What is FreeNAS? As the name implies it is a Free, NAS server. Free stands for 3 things in this instance:
- The software is free, as in no cost
- The software is free, as in freedom
- The system is build over top of the FreeBSD OS.
NAS stands for Network Attached Storage. Think of is as one of those external hard drives you can connect to your computer via USB or FireWire. But instead of attaching directly to your PC, it connects to your network like any other computer, and serves your entire network. And instead of going out and buying that USB external drive, your can build a FreeNAS server out of spare parts you probably already have lying around.
Another major difference between the external hard drive and the NAS is the flexibility. You can choose from many available “services” your NAS may offer. You can choose to simply run it as an external hard drive for extra storage or backups via regular Windows Explorer and standard file operations, or you can choose to do so much more.
Having a NAS device in your home is, in my opinion, a great idea. The part I like most, and I know I’m not alone here, is the ability to easily do automated backups of your files. You can build, install, and configure your NAS server and any services in just a couple of hours, and once you set up your choice of backup software, you will never have to think about it again.. until disaster strikes! Then you can take comfort in the fact that you’ve been running backups the entire time!
If you have multiple computers on your network, they will all have access to the NAS (unless you choose otherwise) so backups for these other PCs is just as easy and copying settings from one to another. You can also use it to stream media to other PCs in your home, a feature I use the most. FreeNAS is compatible with any other machine on your network, regardless of hardware and operating system. Whether you use Linux, Windows, or Mac on any number of laptops and desktops, your new NAS device will be there for you.
I should point out that FreeNAS is not the only choice in adding a NAS to your network, nor is it the only choice for building your own NAS. It is just the one that I, and many others, have chosen. There are several commercial choices as well, but in these tough economic times it seems a wiser choice to roll your own.
My FreeNAS server is configured to allow SMB/CIFS sharing (Windows File Sharing), FTP, SSH, rsync (for automated backups), and more. I also use it to stream my music collection to other devices on my LAN via iTunes. I built my NAS using an old computer donated to me from a local company after their latest upgrade. I added some RAM that I had lying around to bring it up to 1GB, which is probably overkill but it beats letting the RAM sit around collecting dust, and of course I added my own hard drives. Currently, I’m only running it with 320 Gigabytes of storage, eventually I’m hoping to bump that up to 1.5 Terabyte RAID 5.
In the next part of this tutorial, I will attempt to walk you through the build procedure and hardware requirements.