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FreeNAS vs TrueNAS by Brett Davis

“What’s the difference between TrueNAS and FreeNAS?
Is TrueNAS just FreeNAS installed on a server?” If you look at the software feature list, there aren’t a ton of differences. So really….what’s the difference?

The first difference is the software delivery method: TrueNAS is a purpose-built storage appliance while FreeNAS is freely-downloadable software that requires the user to understand storage well enough to select the correct hardware that is appropriate for their application.

  1. TrueNAS is commercially-supported, while FreeNAS is community-supported.
  2. There are performance and usability optimizations in TrueNAS that are specific to the hardware we use and therefore aren’t included with FreeNAS.
  3. High-Availability (failover) is hardware-dependent and only available in TrueNAS.

But, perhaps more critical to understand than the “what” is the “why”:

We make FreeNAS for when storage is noncritical

There are certainly many storage applications that don’t require professional support. Applications like home stor- age, simple office file servers, tertiary backups, home streaming media servers, scratch space, storage experimentation, or any other application where data is fungible; FreeNAS can be the perfect solution for all of them.

We make TrueNAS for when storage is critical

Storage downtime can equal an instant loss of revenue, making reliable storage a painstaking process – a process that requires careful consideration, deep hardware and storage knowledge, and countless hours of testing – certainly eons more difficult than the Software Defined Storage crowd would want you to believe. It took us nearly two years to select, design, test, and qualify the myriad hardware components that go into TrueNAS, which is a purpose-built appliance – meaning software coupled with custom hardware – designed for its one specific application: critical storage. Compared to a user-built system that your software vendor knows nothing about, the appliance platform is inherently easier to support when things don’t go your way, because your software vendor is your hardware vendor as well. And, when storage is this important to your business, it’s imperative to have a Support Team at arm’s length who can resolve any issue that may arise without having to first wrap their heads around the hardware platform you’ve built.

We make FreeNAS for Open Source flexibility

For those that have the expertise and the spare time to build and support their own solutions, or for those that want to tinker and learn about storage, FreeNAS is freely-available and unencumbered by license restrictions. The FreeNAS Project has a mature community and a team of developers dedicated to providing the best (open-source) software defined network file storage solution in the world. All we ask in return is that you enjoy the software and contribute when and where you can, which can be as simple as providing feedback, filing bugs, and making feature requests, or as involved as helping us write code.

We make TrueNAS for enterprise stability

Where FreeNAS is the bleeding edge, TrueNAS is the stable handle. FreeNAS is where technologies are tested and refined; therefore the software undergoes an often rapid and frequent release cycle. TrueNAS, by contrast, contains only the most stable and vetted code, keeping software updates to a minimum and the release cycle methodical.

We make FreeNAS for people who want to “DIY”

Some folks like to do it themselves. Some folks only get satisfaction when building things on their own. Some folks don’t mind downtime when there’s an issue and enjoy perusing the FreeNAS forums for help. Some folks have limited budgets yet still want powerful storage software. And, some folks are storage experts themselves. You’re welcome, guys 🙂

We make TrueNAS because businesses don’t want to “DIY”

Instead of buying a fleet of delivery trucks, I suppose we could purchase all the components separately, build the trucks ourselves, and fix them when things break. But, we’re not a car dealership, we’re a storage company. We’d probably save money up front on the cost of the bare parts but would certainly come out way behind with the time spent figuring out how to put them all together and build a functioning car, let alone the costs to maintain it! Most businesses don’t have the time, available hardware, or internal support expertise for a do-it- yourself storage solution – they’re busy focused on their own missions and business models. But, with a 100% software solution, you must build the server yourself. If there is a problem with the server hardware, you can’t look to the software vendor for support, and vice-versa if you have hardware problems. With TrueNAS, you get one throat to choke….ours 🙂

We make FreeNAS because many are turning to virtualisation

FreeNAS is known to work well with all major virtualization platforms, but due to the nature of the decoupled hard- ware, we aren’t able to officially certify the software with the virtualization vendors. Therefore, if something goes haywire, the user cannot turn to the virtualization vendor for assistance and instead must rely on the FreeNAS community.

We make TrueNAS because many are turning to virtualization…and need Support

With a software-only solution you must verify that every component is on the virtualization vendors’ compatibility list and when your configuration changes (such as upgrading to a new network card) you need to validate the configuration again. Most businesses can’t afford the risk, so TrueNAS is officially certified to support Citrix XenServer, VMware ESXi, and Microsoft Hyper-V.

FreeNAS and TrueNAS both have their rightful places

FreeNAS is the world’s most popular software defined storage OS, with more downloads and installs than any other storage software on the planet. The sheer magnitude of interest speaks volumes about its myriad applications. And, as its enterprise counterpart, TrueNAS has the performance, high-availability, functionality, and professional software support that mission-critical storage applications require.


Brett Davis
iXsystems Executive Vice President

Source: BSD Mag Vol.09 No. 08

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