My Transition From WHS (Windows Home Server) to ZFS: HP Microserver & FreeNAS 8

I’ve decided to begin my transition to a ZFS based system before my Windows Home Server (WHS) gives up the ghost. ZFS provides protection against data corruption – which is mostly what attracted me to it.

Hardware-wise I settled on the HP Microserver N40L for a number of reasons and had to accept the limitations that this (and other choices) entailed.

The main reasons that I chose the Microserver were the 4 (non hot-swap) hard drive bays and the price. Swapping drives in and out of my WHS tower system is a pain so I wanted something with drive bays that slid out to install and replace drives. As my WHS is working fine I did not want to spend a lot of money on my transition to ZFS. And because I did not have a good experience installing Advanced Format drives in my WHS box I plan to gradually de-comission it as the drives die.

The Microserver is not the most powerful machine around but I figured that it should be fine for basic ZFS file duties, as I do not plan on using advanced features such as de-duplication. To keep costs down I added 4Gb of ECC RAM to the 2Gb that the N40L came with. I also purchased 2x 2Tb Western Digital Green drives.

Upgrading the RAM requires disconnecting cables from the motherboard and sliding the motherboard out to access the RAM slots. To remove the Mini-SAS connector on the motherboard squeeze the clip and then push down before pulling the connector up.

Why did I only purchase 2 drives and not plan to set up a Raid-Z pool in my system? Well partly due to cost – but also practicality. If I create small mirrored drive pools I have fairly good redundancy and I only have to buy 2 drives to upgrade the pool if I need to in the future. Writing to a mirrored pool should not be any slower than it is with my WHS box (which has duplication turned on for all folders) and read speeds will easily be good enough for streaming media to my living room.

My setup is in fact pretty basic and I made some decisions that forced me down that path. Firstly I wanted all of the drive bays to be dedicated solely to storage. Secondly, because I am adamant about ease of hard drive maintenance I elected not to install any additional drives in the CD / DVD drive bay. This limits me to 4 storage drives and means that I will not be installing a SSD for caching functions (which would improve the storage performance). This also limited me to finding a solution that would boot from a Jump drive.

I first tried installing VMware vSphere on a jump drive and then installing Nexenta Community Edition on a small virtual hard disk (10Gb) on one of the Western Digital drives. I then created two 1.81 Tb .vmdk files and mirrored them in Nexenta. Sadly the performance was not too great.

So for the moment I have settled on FreeNAS 8 (on a 4Gb Jump drive). It was easy to install – and so re-installing should the jump drive fail should be straight-forward. I should be able to upgrade easily enough should the need arise – the idea of having the Microserver be more like an appliance – that I set up and rarely have to touch is quite appealing (no Windows updates to install and no Demigrator.exe to interrupt my media streams).

So far I have only done enough configuration to test write speeds to FreeNAS from my Windows box. Over a gigabit connection I average about 70 MB/s which is great, as that is pretty much what I am getting on my WHS box.

I’ll check the power consumption when I get a chance but I anticipate being able to run two Microservers with FreeNAS for more or less the same consumption as my single WHS box.

I’ve found that FreeNAS 8 has had some mixed reviews – which does concern me a little. My setup is probably as simple as it could be though. Never-the-less I do plan to do some testing before I migrate any data to it.

My to-do list is as follows:

  • Set up ZFS Data Sets, User groups and Users to control access.
  • Copy data to my ZFS mirror and then remove and format one drive from the pool and test adding the drive back in to the pool.
  • Test importing my mirrored pool back into a new FreeNAS installation.
  • Configure FreeNAS to send alerts to my Gmail account.
  • Configure the SMART schedule to check my drives.

That should be enough to keep me busy for a while … and will hopefully leave me feeling quite happy about gradually moving my data from my WHS box!


4 thoughts on “My Transition From WHS (Windows Home Server) to ZFS: HP Microserver & FreeNAS 8

  1. one of the weird issues i’ve had with freenas 8 is when creating a new share, i would have to restart the CIFS service. if not, the new share will not work. also, i have yet to get teaming and LACP to work. i really want to give freenas more chances but it’s still too buggy for me. which is why for now, i’m sticking to whs2011. but i do love the benefits of zfs. i also have a terastation and synology nas enclosure. both have their own OS and i love the simplicity of both. the DSM 4.x gui for synology is better than the terastation though and i wish it was something i can install on my larger server. good luck with your freenas box.

    1. I had read that FreeNAS 8 was buggy – I’m hoping that my simple setup won’t be too bad, but that’s why I am going to test things out before moving data over. I have to say that I have shy-ed away from mainstream NAS simply because of the cost. How do you like WHS 2011? Thanks for commenting 🙂

      1. so far it’s been good to me. at $50 for a windows server OS, what more can i ask for. basic is all i need. i did ran into bad luck w/ my first raid card. it was a rocketraid 2720sgl. had many hw raid support but it sometimes doesn’t recognize my drives. it did only take 27 hours to resync my 5x 2tb drives. ended up returning it and now i’m trying supermicro aoc-saslp-mv8, but software raid only. i think i’m regretting it but we’ll see over the weekend. doubt i’ll have any results though. resync takes so long in software raid. i’m not too good w/ linux, specially doing admin stuff with terminal. so i like the gui. i would’ve gone ubuntu but currently no native support for zfs. so i’ll hang back with windows for now.

  2. I just checked the power consumption on my Microserver – 37 watts idle (2 x hard drives, 6 Gb of RAM and 1 Jump Drive). So not too bad 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s