FreeNAS is an open source operating system based on FreeBSD and, as its name implies, designed for networked storage. The project recently celebrated the release of FreeNAS 8, which racked up some 43,000 downloads in the first 48 hours after its release.
Techworld Australia caught up with Josh Paetzel, director of IT at iXsystems and project manager for FreeNAS 8, to talk about the current state of the OS, what lies ahead for it, and the relationship to FreeNAS 0.7.
Previously, the Open Source Identity series has featured interviews with Ruby on Rails creator David Heinemeier Hansson, Linux’s Linus Torvalds, Jan Schneider of Horde, Mark Spencer of Asterisk fame, Spine CMS creator Hendrick van Belleghem, Free Telephony Project founder David Rowe, and PulseAudio creator Lennart Poettering.
Could you describe FreeNAS in a nutshell? How did the project get started?
FreeNAS 8 ties an easy to use and intuitive GUI to a powerful, stable, robust operating system to make a storage appliance. The project was started a number of years ago when a BSD UNIX enthusiast was looking around for a home file server based on BSD UNIX. When he couldn't find one he created one of his own.
What's new in FreeNAS 8?
In some ways FreeNAS 8 is a case of taking a step backwards in order to be able to take two steps forward. The GUI is all new, making extensive use of Python, Django, and Dojo. In comparing it to the GUIs offered by other storage appliances on the market it really stands out. Whether you look at competing products, such as Openfiler, Nexenta, FreeNAS 0.7, or products in a different tier, such as a NetApp or EMC, the GUI in FreeNAS 8 really stands out.
There's more there than a pretty face though, behind that GUI is the latest FreeBSD operating system, 8.2, with ZFS version 15. ZFS is a production-ready filesystem in FreeBSD 8.x.
With FreeNAS 8 there seems to be a focus on expandability — using a Django-based GUI and creating a plug-in system, for example. What was the thinking behind this? More flexibility in terms of creating a community-driven ecosystem around the OS, or just maintainability of the core system?
One of the reasons that the developers of FreeNAS 0.7 were considering rewriting it was the static nature of the GUI. Adding functionality to a FreeNAS 0.7 box that is exposed to its GUI and can survive an upgrade was not something it was designed to do. As we set out to rewrite FreeNAS that was one of the major issues we wanted to solve.
A number of consumer-focused features (BitTorrent, for example) were ditched between version 7 and 8. What was the reasoning behind this?
We wanted the primary focus to be on file storage and sharing. Many of the media centre functionalities were considered prime candidates for the plug-in system.
Are there any features in version 8 that were particularly technically challenging to implement, or that the team is particularly proud of?
The whole GUI is a fairly amazing thing. A common reaction is, "I didn't know you could do that in a web page."
FreeNAS is built off FreeBSD -- is there a reason why FreeBSD was chosen as a base instead of, for example, a Linux-based OS? Are there advantages to it? At one point it looked like it was shifting towards being based on Debian...
We are passionate about FreeBSD. Its networking performance, stability, robustness, and the fact that it has a native ZFS implementation made it a natural choice for the base for a storage appliance.
What is the target market for FreeNAS? Is it mainly for personal use by people who want networked storage at home, or is it used in production environments -- would you consider it enterprise-ready, for example? In some respects it seems to straddle both consumer and business markets -- it has features that would be great for home storage, but also features like iSCSI targeting and 10GigE support.
I think in some ways it does straddle the high-end home user market and the low-end commercial market. In its current form it has moved away from the multimedia centre that many people were using FreeNAS for and more towards a storage appliance. We certainly intend to get back to that role in the future, but that's where we are at today.
It's also missing the features of really high end storage, like active/active failover, a clustered filesystem, single name-space, or horizontal scaling. So it can't compete with the likes of a BlueArc, NetApp, or EMC at the high end. What we are finding is that there's a lot of room in the lower end, where features like snapshots and dedup are needed, but things like active/active failover are not. People need more features than a Netgear ReadyNAS offers, but less than a NetApp offers. FreeNAS fits into that very nicely.