My aged Netgear NAS was primed and ready for a relaxing retirement, so I pursued a befitting upgrade. I briefly considered an out-of-the-box NAS offering from Qnap or Synology, but reconsidered after considering the high price paired with the wimpy CPU & RAM specs. After considerable consideration I decided to build my own. An OS-less HP Microserver costs a fraction of what a Qnap NAS does, and this way I wouldn't be married to an over-priced, low-spec proprietary platform. But what OS to put on it? My hunt for the ultimate free open source NAS distro began.
I noticed a few themes during my NAS safari:
* Distos based on FreeBSD or OpenSolaris feature ZFS support. I won't get into it, but believe me when I say that ZFS is an awesome filesystem that frees you from the limitations of other filesystems.
* Distros based on Debian offer easy package updates, which makes sense since Debian distros have an awesome package repository system.
* Active open source projects in general evolve quickly. For example, FreeNAS used to have no plugins, but they added a web-based plugin system & repository, and now their plugin library is increasing.
* ZFS requires lots of RAM and encryption requires lots of CPU, so consider that when choosing / purchasing / digging through the trash for NAS hardware.
* Linux-based distros are expanding support for BTRFS, which is considered the Linux take on ZFS.
* I need to find a synonym for the word "consider."
Boasting impressive enterprise features and ZFS, FreeNAS is a superb NAS distro. This bad boy just keeps getting better and better.
* ZFS support
* encryption support
* can be extended with its plugin and jails systems
* Gorgeous web-based management interface. I'm in love. Is it strange to be in love with a web GUI?
* very popular with a large following and frequent updates
* Incredible enterprise storage features make me feel like my home NAS is a datacenter, minus the freezing cold AC and whirring fans.
* The updating process is more automated than it used to be.
* Many of the features are overkill for home users--especially those looking to build something simple.
* It's not the greatest choice for old, low-spec hardware. It wants loads of RAM, particularly if you plan to use ZFS. This is more a ZFS thing than a FreeNAS thing, though.
NAS4Free is a continuation of a previous version of FreeNAS. If you're a fan of "legacy" FreeNAS, then NAS4Free is for you.
* ZFS support
* encryption support
* intriguing service offerings like HAST and web server
* The web-based GUI can be hard to navigate and use at times. I understand why FreeNAS decided to redesign theirs.
* It's not easy to extend with plugins. The web GUI package installation system could use refinement.
OpenMediaVault is a solid NAS and the brainchild of a former chief FreeNAS developer. If you don't need enterprise features like ZFS and/or you prefer a Debian-based distro, OMV could be your NAS ticket. That's 3 acronyms in 1 sentence. Yeah!
* Debian-based, which means you get frequent package & library updates
* Decent growing library of plugins available that keep home users happy. I particularly like the antivirus plugin. Cool!
* very clean, user-friendly web GUI
* relatively new to the NAS scene
* I couldn't find an easy way (in the web GUI) to backup the configuration. Bummer...
Nexenta Community Edition
This is a free community version of a commercial storage product. This might be for you if Solaris is your thing.
* ZFS support
* based on Open Solaris (now called Illumos).
* free version limitations are quite generous (e.g. 18TB of storage) for home use
* based on a commercial product, which can be a good thing for stability and support
* Community edition is feature-limited and not for commercial installations.
* Web GUI is convoluted and unattractive.
* obnoxious initial configuration wizard
* Unfamiliar (to some like me) underlying OS could make it hard to self-troubleshoot and support.
Like FreeNAS, Openfiler has been around a long time now; but unfortunately its update schedule is something to be desired. Rumor has it that a project to port it to a more popular Linux platform is in the works, so perhaps we'll witness a comeback someday.
* It's been around for a long time now.
* has a sizable fan-base
* has cool features like clustering and HTTP/DAV server
* It's based on rPath Linux, so familiarity and hardware driver support can be an issue.
* It's often criticized for its infrequent update schedule, so it's starting to show its age. Distrowatch lists it as "dormant."
Amahi isn't a true NAS distro, and it isn't exactly free as it has a commercial arm surrounding it. It takes a unique, cloud-like approach, but this approach may not be for everyone. I'm including it here because someone will inevitably leave a comment that says, "Hey, what about Amahi?" To be fair, Amahi is a home server for people new to Linux, and not a NAS with enterprise-level aspirations.
* Tons and tons of plugins allow for infinite expansion and customization.
* It's a full-blown home server, so it could work for those moving on from the now defunct Windows Home Server.
* based on well-known distros Fedora & Ubuntu
* This statement taken from an Amahi email irked me: "IMPORTANT: We do not know of any data loss within our users, however we ask that you do not use this software with critical data or data you would mind losing." Isn't the whole point of a NAS to store critical data and prevent data loss?
* I don't like all the registration and cloud bullshit I have to jump through to get started, and the term "connected OS" frightens me. This kind of stuff raises privacy and security flags with me. What kind of spyware is hiding in it?
Rockstor is rather new to the NAS game, so it's not as far along in development as many of the others. However, with its CentOS and BTRFS foundations, I'm excited to watch this one come into its own.
* Based on CentOS, a solid and familiar choice
* I adore the "Rock-ons" plugin system and catchy name.
* It uses the BTRFS file system, which like BSD's ZFS includes splendid data integrity and security features like snapshots, pools, checksums, encryption, etc.
* More reasonable hardware requirements than FreeNAS, especially when it comes to RAM
* Clean and simple web GUI
* BTRFS is still considered experimental by some.
* Not as mature and feature-rich as other NAS distros. But I'm sure features will be added as development continues.
* The web GUI could use a bit more refinement--help pop-ups, default suggestions, etc. At times I felt like I was flying blind or thinking, "Where's the rest of it?"
UNRAID is technically a commercial distro, but it includes a generous free trial, and is so affordable that I think it's worth mentioning here. I've since become an enthusiastic fan of UNRAID, and it is currently my production home NAS of choice.
* Damn, this bad boy is feature-rich. I've learned that you often get what you pay for, and I'm more than happy to pay for software if it means better features, stability, and support.
* A vibrant and active contributing community surrounds UnRAID, and they're actually nice! I have yet to see any trolling on their forums.
* BTRFS and encryption support
* The RAID design is similar to RAID4--with a dedicated parity drive. This has several advantages, including the ability to mix and match different HDDs.
* BTRFS is still considered experimental by some, but you can use other file systems of course.
* It took me a while to get used to because the approach, design, and terminology is quite different from other NASs I've used. But I think such is the way of storage, is it not?
* I find myself dropping to command line a bit more often with UNRAID, especially when configuring not-out-of-the-box features. I'm totally fine with that, but others may not be. For example, setting up Rclone to backup my data to cloud storage was a more involved process compared with FreeNAS.
Others Worth Mentioning
These aren't self-contained appliance distros, but packages installed on 'nix OSs that NAS-ify them.
This one runs on OmniOS.
This one runs on a few distros, namely Debian and Ubuntu.