Want to try FreeNAS but I'm afraid

Hey guys, I'm reading about this FreeNAS software and I want to get my hands dirty. I want to get a local, cloud accessible setup going. However I was looking at synology setups and the ease of use and setup is very tempting. On that note, I would like to know how much ongoing maintenance would be required for FreeNAS. Would love any input from people who have dabbled with both of these systems.

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Answer: Only as much as you want.

You can automate everything during initial configuration. The installation of OwnCloud (the FreeNAS jail plugin that enables personal cloud storage) is pretty easy. Essentially it's clicking a button, entering Jail information, and following the configuration through the web GUI. That's how most of the plugins for FreeNAS work.

I've used both a FreeNAS server (version 9.3) and a Synology NAS running Disk Station 2.14 which I setup for a relative's business.

Both were fairly easy to setup. Both have a web accessible GUI for configuration. And both didn't need to be touched by me (in terms of settings/configuration) once they were how I wanted them.

The only thing with FreeNAS is that it can be hardware intensive since it uses ZFS. If you do choose FreeNAS, you'll need to be aware to use ZFS, or you can't use Jails, which means you can't use OwnCloud. And it's recommended you have at least 8GB of RAM for ZFS.

That's the only major consideration I'm aware of. But having ZFS is nice because it has more advanced features a Synology NAS would not be able to provide. Such as scrubbing the data for bit rot (essentially data randomly decaying on the disk, which does happen over time). But of course, those can be automated, and set to email you the results when they do happen (every 1-6 months would be a good range to look at, but it's up to you).

One thing I did like about the Synology NAS was that it came with a free Dynamic DNS service, so I was able to access the server from anywhere with a simple hostname (i.e. myserver.synology.me).

You should be aware some advanced routers, like ASUS' higher end ones, come with a Dynamic DNS service as well, usually using the URL myrouter.asuscomm.com.

Note: myserver and myrouter are replaced by whatever URL you choose.

FreeNAS does not come with that by default, but OwnCloud might. I've never personally used OwnCloud.

You should also be aware that Amahi exists. It has plugins as well, but is geared more towards simpler use cases. It's not as powerful as FreeNAS can be, but again, it's easier to use (simply because there's less to consider and less to configure).


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If you are thinking about using FreeNAS then you should really start looking at FreeNAS 10 Beta. The GUI is completely different than the current version 9.10. It also will not be using plugin jails any longer. It will be using docker containers instead which should open it up to a lot more available plugins. It will also have more VM functionality.


In relation to this post, I should point out all my use experience and advice is given with FreeNAS 9.3 in mind.

10 sounds like it has the potential to be quite a bit different, but I'm sure it'll still be (potentially) easy to use once it's configured correctly.

FreeNAS can be a bit difficult to wrap your head around when you initially set it up due to the ZFS file system. Learning about RAIDZ, mirrors, Vdevs, volumes, datasets, snapshots, etc can take some time.

As far as regular maintenance is concerned, it's pretty much set it and forget it from the storage side of things.

FreeNAS offers significantly more control over data integrity compared to most consumer marketed NASs. So if your storing files that absolutely cannot be lost, it's a good choice. With that said, neither FreeNAS (and synology) is a foolproof backup solution. If you go with either solution to host critical files, a secondary backup is strongly encouraged.

A synology will be much easier to set up, but it will be limited in uses beyond storage. They have plugins you can install to expand the use of the device, but that pales in comparison to the power of having a true BSD system with jails (FreeNAS 9.3) or docker containers (FreeNAS 10).

TL/DR: If you want to just have stuff locally saved that isn't mission critical and that's about it, buy a synology. If you want to have a system that can grow to meet future needs (with significant tinkering), go with FreeNAS.

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