I’ve decided to retire my current home server running FreeNAS. It has worked well for three trouble-free years and will likely continue working for a few more. But I have enough motivations for an upgrade beyond its current capabilities.
First, I learned that FreeNAS has been making more and more use of its boot drive in its recent releases. At one point all the SATA ports on a FreeNAS box could be dedicated to storage devices, because FreeNAS itself is happy to boot from a USB flash drive, load to RAM, and run from there. Thus the boot drive is touched very little, minimizing wear on flash memory. However, FreeNAS documentation explained this has not been the case for several years. I have yet to run into any problems with the USB flash drives I’ve been using as mirrored boot volumes, but after three years of service I decided not to wait until problems crop up.
When looking at a boot drive for a modern operating system, my default choice is to use a solid state drive. SSDs were still an expensive luxury when I first started playing with FreeNAS, but they are now quite affordable and there’s been enough hardware churn for a few of my own SSDs to drop out of circulation and thus available for use. My first two Intel X25-M SSDs still report over 85% of wear life remaining. Their modest 80GB capacity is pretty cramped for modern desktop use, but quite spacious for a FreeNAS system drive. That capacity also means a lot of elbow room for flash wear-leveling.
The downside, of course, is that I need a SATA port on the motherboard to connect to my old but still functional X-25M. In order to have a X-25M as my FreeNAS system drive, I had to upgrade beyond this MSI AM1I motherboard with only two SATA ports.
Another motivation was an interest in hosting more functionality on the home server. While code with FreeBSD support can run in a jail, I needed virtual machines to run non-FreeBSD code such as ROS. When I started looking at FreeNAS, virtual machine support via bhyve was an experimental new feature. It has since grown to be a mature part of the feature set. With virtualization I can use the same physical box to host other software projects.
But a virtual machine also locks out a portion of system memory as any RAM allocated to the virtual machine is not available to the rest of FreeNAS. I have many 8GB DDR3 memory modules, but there were only two memory slots on an AM1I motherboard for 16GB. Moving to a motherboard with 4 memory slots will double the available memory to 32GB, plenty of room for playing with VMs.
With these points in mind, I powered off my homebuilt FreeNAS box built of laser-cut acrylic. The two storage drives will be moved to a commodity PC tower case. But before I take it all apart, I wanted to make note of a few observations from this computer’s three years of sitting on a shelf quietly running FreeNAS.