The FreeNAS experiment

Kalyway kernel panic

Kalyway kernel panic

I am still searching for that elusive ‘server’ that’s going to be a little more Apple-friendly than my Windows 2003 Server machine up in the loft. The Kalyway 10.5.2 exercise was interesting but seemed stricken with some fatal flaw. It stopped responding and when I went to investigate, I discovered the machine had suffered a kernel panic. Over the course of the next hour or so, every time I rebooted, the machine had a kernel panic within 5 to 10 minutes. I’m sure that with a bit more patience and effort I could have worked through this, but as a robust system for taking backups to it wasn’t looking good. Time to move on…

Enter FreeNAS.

What could be better? A free, Linux based OS that does nothing but share out disk space and that supports AFP. It’s a 22Mb download – that’s right, just twenty two meg. Burn the iso image to a CD, pop it in the drive and you’re away. I opted to install it on one of the hard disks in my ‘server’ rather than repeatedly boot off the Live CD, and installation took just a couple of minutes.

The server sets itself up with a default address of 192.168.1.250 and configuration is then done by browsing to that address from another machine and using the Web GUI. Everything you need is in a very good Setup and User Guide, and if you follow this you really can’t go wrong. All I had to do was provide a couple of settings, format and mount my 500Gb disk, then enable AFP and share it. This really is a clever piece of work – the Web GUI is pretty intuitive, and the OS itself has a tiny footprint, so you could run it on pretty much anything. My next job is to ‘soak test’ the setup by copying 400Gb or so of data to it and seeing how it performs over the next few days.

My only advice is to think carefully about what file system to use when formatting your data disks. FreeNAS defaults to it’s own ‘UFS’ scheme. That’s no problem in itself, except that should the worst ever happen and you need to transfer your disks to another machine, you might be stuck being able to read the disks unless you can install FreeNAS on the new host. FreeNAS does allow you to use FAT32, EXT2 or even SoftwareRAID, although a bit worryingly there’s a warning on the Disk Format screen that says:

UFS is the NATIVE file format for FreeBSD (the
underlying OS of FreeNAS). Attempting to use other file formats such as
FAT, FAT32, EXT2, EXT3, or NTFS can result in unpredictable results,
file corruption, and loss of data!

Possible file corruption is really something I’d rather avoid if it’s all the same to you.

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