Jordan Hubbard, co-founder of FreeBSD, talks about FreeNAS’s beginnings and its transformation to a new product — TrueNAS.

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The FreeNAS project got its start way back in 2005, when Olivier Cochard-Labbé wanted to turn his old PC into a home server. There wasn’t an open source project that fit all of his needs, so he did what any self-respecting software developer would do: he sat down and wrote his own. Just like that, the software that would eventually become the world’s most popular open source software defined storage was born.

Development continued until 2009, when one of the project developers proposed moving FreeNAS to a Debian Linux based system. This move would have meant losing access to the FreeBSD community and the overall quality of its software, and FreeNAS would also lose its native ZFS support, since the ZFS On Linux project didn’t even exist at that time. iXsystems had used FreeNAS for many years and sold servers specifically made for FreeNAS, so Matt Olander, one of the iXsystems founders, reached out to Olivier and offered to take over FreeNAS development on FreeBSD. Olivier gave his blessing, and iXsystems started immediately working on FreeNAS 8. In order to modernize FreeNAS, the development team at iXsystems rewrote almost all the code and replaced the m0n0wall PHP code with a full featured, easy-to-use webGUI.

From there, iXsystems continued to improve the FreeNAS code and add new features. A new plugin system was introduced in FreeNAS 8.3 that allows users to install ports, packages and PBI’s and extend the use of the system. In March 2013, with the release of 8.3.1, FreeNAS became the first and only open source storage project to offer encryption with ZFS. In the most recent 9.3 release, we redesigned the UI again, moved to ZFS completely, and added the ability to boot from multiple boot environments and roll-back updates or other configuration changes. It also added the ability to automatically check for updates, added support for NFSv4, supports booting from multiple boot environments, and makes it easier to roll-back updates or apply other configuration changes.

There’s a smooth continuum between FreeNAS development and our for-profit work. The time we put into open source supports projects around the globe. It also supports the company because the software is directly incorporated into our storage offerings. The feedback and bug reports we get from the FreeNAS open source community allow us to refine our software and deliver that refinement to our customers – other storage companies only wish they had access to the QA resources we do!

The first generation of the TrueNAS storage appliance launched in August 2011 and, since then, we have launched the second generation of TrueNAS appliances. In late 2014, we also unveiled our all-flash TrueFlash system.

There are very big things planned for the future of FreeNAS. FreeNAS 10 will feature a dramatic overhaul of the user interface, completely rewritten underpinnings, and a re-base on FreeBSD 10.x. Overall, it will be far more responsive and intuitive to use, feature many more Enterprise level storage features, and offer greatly enhanced reporting and monitoring options. We think long-time FreeNAS users will be quite impressed by it.

We are also releasing frequent incremental updates for FreeNAS 9.3 while the community waits for FreeNAS 10 to hit its initial release milestones in 9-12 months. We promise the wait will be worth it!

Jordan Hubbard
iXsystems CTO