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FreeNAS vs Openfiler

FreeNAS is a server distro that is based on m0n0Wall, which itself is based on FreeBSD code. Openfiler is also a server distro, but it’s based on rPath Linux (kernel 2.6.x). So, aside from both being UNIX-like, server distros, are there any major differences between them? Yes, but they also have a lot (of features) in common.

Installation: The FreeNAS installer is text-based, and installation is a breeze – takes less than 10 minutes. Openfiler uses Anaconda, which is a gui installer. If you have installed Fedora, StartCom, CentOS, or any other distro based on Fedora, then you will feel right at home installing Openfiler. It’s all point-and-click, and takes just a few minutes longer to install.

Admin Access: Access to FreeNAS and Openfiler is via console and browser-based gui. For FreeNAS, the browser admin access is via plain-text (http). Openfiler’s admin access uses SSL (https). Both admin interfaces are simple to navigate and use. From Openfiler’s admin interface, secure console access to the server is possible.

Disk Management: FreeNAS provides NAS services, with support for Software RAID and volume management via GEOM-vinum, the FreeBSD storage framework. Openfiler also has support for software RAID, and being a Linux-based distro, volume management is provided via Linux logical volume manager. By default, Openfiler is installed to hard disk with the non-LVM partitioning scheme ( /, /boot, and swap). You may, however, choose to install it using an LVM partitioning scheme. Ext3 is the default journaling filesystem, with XFS and Reiserfs as the other options. When creating LVM volumes from the admin interface, ext3 and xfs are the only options available.

Networking: Both FreeNAS and Openfiler will automatically discover all network interfaces connected to the system, and configure the first one found. IPv6 is supported by both. FreeNAS has support for Link AGGregation protocol (LAGG), with the following possible options:

  • Failover
  • FEC (Fast Ether Channel)
  • LACP (Link Aggregation Control Protocol)
  • Load Balancing
  • Roundrobin

In Openfiler, you could create bonded network interfaces, with the following bonding options:

  • Active backup
  • Balance – XOR
  • Broadcast
  • 802.3ad (IEEE 802.3ad Dynamic link aggregation)
  • Balance-tlb (Adaptive transmit load balancing)
  • Balance-alb (Adaptive load balancing)

The only bonding option that is not supported in Openfiler is Balance-rr (Round-robin policy). Being a NAS/SAN server distro, you could setup high availability (HA) clusters with Openfiler.

Services: The followig services are supported by FreeNAS:

  • LDAP and Active Directory authentication
  • SMB/CIFS (Common Internet File System)
  • Webserver (using LigHTTPD) and FTP
  • SSH
  • NFS
  • AFP
  • RSYNC
  • Unison
  • Dynamic DNS
  • UPS
  • SNMP
  • iTunes/DAAP
  • iSCSI Target

Services supported by Openfiler:

  • LDAP and Active Directory authentication
  • SMB/CIFS (Common Internet File System)
  • Webserver and FTP
  • SSH
  • NFS
  • RSYNC
  • UPS
  • SNMP
  • iSCSI target server
  • iSCSI initiator

Licensing and Cost: FreeNAS is open source (BSD-licensed) and completely free – documentation and all. It has a small, but active support community. While Openfiler is also open source, released under the GNU General Public License version 2 (GPLv2), and free to download and use, Xinit Systems, the UK-based company behind Openfiler, sells support and services around it. In fact, access to the admin guide (of the latest stable version – Openfiler 2.3) will set you back 59 EUR or about 80 USD. Small businesses and enterprise users can expect to pay thousands of euros for advanced features and support services. Openfiler also has a community support forum.

Your Choice: The main difference between FreeNAS and Openfiler is that one is a network-attached storage (NAS) server, while the other serves as both a NAS and a SAN (Storage Area Network) server. The SAN feature of Openfiler is what makes it appealing to enterprise and business users. It is probably the only (?), open source NAS/SAN project in active development. A few members of the FreeNAS community have written to say that FreeNAS can also be used to setup a SAN, and on further checking, they are right. So, back to the question: Which one should you choose? That depends on you, your needs, and the resources you have.

If you are big business, and don’t have the internal resources to setup and manage a SAN, Xinit Systems has different support services for you. But don’t forget that the FreeNAS developers will also welcome your business, and will gladly (I’m sure) help you setup a FreeNAS-based SAN.

If you are a home user and just need a NAS server (most home users will have no need for a SAN), either one should do just fine. Your choice will likely depend on whether you are more comfortable with a Linux-based system or a BSD-based one.

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12 Comments

  1. lame criticism says:

    not mentioning zfs in a comparison like this shows that the author has zero knowledge about the issue and is only brainlessly copy-pasting feature listings.

    author should be marked as lame article writer and generally excluded from internet write access until he / she finished something substantial. google downranking in progress right now.

  2. Alvaro Gil says:

    The best feature of FreeNAS is ZFS. An incredible file system that can take snapshots of itself almost instantly. Compare this to copying to another file system with RSYNC to get the same effect. This in itself has made it my NAS of choice!

    • Mike says:

      Linux’s LVM can do copy-on-write snapshots and clones almost instantly, too. No rsync needed.

      • Brazen says:

        The problem with lvm snapshots, though, is they kill the volume’s performance. ZFS snapshots have negligible impact on performance. More than 2 snapshots on LVM and disk access becomes unusable, however I’ve had up to 10 ZFS snapshots and could not see any performance degradation.

  3. Basti says:

    “For FreeNAS, the browser admin access is via plain-text (http).”
    Default is http, but you can switch to https in FreeNAs too.

  4. sebase says:

    In fact, the iSCSI target service based-on Openfiler is much stronger than the one based-on FreeNAS. On Openfiler(V2.3), we can creat several iSCSI targets, and set different space for each one. On FreeNAS(V0.69 Stable), usually only one iSCSI target can be created.

  5. Gary Sims says:

    Thanks for this good side by side comparison of FreeNAS and OpenFiler. There is however a small error in your analysis, FreeNAS can also act as an iSCSI target and as such is just as capable to act as a SAN (Storage Area Network) server.

    You can learn more about FreeNAS at http://www.freenas.org or http://www.learnfreenas.com.

    Thanks, Gary

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