FreeNAS 8 – Hang During Post on HP Microserver N40L

Microserver NAS

Today I decided to reboot FreeNAS 8 on my HP Microserver because the speed of transfers from my PC to FreeNAS had dropped to around 30 MB/s and were stalling regularly.

2.5 Gb file copy from Windows 8 (SSD) to FreeNAS 8.x (Mirror)
2.5 Gb file copy from Windows 8 (SSD) to FreeNAS 8.x (Mirror)

I logged into FreeNAS to take a look and could not see anything obviously amiss and so rebooted.

Unfortunately I had to unexpectedly deal with the deal with the following issues:

This is a FreeNAS data disk and can not boot system. System halted


Auto-detecting USB Mass Storage Devices...
Device #01:

In the former instance FreeNAS was trying to boot from a zpool (data) drive and in the latter could not successfully detect the USB jump drive that contained my FreeNAS installation.

With the latter error my Microserver would take an eternity to get into the BIOS (the BIOS did correctly identify my jump drive as the device to boot though).

Clearly it was time to install FreeNAS to a new jump drive.

  • download the latest FreeNAS 64 bit disk image and extract it using 7zip
  • use Win32DiskImager to copy the extracted FreeNAS image onto a new jump drive (minimum size 4Gb)

I used a spare Lexar Firefly jump drive that I had lying around because it is small and easy to insert into the usb port on the Microserver motherboard.

When I logged into FreeNAS again I had to change the admin password. I then uploaded my previous saved configuration and rebooted.

Always take a couple of minutes to save your FreeNAS config (you never know when you might need it).

With this done I just had to deal with the warning that my zpools were using an older version of ZFS (15) than was currently running (28). Time to enable SSH so that we can do a little command line work and upgrade my zpools.

Select Control Services under Services in the left hand pane and then enable SSH. Then click the spanner icon to open the SSH Settings window and check Login as Root with password and click OK.

freenas ssh

Next open Putty (or a similar tool) and remote into FreeNAS as root (using your Admin password).

I used the following commands to upgrade my zpools:

Note: it is recommended to back-up your data before performing an upgrade and it is not recommended to upgrade zpools if they are not healthy.

zpool status
zpool upgrade <pool-name>

With the pool upgrade complete I made sure that I turned off SSH access.

Now that all of that is out of the way my file transfers are back to normal again. I still want to investigate the dips that I experience during file transfers, but the impact is not so great that it is a really pressing concern.

freenas 2

My main take-away from this is to make sure that I keep my config backed-up and always have a spare jump drive to replace a failed one. It happened to me much sooner than I thought it would!


2013 Potential Hardware for vSphere Home Nanolab and NAS Refresh


My current VMware vSphere white-box will be 5 years old in August. It has an AMD Athlon X2 BE-2400 Brisbane @2.3GHz and 8Gb of RAM – and these days 8Gb of RAM is just not enough.

The hardware for my NAS is more recent – a HP Microsever N40L with 6Gb of RAM, running FreeNAS 8.x.

The cpubenchmark score for my vSphere box is 1333 – the score for the N40L is 979.

While I still need to look at the performance of ZFS on the N40L (it is OK but not exactly where I would like it to be) I know that a lot more CPU is not desperately needed for new vSphere hardware (but it would be nice).

I have been considering the Intel NUC (Next Unit of Computing) as an alternative to having a tower PC to run vSphere for a while now. It maxes out at 16Gb of RAM and it really shines in terms of its power efficiency (13-27 watts) and diminutive size (4″ x 4″). The i3 -3217U DC3217IYE NUC (Ivy Bridge architecture) is the current NUC that I have my eye on.

The Intel i3 NUC
The Intel i3 NUC

The issue with the NUC though is storage – I can either install an msata SSD in the NUC or use shared storage on my NAS (or both). I would like to use local storage on the NUC for speed and back up VMs to my NAS – the cost of SSDs will limit my local storage capacity though.

The next generation of NUCs are based on the Haswell architecture and include Core i5 (Horse Canyon) and i7 (Skull Canyon) CPUs. The i5-3427U offering (cpu benchmark: 3580) is of interest to me here as it includes Intel vPro remote management capabilities.

