FreeNAS, an open source NAS server, can convert a PC into a network-attached storage server. The software, which is based on FreeBSD, Samba, and PHP, includes an operating system that supports various software RAID models and a Web user interface. The server supports access from Windows machines, Apple Macs, FTP, SSH, and Network File System (NFS), and it takes up less than 16MB of disk space on a hard drive or removable media.
FreeNAS is free to use and deploy without cost. It’s an open source project published under the BSD license. The software is popular enough to have gotten more than 20,000 downloads last month.
The article’s conclusion:
FreeNAS’s web management interface is comprehensive enough that to administer the server you don’t need to use the command line. There is provision for full shell access via SSH but I didn’t find the need to try it. Reading the forums on freenas.org, which are the primary venue for support, shows that some people do use the command line for some more exotic configurations, but for the basic user the Web management interface will be sufficient.
In my testing, the core FreeNAS system was stable, but it is possible to get the system configuration into a confused state. For example, when creating my first local user I ignored the message that a group must be created first and blindly went ahead and tried to create the user. This resulted in some internal errors, and from that point on all local user authentication failed. The only way to fix the situation was to restore the FreeNAS server to the factory defaults and reconfigure the system from the beginning. If you respect the warnings and messages, you shouldn’t have any problems.
To secure your server you need to change the default password for the Web management interface. It also might be worth disabling the console menu if physical access to the server isn’t limited.
One limitation of the software is the lack of granularity in setting access rights to shares. The local user authentication model is an all-or-nothing affair. You can’t set some users to be read-only or others to only have access to certain shares. Once a user is authenticated, he has full access to all the shared storage.
The FreeNAS server has lots of potential and is under active development; there were 11 point releases in the first four months of 2006 alone. It’s a good alternative for building a simple network server without having to install a full-blown version of Linux or FreeBSD. It is also a good way to make use of aging hardware, as its system requirements are quite modest by today’s standard.
Read the whole review here.
If you’re interested in setting up a FreeNAS server and want to know a bit more about the technical background, then have a look at this presenatation by Olivier Cochard-Labbe, the maintainer, done at BSDCan 2007)