Nas for free: get to know FreeNAS

If you are looking for a reliable nas, then you have no shortage of solid products. But you have to have the money for it, because the solutions from popular manufacturers like Synology and QNAP are anything but cheap. If you still have an older PC, you can also create such a NAS yourself. And with FreeNAS it doesn't even have to cost you anything.

Tip 01: More than storage

Once you've experienced the benefits of a nas, you really won't want to be without it. Initially, you use such a system as a central storage space, which you can access from just about any device in your network. With well-thought-out permission management, you also ensure that users can only access the data intended for them. But it doesn't stop there. Any nas system that takes itself seriously provides plenty of other useful services, such as ftp, web, media, BitTorrent, and ddns.

In this article we use the free software FreeNAS for our NAS system. This tool is based on FreeBSD, but don't let that scare you. The initial setup may be a bit trickier, but you'll soon feel at home in the graphical web interface. We start with the download and further preparation and installation of FreeNAS. Then we will configure the software for use.

Tip 02: Hardware Requirements

Before you start the download and further preparation, make sure you have the required hardware. You will find a detailed overview of this, but we like to summarize it as follows. The system requirements of the latest FreeNAS versions – now at a respectable 11.2 – are admittedly slightly more demanding than before, but all in all still quite manageable: a 64-bit processor, preferably at least 8 GB of ram and at least two storage media. One acts as a boot medium (8 GB or more), the other is intended for your data storage and then 2 TB seems desirable to us. If you prefer not to sacrifice a hard drive or SSD to the boot medium, you can also do it with a USB stick. You will also need a modest USB stick to install FreeNAS on the boot media. Furthermore, your PC must be connected to your network via an Ethernet connection and you initially need a screen and keyboard. After the initial installation, you can configure and maintain FreeNAS remotely via the web interface. In terms of running costs, a laptop is preferable because it is usually more energy efficient than a desktop PC. Make sure you turn off the screen (perhaps via an Fn key). In the text box 'Stand-by' we see how the hard disk can also be put in an economical mode.

You cannot install FreeNAS on the installation media itself

Tip 03: Preparation

You are still here? Then at least the hardware requirements have not deterred you and we can now move on to the software part. Our nas adventure begins with the download of the FreeNAS disk image. We opt for the most recent stable release with the new web interface (11.2-U4.1). You are supposed to turn this ISO file into a bootable USB stick. There are several tools for this, including the popular Rufus, but we also have good experiences with Win32 Disk Imager. The latter works as follows. Insert the USB stick into your PC and install and launch Win32 Disk Imager. Refer to the downloaded iso file (choose *.* in the drop-down menu at File name) and confirm with Write and with yes. Moments later, the stick is ready.

The intention is that you now boot the intended NAS PC. If you also want to install FreeNAS yourself on a USB stick, first put a second stick (of at least 8 GB) in the PC and then boot the system with the installation stick. You may have to call up a boot menu via some special key (combination) for this boot or even change the boot order in the bios setup. Consult your system manual if necessary.

Tip 04: Installation

If all is well, your system will indeed boot from the installation stick and a selection menu will appear shortly afterwards. Press Enter to select the top option Boot FreeNAS Installer to select. Then you choose 1Install/Upgrade. If your system has less than 8 GB of ram, a message will appear about this. You can click this away with Yes. An important moment now: with the arrow keys you navigate to the drive (or the stick) on which you want to install FreeNAS yourself – not the drive where you want to store your data. Confirm your choice with the space key (an asterisk will appear next to that option) and press OK and on yes. Enter a strong password for the FreeNAS administrator (2x) and confirm with OK. Depending on your system (if necessary, consult your system manual) then choose Boot via UEFI or Boot through BIOS. Wait patiently for the installation to complete. At the end of the ride, press OK and choose you 3 Reboot System. Make sure that the installation media is removed. In the new start menu, choose 1. Boot FreeNAS. After some juggling by FreeBSD, a drop-down menu appears. You don't have to do anything with this: we are going to take over the operation via the network!

Virtual installation

If you just want to experiment with FreeNAS first, you can consider a virtual installation, for example with the free Oracle VM VirtualBox. Download and install the tool. In the management window, click New. fill FreeNAS as name and choose Other Bee Type and Other/Unknown (64-bit) Bee Version. Press Next one and preferably choose 8 GB of memory. Press Next one, leave Create new virtual hard drive now highlighted and confirm with Create. Select the option VDI, Press Next one (2x) and set the size to at least 8 GB. Confirm with Create. Select your FreeNAS and click Institutions. Go to Storage, choose Empty and click the CD icon. Here you select Choose a virtual optical disc file and point to the FreeNAS iso file. Then click on Controller:IDE and the plus button Adds hard drive. Select Create a new disc and specify a location, name and an appropriate size (for saving your data storage). Finish with Create. Go to Network and select at Linked to the option Network bridge adapter, so that you will soon be able to access the FreeNAS virtual machine from your other PCs. Press OK and the arrow button at Start: the installation can begin (see article). Note: At the end of the installation, just before the FreeNAS reboot, you need to: Network right click on the iso file and Remove connection select.

