It's not very often that a piece of hardware comes along that intimidates me. For a very long time, I've been a Windows user almost exclusively, and the operating system designed for everyday users tends to dumb down the user, in this case me. In Windows, everything has a wizard--even complicated tasks--so when you take the simple walkthrough menus away, you are left with panic...until you research to remember things from long ago.
iXsystems took over the FreeNAS project in 2009, but the company dates back to 1996 when it started as Telnet Systems. FreeNAS has the widest adoption of all open source storage centric operating systems, and it is a very powerful operating system when placed in capable hands. The software's big claim to fame is the ZFS file system that has been built upon over several years. Considered one of the most secure file systems ever created, ZFS has a strong focus on data integrity. Over the years, bells and whistles were added--the kitchen sink was added somewhere along the line, too. The file system quickly gained new popularity with the introduction of solid state drives (SSDs) for use as a data cache to increase system performance. Technology like deduplication also gained new popularity in all flash arrays since the advanced compression now makes it feasible for companies to use all flash while retaining data sets with more bits than the flash can natively hold.
Using the advanced features requires considerable processing power, and the demands on the CPU and system RAM can quickly escalate. I think this is why we don't see ZFS or FreeNAS used by the big three Taiwan NAS system providers.
For the most part, FreeNAS has been a DIY market product, but that is about to change now that iXsystems has stepped up to build off-the-shelf products with a full support staff and provide warranty support on the hardware.
Hardware Specifications and Pricing
Modern NAS servers have moved beyond data storage through a wire network. In order to get the most out of a NAS, you need to look at the extra I/O hardware and the mountain of potential software features.
We were able to find five models from iXsystems with the FreeNAS Mini product name. Systems come with 16TB, 12TB, 8TB, 4TB, or without storage drives. The new FreeNAS Mini uses an Intel Avoton 8-core SoC processor and pairs the system with 16GB of ECC DRAM. Hardware wise, this is a massive increase in processing power from the off-the-shelf NAS products we normally test, including even some of the larger rackmount systems. To put this into perspective, over the last twelve months, an average NAS on our test bench used an Intel Atom dual-core processor with HyperThreading and shipped with 2-4GB of system DRAM.
The entry price starts out at $995 for a diskless system and ramps up to $1,895 for a 16TB (4 x 4TB) FreeNAS Mini. There are a few steps along the way as well, so iXsystems has a few stopgaps; it's not all or nothing on the capacity side. Our sample system shipped with four Western Digital RE 2TB 7,200 RPM drives and two SanDisk SSDs. Users can speak with iXsystems directly about customization, request a quote from the website, or purchase preconfigured systems directly from Amazon.
The FreeNAS Mini also has several other nice features that complement the powerful processor. Dual gigabit Ethernet ports deliver data to and from the NAS, but the system also comes with an IMPI management port with iKVM capability. Three USB ports--two on the front and one on the back--allow for some expansion as well.
PRICING: You can find the iXsystems FreeNas Mini (8TB) for sale below. The prices listed are valid at the time of writing but can change at any time. Click the link to see the very latest pricing for the best deal.
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