FreeNAS 8…………What did they do to you???

I’ve wrote about FreeNAS before.  If it’s not clear from the previous articles, I’m a pretty big fan of the product.  That being said…………I got a bit of a rant here about the latest version, FreeNAS 8….and I don’t think anyone will like what I got to say.

So, I finally broke down and replaced my patchwork storage server with a serious rig for storage.  I didn’t go completely crazy but I did build a descent machine, based on the ATOM processor (don’t knock it, it was cheap and it’s just a file server, more on this later), 2gb ram, 2 gb nics and of course, 6TB of usable storage (wanted more but come on, drive prices are still a little high right now), plenty of storage and technology from this decade.  So I thought, okay, new machine, time for a new OS, I’ll try FreeNAS 8…..And that’s where the pain misery suffering aggravation fun started.

Now, up until this point, I’ve been using the last build of FreeNAS 7 and it’s been working fine, no issues.  But I did want to try out the new FreeNAS 8, especially since iX systems took it over and made some pretty significant changes, including:

  • Significant code rewrite (not sure to what extent but according to a interview with FLOSS weekly, it’s quite large)
  • Resource requirements (i.e. we now need a minimum of 2GB of ram to run it (though I can attest to the fact that 2GB doesn’t cut it))
  • GUI (I will say this, the interface is damn pretty)
  • Feature set (it’s been reduced in the interest of time and rewrite though they are working on a plugin system to replace the lost features)

Now, that’s allot of work in a relatively short amount of time.  I certainly commend the iX Team for what they have done so far, it looks great!  However, for me, that’s where it ends and begins to fall apart.

Now, like a I said, the machine I built is a simple atom with 2gb of ram but for FreeNAS 7x this is more then enough to run everything you need (with the exception of ZFS) but with FreeNAS 8, that’s not the case at all.  In fact, a quick scan of  of google will tell that without 4GB of ram, forgot about running ZFS, let alone FreeNAS 8, it’s just not worth it.  Now, there are some mixed reviews on that; I’ve read some sites that say they got it running with 2GB just fine but they are doing minimal IO loads as well, so take it for what it’s worth.

The second issue is stability.  Now, I grabbed FreeNAS-8.0.4-RELEASE-p2 from the home page and gave it a try; maybe there is something funky with that version, maybe it’s the Atom proc/motherboard combo but right from the get-go, I had nothing but issues with it – the biggest of which was network configuration and drive stability. So I’ll start with the network configuration and go from there; in the interest of time, I’ll do this in a quick and dirty line method.

  • Network issues – configuring two NICs on the same subnet caused a ton of headaches including loss of gateway, loss of routing and reboots would result in only the primary nic being configured.  The work around:  configure both NICS in the GUI, reboot and DO NOT TOUCH IT AGAIN, EVER, EVER, EVER – not even to change the alias…
  • Performance – UFS+CIFS=DIRT…SLOW…TRANSFERS…when it worked….
  • Stability – It seems that allot of work went into ZFS (understandably) but some of us are interested in a easier file system.  That being said, UFS+CIFS = Kernel panic.  Large transfers (10GB or more) seemed to take forever and most of the time, the box would hang, freeze with a kernel panic and reboot.  When it rebooted, the file system had to be manually checked and it ALWAYS found issues

So, after two days of fighting with it, I started troubleshooting the hardware.  Keep in mind that before I put this into production (as with any system) I did a thorough burn in for about 48hrs including cpu stress testing, memory testing and drive tests.  No issues, nothing, not a hiccup.  So I went through and redid the tests again, with different software just to be sure….aaannnddd again, no issues.  Okay, that’s odd….hmmm.  I know, I’ll slap good ole’ FreeNAS 7 in there and see how that performs.

IT WORKS FINE!!!!  WOOHOO!!!!  NO ISSUES!!!!

So, what does that mean, exactly?  Well, it could be a couple of things:

My new NAS sucks – could be the case, again, it’s just a file server, not a powerhouse and I built it as such.

or….

FreeNAS 8 sucks….might not be quite there yet – Could also be the case….Not too sure on this but I’ll elaborate.

For me, I’m going with the second option for a variety of reasons.  I’ll give a few of the major points and we’ll stick with those for this discussion.

  • 4GB+ram – Really, this is a big beef item for me.  Sorry but I don’t care how cheap RAM is, this is a NAS box….Not a memory box!  Why should I need 4GB of ram?  For ZFS?  Fine, I understand that…barely but I get it (IMHO, ZFS needs more work; just google “zfs memory hog” and read a few entries…no one is happy about it).  But since I wasn’t using ZFS, why do I need more then say 512mb?  Answer:  No clue and on the FreeNAS wiki, there is no answer to this (http://doc.freenas.org/index.php/Hardware_Requirements); they simply focus on ZFS…
  • Network Configuration – I got nothing on this one.  Seems like a bug but I couldn’t find anything definitive on this.
  • UFS performance – Even using NFS, the performance was crap…..Again, nothing in the bug reports but you know how it goes….
  • UFS + CIFS = Crap – This is where the real fun started happening; random crashes, horrible performance, lots of timeouts…….  I did find a thread related to this, sorta, http://forums.freenas.org/archive/index.php/t-6182.html and the attitude is typical of people protecting a project, not helping or fixing problems (side note:  Folks, if you want people to take the open source community seriously, let’s try to be serious and not act like children…./side note)

So, that leads me to where I am today: with FreeNAS 7, last build before the iX takeover.

How’s it running?  Perfect, no issues whatsoever.  I’m running my music off it, sharing files, running all backups too it (windows/unix/linux based) and I’ve had ZERO issues.  No crashes, no reboots, no hung states, nothing.  The box is fast (all over gig traffic) and has had no hiccups in read/write performance.

So let me bring this write up to a wrap and get my final thoughts on this down.  Again, IMHO, FreeNAS 8 needs some work.  Obviously, they are trying to go after a niche market in the small to medium size sector.  I understand that completely and they are, of course, offering commercial support in addition to hardware to seal the deal.  Again, I understand.  I guess what ticks me off if that for users like me that don’t need a powerhouse file server and enjoyed the ease and light weight of FreeNAS 7, it feels like we were tossed aside by iX in favor of a pretty GUI, a heavier investment in ZFS and a drive for sales.  Again, they are a business and need to make money so I understand but it doesn’t make it any less true that the overhaul of FreeNAS 7 to 8 was geared strictly at commercial sales and had little to do with the community that helped make FreeNAS the popular product it is.

All too often this happens when a open source tool like this takes off and it’s sad really.  iX…. Make your money so you can stay in business, but try not to forget the roots of the product you are making money off of…

About Matthew

I'm the owner of impromptu-it, an IT engineer and enthusiast!
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