!

    • Yusuf Limalia
      July 12, 2017 at 7:37 am

      Thank you for your comments Fcd76218!

  8. vferg
    July 11, 2017 at 5:43 pm

    Just remember a NAS is not a backup solution! I tell everyone this and then let them know to make a secondary offline backup of the most critical data that is stored on your NAS. Just because it has drive redundancy doesn't mean your protected from everything. Anything can happen, and more often then not its the RAID setups that end up failing more than single drive setups. Ive seen it happen to enough people that this should be a statement made at the beginning of any article that talks about NAS enclosures.

  9. ct4er
    July 11, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    I am using CH3HNAS for some years and ASUS RT-AC66U WIRELESS-AC1750 with 2 external UBS dries

    • Yusuf Limalia
      July 11, 2017 at 5:14 pm

      Hi Ct4er, Interesting! Can't say I've heard of CH3HNAS before. Always good to learn about some new tech out there. Thanks!