Openfiler vs Freenas

FreeNAS is a server distro that is based on m0n0Wall, which itself is based on FreeBSD code. Openfiler is also a server distro, but it’s based on rPath Linux (kernel 2.6.x). So, aside from both being UNIX-like, server distros, are there any major differences between them? Yes, but they also have a lot (of features) in common.

Installation: The FreeNAS installer is text-based, and installation is a breeze – takes less than 10 minutes. Openfiler uses Anaconda, which is a gui installer. If you have installed Fedora, StartCom, CentOS, or any other distro based on Fedora, then you will feel right at home installing Openfiler. It’s all point-and-click, and takes just a few minutes longer to install.

Admin Access: Access to FreeNAS and Openfiler is via console and browser-based gui. For FreeNAS, the browser admin access is via plain-text (http). Openfiler’s admin access uses SSL (https). Both admin interfaces are simple to navigate and use. From Openfiler’s admin interface, secure console access to the server is possible.

Disk Management: FreeNAS provides NAS services, with support for Software RAID and volume management via GEOM-vinum, the FreeBSD storage framework. Openfiler also has support for software RAID, and being a Linux-based distro, volume management is provided via Linux logical volume manager. By default, Openfiler is installed to hard disk with the non-LVM partitioning scheme ( /, /boot, and swap). You may, however, choose to install it using an LVM partitioning scheme. Ext3 is the default journaling filesystem, with XFS and Reiserfs as the other options. When creating LVM volumes from the admin interface, ext3 and xfs are the only options available.

Networking: Both FreeNAS and Openfiler will automatically discover all network interfaces connected to the system, and configure the first one found. IPv6 is supported by both. FreeNAS has support for Link AGGregation protocol (LAGG), with the following possible options:

  • Failover
  • FEC (Fast Ether Channel)
  • LACP (Link Aggregation Control Protocol)
  • Load Balancing
  • Roundrobin

In Openfiler, you could create bonded network interfaces, with the following bonding options:

  • Active backup
  • Balance – XOR
  • Broadcast
  • 802.3ad (IEEE 802.3ad Dynamic link aggregation)
  • Balance-tlb (Adaptive transmit load balancing)
  • Balance-alb (Adaptive load balancing)

The only bonding option that is not supported in Openfiler is Balance-rr (Round-robin policy). Being a NAS/SAN server distro, you could setup high availability (HA) clusters with Openfiler.

The following services are supported by FreeNAS:
  • LDAP and Active Directory authentication
  • SMB/CIFS (Common Internet File System)
  • Webserver (using LigHTTPD) and FTP
  • SSH
  • NFS
  • ZFS
  • AFP
  • Unison
  • Dynamic DNS
  • UPS
  • SNMP
  • iTunes/DAAP
  • iSCSI Target

Services supported by Openfiler:

  • LDAP and Active Directory authentication
  • SMB/CIFS (Common Internet File System)
  • Webserver and FTP
  • SSH
  • NFS
  • UPS
  • SNMP
  • iSCSI target server
  • iSCSI initiator

Licensing and Cost: FreeNAS is open source (BSD-licensed) and completely free – documentation and all. It has a small, but active support community. While Openfiler is also open source, released under the GNU General Public License version 2 (GPLv2), and free to download and use, Xinit Systems, the UK-based company behind Openfiler, sells support and services around it. In fact, access to the admin guide (of the latest stable version – Openfiler 2.3) will set you back 59 EUR or about 80 USD. Small businesses and enterprise users can expect to pay thousands of euros for advanced features and support services. Openfiler also has a community support forum.

Your Choice: A few members of the FreeNAS community have written to say that FreeNAS can also be used to setup a SAN, and on further checking, they are right. So, back to the question: Which one should you choose? That depends on you, your needs, and the resources you have.

If you are big business, and don’t have the internal resources to setup and manage a SAN, Xinit Systems has different support services for you. But don’t forget that the FreeNAS developers will also welcome your business, and will gladly (I’m sure) help you setup a FreeNAS-based SAN.

If you are a home user and just need a NAS server (most home users will have no need for a SAN), either one should do just fine. Your choice will likely depend on whether you are more comfortable with a Linux-based system or a BSD-based one.

Speaking of 2011 terms, nowadays people would do better to pick FreeNAS, only because ZFS is such an awesome great filesystem.


  1. I’m looking for a small (512MB max) distro that does CIFS and NFS. It must support a Via C7 CPU (x86) and 512MB RAM. The underlying file system is not as important, since ZFS really isn’t an option due to the limited RAM.

    I’m completely comfortable with either BSD or Linux, and don’t need a GUI or web-app, but neither FreeNAS nor OpenFiler work on the available hardware. One installed, but never booted again.

    I suppose $100 would get a new Atom-based MB+CPU and make lots of things possible. Low power is desired – the Via is only 12W.

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