switching from FreeNAS to Ubuntu Server

This is basically part two of my previous post about troubles in NAS-land.  That experience got me thinking about switching up my NAS solution.  Here’s why:

  1. FreeNAS v0.7.x is based on FreeBSD which is a fairly foreign OS to me.  Everything, I mean everything, that I do in that OS is a complete and total learning experience.  While it’s easy to setup initially, debugging is a chore.  I’m much more comfortable in either a Windows or Linux environment.
  2. FreeNAS v0.7.x has basically been EOL’d and is now in “legacy” support.  That leaves me wondering about security and stability issues when upgrading to new hardware (see my previous post).
  3. FreeNAS v0.7.x transfer speeds have been shown to be a bit slower than (reference needed) other solutions for SAMBA or NFS.
  4. FreeNAS v0.7.x uses UFS (Unix File System).  Yeah… I don’t know either.  Mounting EXT4 or NTFS is not an option, but would be extremely handy when swapping data around.
  5. FreeNAS v0.7.x has questionable USB drivers which seemed to hang on my system when doing large RSYNC or file copy sessions.  Bad.  Also… slooow.
  6. FreeNAS v0.7.x has PHP4 and Lighttp instead of PHP5 and Apache2.  There were a bunch of cool web applications that I wanted to install on FreeNAS but didn’t because I didn’t want to hassle with installing PHP5 and Apache and screwing up the Web UI.  It looks messy and difficult.

Given that I’m comfortable with Linux (Ubuntu specifically), I was eager to see if I could make the switch to something more Linux’y, and still have the nice features and flexibility of FreeNAS.  Here was what I wanted:

  1. I want to run the OS from a USB flash drive.  Well ideally it would be nice to run it from an SSD, but I’m not made of money.
  2. I want a comparable Web UI to FreeNAS (huge selling point).  Needs to have the ability to manage shares, services, show me uptime, transfer rate, etc.
  3. RAID 1 mirror capability is a must.  I have data that I want protected from a drive failure.  Redundancy is key to my strategy.
  4. Services like SMB/CIFS, SSH, NFS, FTP, etc. are important to access the data.
  5. File system flexibility.  I’d like the capability to attach new storage in different formats.  Linux gives me that flexibility.  EXT4 gives me the performance and the protection from issues like power-outages that killed my previous NAS solution dead.
  6. Remote Bittorrent.  Gotta have it.
  7. Subsonic (hell yes)
  8. Exandability.  I want to install my own web apps, servers like Plex Server, Tonido, OwnCloud, and a host others that would have just been a pain in FreeNAS.
  9. Good hardware support and regular security updates.
  10. Good support community.

Here was my final verdict:

  1. Yes, you can run Ubuntu Server from a USB flash drive.  Some folks have pointed out that USB flash drives may run the risk of wear-out and warn to not install an OS on a USB flash drive.  You can minimize the amount of writes that are targeted at the flash device by removing the swap partition (make sure you have enough system memory for this).  Others say that you should probably never run into a problem with a good quality USB device.
  2. I started to look for alternative Web UI’s for server administration and I stumbled across a few.  I was most impressed by Ajenti (http://ajenti.org), however it’s still in an very early stage of development.  I’ll probably go with this, but Webmin appears to be pretty widely used UI and I may fall back on this to get more functionality.
  3. Yup, I’ve done a lot with RAID Mirroring on Ubuntu in the past.  I’ll just dig up this old post (raiding the archives) and implement a mirror as I did before with MDADM.  Easy.
  4. Check.  SMB/CIFS, SSH, NFS, FTP are all a snap to install on ubuntu.  Just pull from the repositories, configure and off we go.  Ajenti has some capability to manage these services from the Web UI as well.
  5. Yes again.  Flexibility abounds.  I will choose EXT4 thank you very much.
  6. Same as FreeNAS, I’ll pull in the latest Transmission Deamon.
  7. Yup – and easier to install, upgrade and manage on Ubuntu.  It’s a deb package so I won’t have to much other than configure it once it’s installed.
  8. Resounding yes.  I will have full flexibility to install the latest PHP, Apache, MySQL, etc… this means I can go crazy installing other fun projects on the NAS in the future.
  9. Yes and yes.
  10. Yes – while FreeNAS has a great community, Ubuntu has a bigger user base and a bigger support community.

So that’s it.  I’ve made up my mind.   Ubuntu Server here we come.   It’s going to be quite a project to get this initially setup, but I think it will be an enriching and useful project.  It’ll open my home server up to new capabilities and hopefully enhanced performance.   FreeNAS is great, but it’s sort of like riding a bike with the training wheels on.  It’s time to ride on two wheels now.

P.S. I should also mention that during my research, I ran across OpenMediaVault (http://openmediavault.org/).   The original FreeNAS project forked into two projects.  The first fork was FreeNAS 8.0 based on FreeBSD8, which is aimed at higher-end server equipment.   I avoided this version because it is still in it’s infancy, requires a kind of ridiculous amount of power and it’s still based on FreeBSD.  I recently discovered that the second fork is actually a Debian Linux based fork aimed more at the home NAS market.   Now they have me second guessing things.  Since it’s based on debian, perhaps this would be the easier route… naw.   

