Open source freenas makes inroads in enterprise data storage

"You would not believe the calls we get, and it’s across the board. Last year, we got an inquiry about FreeNAS from the United Nations. Before that we were contacted by the IT team for [TV personality] Dr. Phil, which wound up giving our name to the IT team for Martha Stewart. [A branch of the U.S. Armed Forces] ordered 500 of our FreeNAS Mini storage appliances, one for each Humvee. We even had NASA inquire about putting FreeNAS aboard the space station," Olander said.

As its name implies, FreeNAS storage software is available at no charge to customers that want to cobble together shared NAS using commodity storage servers. IXsystems bills FreeNAS as an alternative to NAS storage platforms sold by legacy vendors.


The company helps organizations choose the best configuration and supports FreeNAS installations on iXsystems hardware. It provides free consulting to companies on NAS design and charges only for installation and configuration on its servers. FreeNAS evolves to unified storage platform

FreeNAS technology has advanced a long way in a short time, said Scott Sinclair, a storage analyst with IT consulting firm Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG). Although not as feature-rich as commercial NAS platforms such as EMC Isilon or NetApp NAS, FreeNAS provides "base hygiene" to stand up a file share, backup target or content repository.

"The systems support replication, snapshots, encryption and multiple protocols. If you’re looking for core-level NAS functionality that you can deploy quickly and portably, FreeNAS offers a lot of the checkboxes that five or six years ago were isolated to the higher-end enterprise-level NAS boxes," Sinclair said. FreeNAS Mini use cases include local storage, remote offices

FreeNAS Mini is a four-bay enclosure that supports 6 TB hard disk drives (HDDs) and up to 24 TB of raw storage, with two internal drives bays for 2.5-inch SATA drives as high-performance cache. For optimal performance, the vendor recommends Western Digital (WD) Red HDDs, but the system will support generally available drives by other vendors.

Internal memory is 16 GB DDR3 with error-correcting code, RAID data protection and ZFS File System striping. FreeNAS Mini‘s user control is Web-browser-based, with remote hardware management across two dedicated ports for 10-Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) connectivity.

While small and midsize businesses may gravitate to FreeNAS for installations such as testing and development, TrueNAS is geared toward organizations that want scale-out or scale-up NAS. The TrueNAS line includes three hybrid arrays and an all-flash appliance. Features include a self-healing file system, adaptive inline compression and data deduplication, and unlimited snapshots and replication.

Kicking off the hybrid line is the TrueNAS Z20, billed as a backup disk target and file server with up to 320 TB of raw capacity, including an additional expansion shelf. Usable storage potentially tops 750 TB with ZFS disk compression. The Z20 system contains 64 GB of RAM and up to 1.2 TB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage as a read cache. Network connectivity is provided by up to 10 GbE or two 10 GbE interfaces per node.

Next in line is the TrueNAS Z30 that scales to 888 TB of raw storage with a maximum of four expansion shelves. Once data reduction is activated, iXsystems said usable capacity climbs to 2 petabytes (PB) per Z30 appliance. The Z30 comes with 128 GB of RAM, an embedded write cache and 2.4 TB of flash read cache. It is rated for 20 Gbps throughput/bandwidth. Use cases include virtualized infrastructure, business-intelligence applications and high-performance backup.

The most scalable of the TrueNAS hybrid arrays is the TrueNAS Z35 with a maximum 3.8 PB of raw storage. Up to eight expansion shelves can be attached to TrueNAS Z35. ZFS compression pushes usable storage to 10 PB or more. The Z35 contains 256 GB of RAM and is rated for bandwidth speed up to 40 Gbps. An abstracted cache layer enables linear scaling of hybrid storage. SSDs provide up to 4 TB of flash-based read cache.

Rounding out the TrueNAS line is the TrueNAS Z50 TrueFlash, which blends flash and disk storage for up to 30 TB of capacity and is rated for 40 Gbps throughput. With compressed flash, iXsystems said TrueFlash systems could provide up to 300 TB of usable storage. TrueFlash devices use fast random-access memory as a read/write cache.

TrueNAS unified storage appliances support AFP, CIFS, FTP, NFS, SMB and WebDAV file protocols, and iSCSI block storage. TrueNAS appliances support up two storage controllers for high availability and redundancy. NAS4Free emerges as FreeNAS alternative

In 2009, iXsystems acquired the FreeNAS name after its founders announced plans to place the code in maintenance mode and port it to Debian Linux. At the time, iXsystems had been using FreeNAS appliances "extensively" for in-house primary networked storage, the firm’s Olander said.