This still leaves us with the 3rd generation of NUCs (also Haswell) which have an on-board sata and sata power connector – these are slated to arrive in Q3 2013.

3rd Gen Intel NUC
3rd Gen Intel NUC

The other option for a diminutive vSphere box is the Gigabtye take on the NUC called Brix. It looks like Gigabyte plans to offer Intel (i3 – i7) CPUs and AMD Kabini (E1-2100, E1-2500 & E2-3000 dual core, and A4-5000 quad core) CPUs.

I think it will be worth keeping an eye on the Brix offerings to see where they differ from the NUC. The key areas for me will be efficiency, pricing and storage – what if Brix offers a 2.5 or 3.5″ internal drive bay, for example? I imagine that the AMD offerings will be cheaper than the Intel NUC – but we will have to wait and see.

On the home NAS side of things HP very recently updated their Microserver (Gen 8) with Celeron and Pentium models:

  • Intel® Celeron® G1610T (2 core, 2.3 GHz, 2MB, 35W)
  • Intel® Pentium® G2020T (2 core, 2.5 GHz, 3MB, 35W)

This does potentially make the Microserver a better vSphere candidate too, especially as the supported RAM has been upped to 16Gb.

The other good news is the built in iLO support, dual gigabit NICs and USB 3.0 ports (as seen on the beta unit, at least):

HP Microserver (Gen 8) rear panel - courtesy of
HP Microserver (Gen 8) rear panel – courtesy of

So I’ll be keeping an eye on the new generation of Microserver too. The additional CPU and RAM are quite welcome (especially for ZFS). I am also keen to know the power consumption for these machines as a whole.

Either way with both the NUC and the Microserver I can build a power efficient and much smaller lab.

If I can score a couple of NUCs and another Microserver by the end of the year, I will be a happy man!

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!

Installing FreeNAS 8 on VMware vSphere (ESXi)

FreeNAS is an Open Source Storage Platform and version 8 benefits not only from a complete rewrite – it also boats a new web interface and support for the ZFS filesystem. It is also worth mentioning that FreeNAS supports Advanced Format drives (something that my Windows Home Server does not).

The features of ZFS are many but it is the data integrity and large capacity support that caught my attention when I first started to ponder alternatives to Windows Home Server (WHS).

The other ZFS contender that has piqued my interest is Nexenta whose community edition has an 18TB limit (although you can run the Nexenta Core version with a community developed GUI without any storage limit). One key difference to be aware of (and these will be moving goalposts) are the versions of ZFS that both of these projects are running. At the moment, for example, it looks like FreeNAS does not support de-duplication of data while Nexenta does.

FreeNAS is designed to be run from a flash drive which is nice in that all of your hard drives can be dedicated to storage. A 1GB drive is recommended as the minimum requirement and this can hold several FreeNAS images – so you can roll back to a previous installation if you experience troubles during an upgrade for example. I will be installing FreeNAS to a 1GB virtual hard disk instead.

I have yet to decide between FreeNAS and Nexenta yet – but for today wanted to get the ball rolling installing FreeNAS 8 in VMware vSphere 4.x.

First download the FreeNAS 8 .iso and copy it to your vSphere datastore.

Create a new virtual machine and specify the following Guest Operating System properties – Other and FreeBSD (64-bit).

I configured 4Gb of RAM with the default LSI Logic Parallel SCSI controller with a 1GB vitrual hard disk.

Finally point the virtual CD-ROM of the virtual machine to the uploaded FreeNAS .iso and boot the virtual machine:

Press 1 to begin installation:

Press Enter to install to default device:

Press Enter again to install to the VMware virtual disk:

Press Enter again to confirm installation to hard drive (installation to USB is the preferred method for FreeNAS but this is not practical on ESXi):

Wait for FreeNAS to copy the image to the virtual drive:

Reboot the virtual machine:

As you can see there are various options for configuring FreeNAS when it boots. For now I will take a quick look at the Web interface.

Open Firefox and browse to the IP address of your FreeNAS installation (as detailed in the previous screenshot).

Use admin for the Username and freenas for the password.

Welcome to the FreeNAS interface!

As you can see there are plenty of options available to configure FreeNAS and (now that installation is complete) that will be the topic of a later blog-post.