11 Replies to “switching from FreeNAS to Ubuntu Server”

  1. You should really consider OpenMediaVault. It’s a great NAS distribution and you’ll find that you can easily install everything in your wish list on top of OMV. Some of it may even be available as plugins.

  2. Great blog post!! Martin, does OpenMediaVault have good data throughput??
    I need to build a file server for an office setting of say 25 desktops & laptops, but don’t want something too complicated for the in-house IT guy. Is this a “set it up & forget it” NAS solution?
    Also, I want RAID1 for redundancy. Is the software RAID in this NAS sufficient for my needs? Or should I get a RAID controller?

  3. OMV might be the solution you’d want… although it may lack some of the “small business” features (not sure if it has multi-user directories, etc. but worth a try). FreeNAS 8 might also be something you should check out. It’s more of an industrial grade solution, but probably more geared toward that environment. I personally haven’t tried FreeNAS 8, but I would hope that it supports more hardware than the legacy FreeNAS 7 distribution did. Both solutions are dead simple to setup and use and are truly the easiest to manage that I’ve dealt with. You could definitely “Set it up and forget it”.

    And with regards to software RAID1, I think I’d trust it more than I would the HW RAID. It seems to be more recoverable if there is a hardware failure. There are several schools of thought on this, and I am personally in the software camp. I’ve had drive HW failures with Software RAID and was able to easily swap out the bad drive and replace with a new drive with no data loss. If you were going for speed, then I might recommend HW RAID, but not with simple redundancy. Waste of money in my humble opinion.

  4. “legacy FreeNAS 7” isn’t legacy. If you followed FreeNAS history you would know that FreeNAS 7 calls now NAS4Free because original first developer sold out project to iXsystem as well established brand after core developer Volker decide to to go with Linux base OS and strat his own OpenMediaVault project, but original FreeNAS have been picked by Daoyama and Zoon and now it is the only FreeBSD based NAS that run on latest FreeBSD 9. It is (NAS4FREE) well supported and it has own well established user base. It still doing its job very well not only as home base server, but run pretty good in small business (30-60 workstations easily handled by old Pentium 4 with 512Mb RAM)

  5. Great post. I’m using FreeNAS for a home server and, while it’s been rock-solid and does what I need, I have the same set of gripes about installing/updating 3rd party software. I’ve been considering switching to Ubuntu Server for nearly all of the reasons you listed.

    9 months later, are you still using Ubuntu Server? How is it working out for you?

  6. Hey Dan – Yup, still running Ubuntu Server and still loving it. There is obviously a pretty thriving community around ubuntu and having the flexibility to install third-party packages at will has really opened up the possibilities for what I can do with my NAS. I’m still writing about it over on my new tech blog at http://parmeter.net/tech. You might also check out the OpenMediaVault project which I believe is Debian based and might be a good compromise between the nice user interface on FreeNAS and the flexibility of Debian.

  7. I have a question,
    I am not a Linux guy,
    I have been running an unRaid server for a year for my file server Media server needs.
    but do to recent need to expand my capability I was looking on
    creating a VM server and a, trying to build out Ubuntu/Xen solution
    but I like the data protection that unRaid offers.
    if anyone here familiar with unRaid , can you recommend a viable replacement for it.
    that would offer similar or better data protection, but can be run under Xen.

    I like unraid, and was thinking of getting the license for my new build but I do have several issues with it as well.
    #1. it does not play nice with most hypervisor solutions.
    #2 even if you manage to run it in VM you MUST pass in the whole drive controller(s) to the VM for unraid to work properly.
    #3 and this is most important the license is tied to a usb stick identity. I do not mind paying for the license, especially since it is priced quiet reasonably IMHO,
    but I know that USB sticks do fail and however unlikely that scenario is don’t want to tie the server to a such volatile peace of tech.

    my goal is to have a full fledged VM server running following Guests :
    1. pfSence and/or Untangle Super router/firewal
    2. Ubuntu Server 12.04 LTS where a downloading and processing software will be setup (tested in VM, it works) SABNZBD+ Sickbeard+ CouchPotato+ Transmission

    3. Windows 7 or 8 for Transcoding movies into MKV (if I can find the way to doit in Linux as easy as I do it now in Windows this might change)
    also posibly CableCard tunner sharing in the future.

    4. some sort of image server . like FOG or Clonzilla with PXE boot capability.
    5. anything else I can not think of right now
    Here is my hardware :
    Motherboard: Supermicro H8DME-2
    CPU : 2 – AMD Opteron Hex Core 2431 @ 2.4Ghz (12 Cores total)
    RAM : 56GB DDR2 PC-5300 @ 667mHz
    SAS/Raid cards :3 – SAT2-MV8 PCI-X
    Network : 4 ports
    2 – on-board Gigabit ports
    1 Intel Pro Dual port PCI-e card

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