Openfiler Vs. FreeNAS –

Openfiler Vs. FreeNAS


Let me start by saying that the only purpose of this article is to help you choose between OpenFiler and FreeNAS. I won’t waste time going into superficial issues like “GUI ease of use” or “installation tips” since, in the end, once you pass the learning curve, what’s really important is the performance and features of each. Openfiler and freeNAS are both excellent solutions to store your data safely, however, both have unique qualities that make them suitable for distinct environments.  If you are trying to decide between these two wonderful storage solutions,  here are some things you should consider.




1) Better hardware compatibility.

2) Better SMB transfer speed. Openfiler is built on Linux which has a better SMB implementation than FreeBSD.

3) Better Active Directory support. AD support is definitely more advanced in Linux than in FreeBSD.

4) DRBD Support.



1) Free version but commercially oriented. Some of the same features FreeNAS offers for free, Openfiler provides at a cost.

2) Does not support 4k Advanced Format Drives such as the Western Digital Green drives.

3) No ZFS filesystem support.

4) No RAID-Z support.




1) Better performance with ZFS.

2) Better data security with ZFS, if you happen to use RAID-Z.

3) Completely free, not commercially oriented.

4) Can run on CF cards. CF cards are usually more reliable since they have no moving parts and are more energy efficient. It is basically one less hard drive that can heat up the rest.

5) Supports 4k advanced format drives such as the Western Digital Green drives.



1) If you decide to use ZFS as your file system you can’t use old hardware. The minimum recommended is a 64bit processor, with 4GB of ram and 4 hard drives.

2) Hardware compatibility. FreeNAS runs on FreeBSD, which does not offer the best compatibility with lesser popular chipset brands. 

3) No DRBD support.


Final Thoughts

Which one is better? As with any other IT question, this one does not have a simple answer. It all depends on what you want to use the storage for. If you need a storage solution for a big business production environment, Openfiler is probably mode adequate due to its support for DRBD. For those of you that don’t know, DRBD is similar to RAID 1 but instead of the mirroring occurring in the same physical controller, it occurs over the network, providing an exact copy of your data on a remote machine. This provides data integrity and security in case one of the two nodes goes down. FreeNAS on the other hand has RSYNC which is a great tool to backup your data but that is as far as it goes. RSYNC won’t provide availability or data integrity if the system goes down in the middle of a transfer. For home use and smaller networks I would definitely recommend freeNAS. FreeNAS has the best filesystem available today: ZFS.  ZFS has many advantages which I won’t discuss in detail now, however I can tell you that ZFS supports compression at the filesystem level which can dramatically improve performance and save space. With ZFS you also have the ability to use RAID-Z which provides more redundancy than RAID-5, since it can withstand 2 drives going down in a 4 drive pool instead of just 1. Finally, with FreeNAS all features are free out of the box, this is just not the case with the Linux-based Openfiler.


  1. Pablo Garcia, 13. August 2011, 16:20

    Thanks Gleb
    Nice to know, thanks for your comment.

  2. Gleb Piatikow, 12. August 2011, 18:36

    Hey Pablo, thanks for this nice comparison.

    I’m a big FreeNAS fan, running two instances now in two locations (both version 7).

    First one is a “big one” – controlled by LiveCD, Athlone XP 2500+, 512+256 RAM DDR1, with RAID1 mirroring on two drives, and replicated by RSYNC to a third drive – works as a paranoid backup machine.

    Second one is a “small and silent” one – controlled by embedded version, running on a Fujitsu Siemens Futro S300 Thin Client terminal (Transmeta Crusoe 800 MHz 32bit, 512 RAM DDR1) with a PCI-SATA enhancement and an external WD 500GB 3.5” drive connected via eSata.

    And – believe it or not – I’m successfully running ZFS on a “small” FreeNAS! Including HD media streaming on LAN, both SMB and NFS shares, FTP, rsync and Transmission. So I don’t thing this “hardware limitation” for ZFS is that important.

    What can be taken into consideration here – I’m running it as a home server, with very little simultaneous connections – usually not more than 2 clients connected, and mostly just one. Maybe that’s the reason it runs so smoothly :) However, I felt the need to share this, cause many of your readers probably might want to set up just a simple home server.


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