Roll Your Own Home Server (Part 1)

11/16/2012 6:19:06 PM

We haven’t checked in with FreeNAS, the FreeBSD-based DIY NAS OS, in quite some time. The OS has been completely overhauled, plugin support has been added, and it now works with even more hardware

Level of difficulty: Advanced

Length of time: 3 hours

The Mission

Since the last time we built a FreeNAS box, for the January 2010 issue, the OS has been through some changes. It switched developers, nearly switched platforms, re­moved media streaming, added it back in via plugins, added better ZFS management, and more. FreeNAS promises near-endless customization and hardware support, enabling near­ly anyone to build a highly moldable NAS from off-the-shelf parts. I’ve been promising an updated FreeNAS build for quite a while, and now’s the time to deliver. I assembled a cream-of-the-crop batch of hardware, got the latest version of FreeNAS. and got cracking.

Choosing the hardware

The beauty of FreeNAS is that it’ll work with just about any old hard­ware you have lying around - you don’t need to build a special box for it. This "build’’ is more about exploring the new version of FreeNAS than it is about the hardware itself. I took the opportunity to build a pretty powerful system, but you don’t have to take my hardware choices as your minimum recommended specs or anything like that. I just want­ed to see what would happen if I gave it beefy hardware to play with.

I chose a Fractal Array R2 chassis, which has six drive bays and an integrated PSU. I had a Mini-ITX FM1 board and an AMD A8 APU lying around and decided to use those, because a more capable CPU in your NAS means better transcoding and streaming. You could just as easily use any Mini-ITX board with a PCIe slot, maybe one with an integrated Atom or Brazos chip, if you want to save some money.

Description: Choosing the hardware

Four Western Digital Caviar Red NAS drives at 3TB each give me a theoretical 12TB of capacity if I were just going to make a RAID 0, which I’m not. Because I’ll be using a file system called ZFS, which does all its volume management in software, I want a good host-bus adapter that doesn’t insist on imposing its own hardware RAID over it - just something to pass the commands from the OS to the drives. I picked LSI’s SAS-9207-8i, which can control up to eight 6Gb/s drives and runs on a x8 PCIe 3.0 bus. Because I want to use the case’s SATA power connectors, I also bought a HighPoint Mini-SAS-to-SATA breakout cable rather than use the included connectors, which run on Molex power.

Because ZFS loves RAM and wants as much as you can throw at it (the specs recommend at least 1GB per TB of storage), I used two 8GB DDR3 DIMMs from G.Skill.

FreeNAS won’t mount any storage on the boot drive, and only takes up about 2GB total (with another 2GB swap), so there’s no point wast­ing a hard drive on it. It’s perfectly happy booting from a flash drive. I just used an 8GB drive left over from a CES press kit.

Set it up

Since this is a very straightforward build but a complicated soft­ware install, I’ll skip the step-by-step build entirely, and start with the software configuration. It’s a bit of a doozy. Thankfully, I have the excellent instructions on Freenas.org and the FreeNas Quick Start Guide (http://doc.freenas.org/index.php/Quick_Start_Guide) to help. Here’s how to set up FreeNAS; create volumes; set up users, groups, and sharing; and install a few streaming plugins.

Install the OS

To create the bootable OS image (from a windows ma­chine), you’ll need the aforementioned USB drive, the pro­grams 7-Zip (www.7-zip.org) and Win32 Disk Imager (bit.ly/N3QiJT). and the img.xz file for your install. We’re using FreeNAS 8.2.0 Release 1. Download the FreeNAS-8.2.0-RELEASE-p1-x64.img.xz file from SourceForge fbit.ly/ N3Qvq7). Extract the img.xz file using 7-Zip to turn it into an .img file, then burn that file onto your USB key with Win32 Disk Imager. This might take a few minutes. Once it’s ready, plug the USB key into one of the FreeNAS box’s rear USB ports and turn on the machine. You’ll need a keyboard and a monitor for this, but only for a few minutes. Make sure the FreeNAS box is connected to your network via Ethernet. Make sure the system is set to boot from USB. The system will spend a few minutes doing a self-test and then dump you at a screen called Console Setup. At this point, under a list of 11 options, you should see the phrase "You may try the fol­lowing URLs to access the web user interface,’’ followed by an IP address. Go to another computer on your network and enter that address into the web browser; you should be able to get right into the web console, which will make this whole process a lot easier (image A).

Description: image A

image A

You’ll notice a blinking Alert light on the upper right. Click it and you’ll see that you need to change the admin password. Hit the Account but­ton to the left of the Alert button, then select Change Password. Chang­ing the admin username from "admin” can help with security too. You should also set up an email address for the root account, so FreeNAS can email you with admin alerts. Go to Account, then Users, then View Users, and click Change Email on the root account. You should also set up console logging by going to System > Settings > Advanced and se­lecting Show Console messages in footer.

Set up storage

Now for the fun part: volume management. Thousands of words can be and have been written about the relative merits of the various traditional RAID levels, as well as ZFS-specific types like RAIDZ1 and RAIDZ2. Any choice will be a trade-off between performance, capacity, and robustness. I’m going with RAID-Z2, which will allow me to tolerate up to two disk failures without data loss.

Go to Storage > Volumes > Volume Manager. Create a volume name (I used "mpcstore"), then hold Ctrl and select the drives to use - I used all four drives. For filesystem type, select ZFS, then RAIDZ2. Select Add Volume. My four 3TB drives created a volume of 6TB; I’m sacrificing space for redundancy.

Inside the volume, I’ll create individual ZFS datasets so I can set granular permissions on each of them. Because I’m the first user, I’ll create a dataset within mpcstore for myself. In the left navigation pane I’ll go to Storage > Volumes > /mnt/mpcstore and select Create ZFS Dataset. I’ll call it ‘‘nedstore" and give it an unlimited quota (image B).

Description: image B

image B

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