Free Network Attached Storage with NAS4Free

Alastair Aitken 17 February 2014 0

Working with non-profits has exposed me to a wide range of technology. Technology that is often ancient. In fact, the technology in employees’ pockets is almost always far superior. I found this out after examining the router logs of an organisation that I’m currently working with. It’s not exactly NSA or GCHQ level meta-data spying but I have deduced that most owners of iPads also own iPhones.

To install any new system into such an environment requires being aware of two factors:

  1. The presence of old technology can mean a low level of technology skills within the enterprise.
  2. Working with old technology means having to search a bit harder for practical solutions.

Amongst other issues that this non-profit has to contend with are:

  • an ad hoc network with almost no security,
  • use of USB keys for backup and sharing,
  • no automated backup solution,
  • there won’t always be a tech person at hand.

When Windows Server Essentials is too heavyweight and a fancy network-attached storage (NAS) box seems slightly overblown for needs, NAS4Free might fit the bill. It’s a NAS operating system controlled with a web interface. The NAS4Free name is relatively recent but under the name FreeNAS its codebase has been in active development since 2005. It’s based upon the FreeBSD operating system which is of a even older, solid, vintage. NAS4Free can run on a very low specification machine and as the name would suggest, it’s free.

Installation is ridiculously simple. Download a disk image, burn it, put the disk into an old machine (in this case a P4 with 2Gb RAM) and reboot. The defaults offered by the installer rarely need changing. The machine can operate headless: once NAS4Free is installed, the keyboard, mouse and monitor are no longer required. The hard disk on the old machine is now available across the network for storage and backup.

To get up and running I followed the excellent article, Installing and Configuring NAS4Free on a Windows Network. Varying from the recommended installation route it suggests installing onto a hard drive whereas an embedded install, on say a USB key, is the preferred method as this allows for easy upgrading. But the chances of an upgrade for my installation are somewhere around zero.

NAS4Free supports umpteen network protocols, the most significant being CIFS for Windows (and Mac and Linux) networking support. Setting up a user account for each Windows logon is time-consuming rather than complicated. Having set up a share for each user, Windows Backup can then be used.

There’s a host of other features supported by NAS4Free. Most features are likely to be unused although the ability to use ownCloud is tempting. It is possible to use rsync on a NAS4Free install but rsync isn’t natively supported in Windows. Whilst not really applicable in a business situation, NAS4Free also supports streaming media and even torrent downloading.

One drawback of reusing a vintage machine is that with limited power-saving features and running 24/7, the energy consumption is rather higher than desired. Hopefully that’s outweighed by the fact that the machine isn’t going into landfill, somewhere in the third-world.

Alastair Aitken (124 Posts)

As a contract developer and manager I’ve worked in a wide range of enterprises in a variety of countries where I’ve encountered everything from great work, awful work, bizarre work, all the way down to quasi-legal work. If you think that you recognise your own organisation within my articles then you’re undoubtedly wrong, where you work isn’t that unique.

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