Tip 05: Language and time

The idea now is that you tune in to the IP address of your FreeNAS machine from a web browser on a PC on the same network. You can read the IP address just below the FreeNAS menu. As soon as you type //, the FreeNAS login window appears. Enter the username (‘root’) and the previously entered password, and click LOG IN. The time has come: the graphical dashboard of the FreeNAS administration module pops up. Time for a first configuration. You will notice that the default language is English and that might be the better choice as most guides, communities and how-to videos are based on that language. If you prefer to choose Dutch, open the section System, choose General and set Language in on English. In any case, don't forget to set the Timezone to Europe/Amsterdam. Confirm with Save, put a check next to Confirm and press Continue. FreeNAS will restart a moment later with the requested changes. At least that's the idea. On our test system, FreeNAS refused to show the Dutch interface (French, for example, worked).

Tip 06: Disk Format

A NAS is primarily for centralized data storage, so let's tackle the FreeNAS disk layout first. In the dashboard you open the section Storage and choose you Polish (i.e. volume). Press on the button Add, select the Create new pool option and confirm with Create pool. Enter a name (preferably in lowercase), but leave encryption untouched for the time being - unless you have read section 9.2.2 of the online manual and are aware of the consequences.

Furthermore, select the data disk at Available Discs and move it via the arrow button to Dates VDevs. You can also add multiple drives if necessary: ​​then you can also immediately take advantage of the built-in raid support, including: mirror and RAIDZconfigurations (see also section 9.2.1 of the online manual). Via the button Suggest Layout FreeNAS even does this for you. An optimal raid configuration is then automatically chosen. Confirm with Create and with Create Pool. Moments later, the pool was added.

FreeNAS also offers excellent support for raid

Stand-by

Admittedly, a disadvantage of such a NAS on a discarded PC or laptop is that the power consumption is noticeably higher than with a specific NAS device. You can, however, ensure that the drive automatically switches to standby after a while. Open the section Storage in FreeNAS and choose Discs. Place a checkmark next to the drive you use for your data storage and click Edit disc(s). Change the default value always on Bee HDD Standby in for example 60 (minutes of inactivity after which the drive goes into standby). You can also set an economical energy management: click on the arrow next to Advanced Power Management and choose for example Level 1 – Minimum power usage withStand-by. Note that it may take a few seconds for the drive to come out of hibernation.

Tip 07: User Accounts

Before setting the permissions on our pool, let's first create a user in FreeNAS and then grant it the necessary permissions to access the pool. Open the section Accounts and choose Users. Press on the button Add and enter both the full name and the username. This may possibly be the same – use with username small letters. Also set a password (2x). You may use the same username and password as that of a Windows account on the device from which you want to access the share afterwards – that makes authentication a bit easier. At the bottom right, place a checkmark Microsoft Account. You can leave the other options untouched. Confirm with Save: The user is added.

Tip 08: User rights

We still need to grant the necessary rights for the pool to this user. To do this, open the section again Storage and choose you Polish. In the volume overview, click on the button with the three dots next to the volume. You will find here, among other things Add Dataset at. Such a dataset is a kind of folder to which you can apply different permissions, compression and quotas (see section 9.2.10): you will see this when you click on the arrow button to the left of such a pool or volume. In this introductory course we will not consider this concept. Select Edit permissions in the drop-down menu of your volume and let ACL Type set to Unix. In the drop-down menu at User select the user you just created. Leave the other options as they are and confirm your changes with Save.

Tip 09: Shares

It is now the intention that the user can reach the pool via your Windows network. To this end, we create a so-called share – a shared folder, so to speak. Open the section sharing and select Windows (SMB) Shares – you will also find options such as Apple (AFP) Shares and WebDAV Shares.

Press on the button Add and click at Share on the network icon. This way you descend to your pool (for example /mnt/tips tricks). add Name enter a suitable name, again preferably in lowercase. You do not need to check the other options. Confirm with Save. Normally, the question now appears whether you want to activate the smb service, which regulates the operation of the Windows shares. Confirm this question with Enable service (see also section 11.4). The share is now added to the overview. To make sure that the service is indeed active, open the section Services: if all is well, the runningbutton at SMB This is indeed enabled and there is also a check mark Start Automatically. You will see that there are quite a few other services available here, but they are beyond the scope of this FreeNAS introduction.

Rights management in FreeNAS is flexible, but quite complex

Tip 10: Windows Link

Time now to access this share from a Windows computer on the same network. On this machine, press Windows key+R and fill \\ in (for example, \192.168.0.197). Press OK. You should now be asked for your login ID (credentials). Enter the username and password you just created. In principle, you can already indicate here that you want to save these credentials, so that you do not have to re-enter them later.

You will now see the share you just created. You can open it and create, modify and delete files and folders. If you want to access this folder more often, we recommend creating a permanent network connection. To do this, right-click on the name of the share in the navigation pane of the Explorer, at the bottom of Network, and choose you Network connection. Choose a free drive letter, check if the path is set correctly (for example \192.168.0.197\poolfolder), leave the check mark at Reconnect at sign in and confirm with Complete. From now on, this share can be reached on that device via the set drive letter. Of course you can also repeat these actions on your other Windows clients.

While FreeNAS also allows for sophisticated user management and even group management with specific permissions, we don't have the space to go into that in more detail here. That also applies to the thirty plug-ins for FreeNAS that you can find via the section Plugins / Available. Have fun with FreeNAS!

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