FreeNAS Mini XL+ Software
Many STH readers are familiar with FreeNAS on some level. Either they are current users, or they have used FreeNAS in the past. This is an embarrassing aspect to admit, but while writing this review, this section was not in the first draft. FreeNAS is so ubiquitous in environments from VMware installations to offices to home labs that I took that for granted that our readers knew the feature set. We are going to look at a few of the features, but the great part about FreeNAS is that you can download the software and put it in a virtual machine or on an old PC to give the interface a try. With some solutions, there is a high degree of vendor lock-in. This open-source model is the opposite.
The newer FreeNAS 11.2-U5 is what we are using for this review. The FreeNAS team has already stated that the FreeNAS 11.3 generation will have better wizards and performance. Still, the newer dashboard is much more modern than what a legacy FreeNAS user would have seen.
One can see, in our test unit we have a boot SSD, two cache SSDs, and eight 4TB WD Red hard drives. This is the 32TB capacity option on Amazon with the write cache added.
There are wizards to use a GUI to manage the ZFS pools. If you do not want to learn the ZFS command line, this makes things much easier. Compression is enabled by default on the pools which we like.
Some of the labels could frankly be better. For example, you may have noticed that in the “Disks” view, “Disk Size” was not populated, but FreeNAS has the capacity here. Likewise, it is a bit hard to discern which SSD is for write cache (ZIL) and read cache (L2ARC) when they have the same capacity. Note again, the ZIL should have been over-provisioned but we had a pre-production model. In the future, it would be great if FreeNAS automatically populated these.
There are a number of plugins available. Most focus on file transfer, backup, and sync. Having an easy way to install NextCloud, Bacula, or Asigra backup, as examples, are a big bonus to IT admins.
The Intel Atom C3758 SoC is fast. Our FreeNAS Mini XL+ also came with 32GB of memory with up to 64GB as a standard option. Storage tends to be a fairly low CPU intensity application which means the Mini XL+ has a lot of additional CPU power, and potentially RAM. One can use that for things like hosting VMs via bhyve or Docker using Rancher as a Web GUI front-end.
If you need to not just have local storage at remote sites for applications such as video surveillance, but also to host applications at the edge, then this is major functionality. One can use containers or VMs at the edge leveraging the extra resources in the FreeNAS Mini XL+.
FreeNAS Mini XL+ IPMI Management
There is one feature that sets the FreeNAS Mini XL+ apart from many of the consumer alternatives from companies like Synology and QNAP: IPMI management. IPMI management is integrated into the web GUI for FreeNAS, you can find your DHCP assigned IP address there and even change VLANs.
One small item we would love to see changed is the hostname. Here is a look at the FreeNAS and IPMI DHCP entries in pfSense. (We need to stay FreeBSD-based right?) You can see the primary web management is labeled “freenas” as the hostname. The IPMI interface is a Supermicro default blank. It would be great to see a future enhancement where these had a unique identifier similar to how HPE iLO 5 hostnames are based on the serial number.
Logging into the Supermicro IPMI management yields a familiar look and feel. One can do things here such as power up/ down the NAS. There is HTML5 iKVM for remote management. One can also check server health and remote mount media for a clean OS installation if it ever came to that.
The IPMI and OOB management features are excellent here. With a consumer NAS, one of the biggest concerns is what happens if the unit fails. With out-of-band remote management, an admin can remotely diagnose without having to be on-site. Also, if FreeNAS were ever to not be an option, this gives one the flexibility to install FreeBSD or Linux directly on the FreeNAS Mini XL+ remotely. From a business continuity planning perspective, that is a big bonus of this type of management.
Utilizing Supermicro also means that one can bring the same automation and tooling one would use for Supermicro server management such as SUM and IPMIview to work with the NAS unit.
Recently the iXsystems TrueCommand tool was launched to manage multiple FreeNAS servers using a single tool. For those who are managing a single FreeNAS machine, this is perhaps not necessary. For those managing two or more TrueNAS units (the company’s supported higher-end storage) and/or FreeNAS appliances, this brings storage management into one place.
In order to get this review out quickly after launch, we had to split out our TrueCommand review. We are going to do a full review with the Mini XL+ and TrueCommand in the near future. Stay tuned to STH for that.
Next, we are going to look at the FreeNAS Mini XL+ performance before moving to the power consumption, noise, and our final words.